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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Ronald G. Lewis, DSW
Ronald G. Lewis* (1942-2019)

Ronald G. Lewis, DSW, one of North America's foremost authorities in Native American Social Work and legal Indian subjects, retired from Eastern Michigan University. He was the first American Indian to earn a doctorate in the field from the University of Denver in 1974 and became known as the "father of American Indian Social Work". 

Born on the Cherokee community in Talequah, Oklahoma, Lewis went on to hold many important positions in academia, as well as on the front lines of his profession. Always a political activist, Lewis was at the Wounded Knee stand-off in 1973 and at Alcatraz. He was a Psychiatric Social Worker and developed many mental health programs for American Indians at the Talequah and Claremore Indian Hospitals in Oklahoma and later for the entire state of Oklahoma. As the Director of the Indian Liaison Office of the Fitzsimmon Army Medical Hospital in Denver, he worked with returning Viet Nam Indian Veterans. Lewis trained hospital and medical Personnel about culturally appropriate services for Native American people.

The University of Oklahoma, School of Social Work, was his first academic appointment in 1975. From there Lewis taught social work at many institutions of higher learning including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Arizona State University, and Saskatchewan Indian federated College in Canada, where he was the Dean of the Social Work Department. In addition, Lewis guest-lectured at many colleges across the United States and Canada.

Well known as a leading expert on Indian Social Problem, Lewis published extensively on Federal Policy in Indian Country, child abuse and neglect, alcoholism and the American Indian, which was a special report to the U.S. Congress in 1980. His work aided in the creation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Landmark legislation concerning culturally appropriate services for Indian people was an important part of Lewis' work. He made important and frequent contributions on Indian issues at every level, from meetings with U.S. presidents, reports to congress, and the creation of curriculum at universities.

Lewis was well liked by his students during the 30 years of his distinguished career. His influence, especially on young Indian students, was profound. Many Indian scholars were influenced by Lewis. He served as a role model for many Indians teaching in colleges and universities today. He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1974 from the University of Denver. His sphere of influence includes his own three daughters, two of which were in academic programs. One at Arizona State University working on her Master's Degree, and Courtney Lewis is at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, working on her PhD. Lewis first came to Michigan, where he served as Visiting Professor at Michigan State University. He then accepted a position at Eastern Michigan University, where he spent the remaining 11 years. His policy classes on Saturday mornings were always well attended. 

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.