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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Grace Coyle Photo
Grace Coyle* (1892-1962)

Grace Coyle received her Bachelor's Degree in 1914 from Wells Lake College, a certificate from the New York School of Philanthropy in 1915, a Master's Degree in Economics in 1928, and a Doctoral Degree in Sociology from Columbia University in 1931. She is known for her development of the scientific approach to group work practice. Her work, teaching, and writing experiences were related to her interest in group work.

Her early activities included work in settlement houses and the YWCA. From 1934 to 1962 she taught at the School of Applied Social Sciences at Western Reserve University in Cleveland developing the first group work course to be taught at that university. Coyle was the President of the National Conference of Social Work in 1940, the President of the American Association of Social Workers in 1942 and the Council on Social Work Education from 1958 to 1960. Her many writings include Social Process in Organized Groups, 1930; Studies in Group Behavior, 1937; Group Experiences and Democratic Values, 1947; Group Work with American Youth, 1948; Social Science in the Professional Education of Social Workers, 1958.

All of her writings and speeches are institutes contributed to the acceptance of group work as a social work method. Coyle felt that case work and group work had a common philosophy and that both would be enriched by their integration. She felt that the uniting of the two would result in better quality services for the client. She argued that group workers need to become more aware of personality issues and family relationships, while at the same time case workers need to be more knowledgeable of group dynamics and the use of leisure activity. It also was her belief that a better acquaintance with case work by group workers would reveal the therapeutic possibilities of a group experience. A collection of her manuscripts, course outlines and correspondence is located in the archives of Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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