NASW Foundation National
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Wilbur J. Cohen (1913-1987)
Wilbur J. Cohen was a former government official and a public affairs educator. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1934; LhD Adelphi College, Ohio State University; LLD University of Wisconsin; DSS University of Louisville and other honorary degrees from
Adelphi, Ohio State, University of Wisconsin, Yeshiva University, Brandeis, Michigan State University, Florida State University, Eastern Michigan University, and Northern Michigan University.
Dr. Cohen is best known as a pioneer in aiding to establish the Social Security Act in 19341935. He worked for the Social Security Administration from 1935-1956 and in the 1960s for medicaid. He was the Director of the Division of Research and Statistics and Professor of the Public
Welfare Administration Department at the University of Michigan from 1956-1969. He became the Assistant Secretary of HEW in 1972 and became Secretary of HEW in 1983.
Dr. Cohen did considerable research in various areas. He is best known for his work in establishing the Medicaid and Medicare health care program within the Social Security Act. He served on numerous boards and task forces and wrote extensively on Social Security matters.
He received the Distinguished Service Award from HEW in 1956, the Arthur J. Altemeyer Award, the Group Health Association Award in 1956 and the Flora Lasker Award in 1961. He also received the Rockefeller Public Service Award in 1967, the Wilbur Golden Ring Council Senior Citizens Award in 1968, the Adams Hull House Award in 1975 and the International Association Social Security Award in 1979.
From 1975-1976 he was President and a member of the Public Welfare Association and received the National Conference on Social Welfare Distinguished Service Award in 1957. He also served as President of the National Council on Social Welfare.
He was a member of a delegate to the Council on Social Work Education from 1975-1977. Following his
retirement from the federal government, Cohen established the School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.