NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Mary Ellen Richmond Photo
Mary Ellen Richmond* (1861-1928)

Mary Ellen Richmond was an outstanding practitioner, teacher, and theoretician who formulated the first comprehensive statement of principles of direct social work practice. Born in Belleville, Illinois, she joined the Baltimore Charity Organization as an Assistant Treasurer at the age of 28. In 1891 her administrative duties led to her appointment as General Secretary. In addition to her assigned duties, she volunteered as a friendly visitor. Concerned about the frequent failures of cases to respond to service, in 1897 she delivered her historic speech at the National Conference of Charities and Correction, calling for schools to train professional social workers. In 1899, she published the first comprehensive presentation of practical suggestions, Friendly Visiting Among the Poor.

In 1900, Ms. Richmond became General Secretary of the Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charity. During her tenure, she emphasized the need for volunteer effort. She also fought to obtain legislation for deserted wives and founded the Pennsylvania Child Labor Committee, the Public Charities Association, the juvenile court, and the Housing Association. Between 1905 and 1909, Ms. Richmond was associated with Charities, which developed teaching materials for Charity Organization Societies nationwide. She then became Director of the Russell Sage Foundation's Charity Organization Department in New York City. She also taught and did research at the New York School of Philanthropy.

From 1910 through 1922, she developed and headed summer institutes attended by secretaries of charity organization societies from all parts of the country. Her most celebrated book, Social Diagnosis, was based on her lectures and on her wide readings in history, law, logic, medical social work, psychology, and psychiatry. Widely hailed as evidence of the professionalization of social work, it was the first formulation of theory and method in identifying the problems of clients. In 1922, she defined social case work as "those processes which develop personality through adjustments consciously effected, individual by individual, between men and their social environment." Ms. Richmond's other publications include The Good Neighbor in the Modem City (1907) and What is Social Casework? An Introductory Description (1922).

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  2020, 2021 and 2022 Pioneers were inducted at the 2022 Annual Program and Luncheon. 

2022 Special Honoree