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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Barbara Conniff Photo
Barbara Conniff* (1947-2015)

Barbara Conniff was an administrator, mentor, risk-taker, political activist, and an emboldened social worker for people with behavioral health and intellectual challenges during her time with Milestone Centers, Inc. (Formerly Allegheny East Mental Health and Retardation Center). Barbara came to the agency in 1981 as the Emergency Unit Supervisor and rose through the ranks to become the second CEO of the agency.

Under her leadership, Milestone grew to an organization that serves 5,000 consumers annually and employs more than 400 employees. She grew the organization with innovative programs, such as a “blue roof” residential facility, which includes new technology to help physically and intellectually challenged residents to live independently. She also founded an art program and gallery for the residents called “Everyone an Artist,” and provided work opportunity for clients by starting a garden, which sells its produce to local restaurants.

She was an active member of NASW, serving on the NASW Board, and as Chair for the NASW Foundation, and the NASW Mental Health Section. She also was active in her community serving as a member of the Renaissance Center Advisory Board, the Phoenix Corporation Board of Directors, and the Hosanna House Advisory, to mention a few. Barbara cut her advocacy teeth during the mid-1960s, when as a young girl, she went to Washington, D.C. to stand with others in protest of segregation and the Vietnam War. She graduated from Carlow University in 1972 with a major in Psychology and earned her MSW Degree in 1978 from the University of Pittsburgh.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June 2021 Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31, 2021. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  2020 & 2021 Pioneers will be inducted at the 2022 Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and evet details coming soon.