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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Elma Phillipson Cole Photo
Elma Phillipson Cole* (1909-1999)

Elma Phillipson Cole was born in Piqua, Ohio. She earned a BA Degree from Berea College and an MA Degree in Social Work at the University of Chicago. She began her social work career in 1930 and during the 1940s she worked at the Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. She later worked in administrative positions for the Conference on Children and Youth and the National Mid-Century Committee for Children and Youth. 

When she married she moved to New York City where her husband was an architect. She was on the staff of the National Welfare Assembly from 1957 until her retirement. She was on a number of committees for such national social welfare organizations as the National Conference on Social Work, the National Association of Social Workers, the International Council on Social Welfare, the Marshall Field Awards, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the National Legal Aid and Defense Association. She was also a contributor to a number of social work journals.

Elma Cole's parents worked for The Salvation Army, as did her sister, Anita. Her pioneering work was related to the consultation she provided The Salvation Army.  At her memorial service, Paul Bollwahn, who was then the National Consultant for Social Services for The Salvation Army - and has since been nominated as a member of the NASW Social Work Pioneers® - stated that Elma Cole “saved the social work profession and The Salvation Army” by the assistance she gave in the revision of the Army’s standards of practice, which he indicated were second to none in the field of social work.  

She also worked on a number of issues for the Army upon her retirement and also presented a workshop at the National Social Services Conference a year or so before her death. Again to quote Paul Bollwahn, Elma Cole “exemplified a professional social worker. She had a world view that included justice, fairness, and opportunity, not only for the poor, but for those who felt oppressed, or those who were victims of discrimination.”

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