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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Rhoda G. Sarnat Photo
Rhoda G. Sarnat* (1915-2018)

Rhoda G. Sarnat, LCSW, made pioneering efforts in enhancing the public image of professional social work. She worked tirelessly to increase the public’s knowledge, understanding, and respect for professional social work locally, nationally, and internationally. Her vision, to create a unified effort to promote professional social work, led to the creation of the NASW Foundation International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award. This endowed fund, generously established by Mrs. Sarnat and her husband, Bernard Sarnat, MD, awards a monetary prize annually to an individual, group, or organization that has significantly advanced the public image of professional social work. Mrs. Sarnat also played an active role in the NASW Centennial, which aimed to raise the visibility of the social work profession, and to improve the public perception of social work. 

Mrs. Sarnat earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Master of Art Degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. Her teachers at the University of Chicago included Edith and Grace Abbott, as well as Charlotte Towle, who served as Mrs. Sarnat’s role model of a psychiatric social worker— a practice area with which she had always been intrigued. Upon graduation, she was hired as a Caseworker at the Jewish Social Service Bureau (JSSB), in Chicago, where she worked for three years. During her third year at JSSB, Mrs. Sarnat became a Field Instructor for University of Chicago social work students, developing the interest in supervision that continued throughout her professional life. 

During World War II, Mrs. Sarnat joined the American Red Cross as an Assistant Director of a Home Service Unit, where she worked with veterans and their families and supervised eight to 10 social work staff members. In 1943, she and her husband moved to St. Louis, where she was hired by the Psychiatry Department of Barnes Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine. At Barnes Hospital, Mrs. Sarnat supervised social work students from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, in addition to medical and psychiatric residents. 

Before permanently relocating to the West Coast, Mrs. Sarnat and her husband returned to Chicago for nearly 10 years. During this period, she worked at United Charities as an Assistant District Supervisor, supervised students from the University of Chicago, and gave birth to their son, Gerry (1945) and their daughter Joan (1948). In the mid-1950s, the Sarnats moved to Los Angeles, where Mrs. Sarnat entered into private practice. She was later hired by the University of Southern California as Advisor to MSW candidates, and then as Director of Field Education. She also served as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for the school.

In 1981, after a distinguished career, Mrs. Sarnat retired. During her retirement she served as Docent at the Los Angeles Zoo and Volunteer Supervisor at the Senior Peer Counseling Service. She also enjoyed presenting slide shows of travelogues to the elderly. Mrs. Sarnat’s publications include: Supervision of the Experienced Student, which appeared in Social Casework; and Prediction vs. Performance in Student Selection, which appeared in Social Work Education Reporter.

Rhoda G. Sarnat Obituary

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.