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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Ida B. Wells Photo
Ida B. Wells*

Pioneering Contributions

Ida B. Wells was an integral part of the progressive movement, using her passion about social justice and her skills as a journalist to fight for racial and gender equality. She was the first person to document the lynching of African Americans, and lead many anti-lynching campaigns. Wells worked with other organizers of her time to create the foundation for modern social work. She used writing to fight the injustices of her time. She helped found the Alpha Suffrage League, a group for African-American women who supported suffrage, and challenged the National American Woman Suffrage Association because of their exclusion of African American women in their movement. Wells was involved in the founding of the NAACP, and The Negro Fellowship League, as well as many other organizations that fought for equality for all Americans.

Career Highlights 

Wells’s pamphlets “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” and “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States” were the first to present the fact that the lynching of African Americans in the U.S. were not happening as a result of fair trials or as a punishment for a crimes committed, but were a retaliation for blacks trying to gain economic, social, or political empowerment.

Wells was the frequent target of threats or violence from whites trying to maintain the status quo. She wrote for the Negro Press and had articles on racism and activism that were printed in black newspapers across the country. In addition to founding the Negro Fellowship League, Wells served as its President and helped to open settlement houses that helped African Americans who were migrating to the North from the South. She was involved in expanding school access for black children, and worked with Jane Addams to oppose the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago. Her work on suffrage and women’s rights led to the establishment of the Alpha Suffrage League. Towards the end of her life, Wells’s activism focused on urban reform in Chicago.

Biographic Data 

Wells was born into slavery on July 16th, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi to political activist parents. She attended college but never graduated after being expelled for disagreeing with, and confronting, the college’s president. The oldest of five kids, Wells became a teacher to support her siblings after her parents passed away from yellow fever in the 1878 epidemic. She moved with three of her younger siblings to Memphis, Tennessee to attend Fisk University. She worked with reformers and activists such as W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and Mary Church Terrell. She married attorney and newspaper editor, Ferdinand Barnett, in 1895, and had four children. She passed away from kidney disease in 1931.

Significant Achievements & Awards

  • The Ida B. Wells Homes - A Chicago Housing project (in the Bronzeville area).
  • United States Postal Stamp – 1990 by the United States Postal Service to honor Ida B. Wells.
  • 100 Greatest African Americans – 2002.
  • The Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum is in Holly Springs, Mississippi..
  • The Ida B. Wells Distinguished Lecture and Performance Series is at Spellman College.

Significant Publications 

  • Wells, Ida B. (1895) The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Caused of Lynching in the United States.
  • Wells, Ida B. (1892). Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.
  • Wells, Ida B. (1970). Crusader for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. University of Chicago Press.

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!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.