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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Milton Wittman Photo
Milton Wittman* (1915-1994)

Milton Wittman was a social work administrator, author, and advocate for prevention. He was nationally-recognized for his outstanding contributions to the field of mental health and the development of social work education. His leadership of the social work training program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) spanned 32 years. With each decade, he broadened the scope and objectives for social work education and added new dimensions to the program. Wittman came to NIMH in 1947 as a Social Work Training Specialist and developed the psychiatric social work training programs needed to staff the mental health programs enacted by the National Mental Health Act of 1946. During his NIMH career, he advocated for educational resources and practice methods that would permit mental health services to become more widely available.

In the 1960s, Wittman was appointed Chairman of the federal Task Force on Social Work Education and Manpower. The task force report, Closing the Gap in Social Work Manpower, resulted in funding of social work education for welfare programs. Wittman also focused on educational programs to increase minority mental health manpower. In 1977, Wittman was named social work's first Professional Liaison Officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps, giving a new level of visibility to social work in PHS. His work there solidified standards among social workers in diverse public health programs.

He has held many leadership roles in professional organizations. The NASW Knee/Wittman Health/Mental Health Achievement awards were created to honor Milton Wittman and Ruth Knee for their contributions to the field and their standards of excellence. Born in New York City, Wittman received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Nebraska; his Master of Arts Degree in 1939 from the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago; and his Doctor of Social Work Degree in 1956 from Columbia University. He also spent a post-doctoral year at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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.