NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ruth Ada Cowin (1911- )
Ruth Cowin received her MS degree in 1934 from Simmons College School of Social Work. Since then, she has applied her concept of health as a positive state of physical, mental and social well-being, rather than as the absence of illness or infirmity during a broad career of direct practice with families and individuals, supervision, teaching, and community health development. A wide range of health and mental health settings, Peter Bent Brigham, Salem, and Children's Hospitals; Boston University School of Social Work, and the Harvard University School of Public Health have all benefitted from her vision and energetic leadership.
In 1968, in the role of Director of Social Service of the Martha Eliot Family Health Center, Cowin was a true pioneer in the neighborhood health center movement in the Boston area. She developed services which community representatives helped to plan and evaluate. She supported training for local residents as community advocates and staff members. As Director of Health and Hospitals of Cambridge, from 1970 to 1976, she promoted the integration of health and mental health services. Cowin had strong conviction that psyche, soma, family and the community were inseparable. She took a systems approach to practice long before it became popular in the profession.
Cowin has combined cause and function, as articulated by Porter Lee, throughout her career. She continues her dedication vigorously in 1993 as Vice President of the Committee to End Homelessness of the Elderly. Against many systems and obstacles, Cowin has led this group in the establishment of a permanent residence for elderly homeless women. Because Ruth Cowin, with her wit, forthrightness, and determination is still a pioneer, the profession honors her.
She received the Massachusetts Social Worker of the Year award when she was in her early 90's and the Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement award in 1998