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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Helen Cloud Austin Photo
Helen Cloud Austin

Helen Cloud Austin, ACSW, has made numerous contributions to the social work profession throughout her career spanning more than 25 years. She began her career as a caseworker at the Cook County Psychiatric Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She later joined the staff of Longview State Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio where she worked as a caseworker, director of In-Patient Services, and later, chief of the In-Patient Services. In each of these positions, and throughout her career, she showed a deep interest and commitment to improving the quality of life for persons with mental illness.

In 1962, Mrs. Austin and her husband, a civilian employee of the United States Air Force, were transferred to San Antonio, Texas. Although she was initially ambivalent about their move to Texas, she recalled a lecture she had attended where she heard about the needs of the San Antonio State Hospital. She interpreted this as an omen, and when an appropriate position became available in 1965 at the San Antonio State Hospital, she was appointed the first African-American Chief of Social Services. She remained in this position until her retirement.

Helen Austin implemented a number of new programs at the San Antonio State Hospital (SASH) including an orientation program for newly admitted patients; Splash for SASH; SASH Mobile Unit— workshops designed to reacquaint judges with the needs of mentally ill persons; and the SASH Alternate Care Program —a community care program which has placed more than 300 patients in foster homes. This program serves as a model for helping persons with chronic mental illness to lead normal lives. She also initiated a Voter’s Registration program at SASH for over three hundred patients and hospital staff.

She has been active in her community, both professionally and politically. Mrs. Austin is a Past-President of the Board of Directors of San Antonio Halfway Houses, and an Advisory Board member. She also served as a board member of Bexar County Mental Health Association, Bexar County MH/MRA Program, and the Wesley Community Center. Her many honors and awards include: Black Women Achievers, honored by Gamma Phi Chapter, Iota Phi Lambda Sorority; Social Worker of the Year, San Antonio Unit, Texas Chapter, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), 1983; and the National Social Worker of the Year, NASW, 1984. During her trip to Washington, D.C. to receive this award, former Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez acknowledged her work in a speech to the House of Representatives.

She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award, San Antonio Unit, Texas Chapter, NASW (2001). This award was presented at an appreciation breakfast where Representative Ciro Rodriquez served as the speaker to honor her extraordinary career. Helen Austin received a bachelor of arts degree and a master of science in social work degree from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. NASW Social Work Pioneer 2001.

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.