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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Josephine Jordan Yelder Photo
Josephine Jordan Yelder* (1923-2011)

Josephine Jordan Yelder was born in Lyons, Kansas. She grew up in Salina, Kansas. When she graduated from high school she went to Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA as sociology major. After graduation Los Angeles County employed her as a social worker. While employed there she attended school at USC. She received a Masters Degree in Social Work and in 1975 received her Ph.D. Her study and research focused on intergenerational relationships in black families.

In 1963, Dr. Yelder became a Trail Blazer and helped to remove the academic racial barriers at Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, California, by becoming a Professor of Sociology and served as a role model for students from around the globe. In recognition of Dr. Yelder's extraordinary administrative acumen, she became chair of the Sociology Division and had the responsibility for administering graduate and undergraduate programs in Human Services. She was among the first African Americans tenured faculty at Pepperdine where she was employed for 27 years and became Professor Emerita. 

Other pioneering experiences in academia included: Assistant Professor in Clinical Social Work, University of Southern California, 1963-1969; Staff Development and Field Instructor for the Los Angeles County Bureau of Public Assistance 1953-1962.  She was Adjunct faculty at University of Southern California Gerontology Center, University of California at Los Angeles Gerontology Program, Immaculate Heart College, Long Beach and Los Angeles State Colleges. These academic positions gave impetus to Dr. Yelder's abilities and skills to integrate a wide variety of educational settings on the West Coast.

She served as a Supervisor for the California State Department for Social Welfare and Assistant Training Director, Los Angeles County Department of Social Services from 1962-1965. Dr. Yelder's direct social work experiences included casework at the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services, where she was highly respected and recognized as an outstanding clinician and diagnostician in meeting the needs of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and other diverse population groups and clients. These activities resulted in the establishment of effective policies and procedures in the health and social care agencies throughout the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services.

She also did pioneering work in private practice with small diverse population groups, families and individuals. However, it was in research and the area of gerontology, where Dr. Yelder's pioneering spirit and interest flourished relative to a study of the "Generational Relationships In Black Families: Some Preceptions Of Grandparent Role." This groundbreaking study was a defining moment for Dr. Yelder and catapulted her into significant work and activities related to the Black elderly and other aging population groups covering income maintenance, health, mental health and housing.

Her affiliations included:

  • Member of the Long Term Care Advisory Committee, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, D.C.
  • Member of the Los Angeles Delegation to the White House Conference on Aging, Washington, D.C.1995.
  • President of the Board of Directors of Peoples Coordinated Services, 1995.
  • Member Board of Directors Alzheimer's Association 1993 to the present.
  • Member of the Black Partnership Council of the United Way.
  • Research Coordinator for Study of Caregivers and Providers of Minority Age with Problems of Dementia.
  • Advisory member of the Senior Health and Peer Counseling Center for Healthy Aging.
  • Attendance at the 1985 International meeting in Nairobi on the Decade for Women representing Los Angeles County.
  • Member of the Task Force, City Department of Aging on Recommendations to the City Council of Los Angeles, 1999-2002.
  • Member of the Advisory Committee for California Endowment Initiative Regarding Older Adults Funding Programs 2000.

In relation to NASW, Dr. Yelder was a former member of the National Board of Directors and served on the National Committee on Minority Affairs and the Knee /Wittman Advisory Committee. She was also a Board Member of the California Chapter and chaired a number of committees, such as Membership, Minority Affairs and Personnel. In addition, she was a member of the Koshland Awards Committee. Dr. Yelder's professional pioneering spirit was further recognized by numerous awards from a wide variety of professional, social and religious organizations on the West Coast such as:

  • University of Southern California Los Amigos De Hunanidad Award for Outstanding Community Service;
  • National Association of Black Social Workers Outstanding Social Work Educator;
  • Delta Sigma Theta Fortitude Award in the Field of Aging;
  • Media Women Award for Contributions in Aging; and,
  • Zeta Phi Beta Outstanding Woman in Social Work Education.

Dr. Yelder was designated as a Master Teacher for seniors participating in the Computer and Internet Cyber Seniors Training Program under the auspices of BREAK-A-Way Technology, Los Angeles County. She was a stellar performer in her professional educational endeavors, community activism and advocacy role in enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of the City and County of Los Angeles and other local, state and national areas.

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.