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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Catherine P. "Katy" Papell Photo
Catherine P. "Katy" Papell* (1916-2013)

Pioneering Contributions 

Catherine P. "Katy" Papelll was a significant force in the development of social work with groups beginning in 1950. Building on her early experiences working and directing settlement houses during and immediately following World War II, Dr. Papell became a skilled practitioner and strong advocate for social group work and its place in the social work profession. In 1966, in collaboration with her colleague, Beulah Rothman, Papell wrote an influential paper “Social Group Work Models: Possession and Heritage.” It was an effort to integrate the several emerging individual psychologies being recognized by group work theorists and group work’s deep commitment to social reform, as well as the increasing knowledge of how groups grow and function as their members seek to bring them into existence — group process as a very human process.

In 1978, also with Rothman, Papell launched and co-edited the journal Social Work with Groups: A Journal of Clinical and Community Practice published by Haworth Press. Papell and Rothman continued as co-editors until 1991when Beulah Rothman died. Perhaps Papell’s greatest accomplishment was her efforts to restore social group work’s identity. By 1979, Katy Papell and other group work educators recognized that Social Group Work was becoming invisible in the professional social work curriculum. At the CSWE Annual Meeting in Boston, three group workers, Papell, Rothman and Ruth Middleman put up a sign inviting attendees interested in social group work to attend a small meeting. So many educators responded it was necessary to open another room.

Following this, in October 1979 the first annual Group Work Symposium was held at Case Western Reserve University where Grace Coyle had first taught Group Work as a part of the MSW curriculum. This in turn gave rise to the creation of the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups, (Now the International Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups) a professional organization with Chapters, Affiliates and a Journal. Papell is a founding life member.

Career Highlights

Papell was professor and director of the Practice Division, Adelphi University’s School of Social Work, where she served on the social work faculty for more than 30 years. While teaching group work, casework, family practice and community and human development she designed the Integrative Curriculum, or what later came to be known as “Foundation Social Work Practice.” In 1975 Dr. Papell led a collaborative effort involving Adelphi University, Nassau County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Addiction, and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism that initially led to an introductory day to educate Adelphi faculty, then a first and annual Conference on Alcohol and Substance Abuse for Long Island, and finally a course in Adelphi's Doctoral Program and development of a post MSW Addiction Specialist Certificate Program.

Biographic Data 

Papell was born on November 12, 1916. She received her BA from the University of Michigan in 1937 and in 1938 her MA in teaching from Columbia University, specializing in student personnel and guidance.  In 1950 she received her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. Papell received her DSW from Yeshiva University in 1979. In 2002, Dr. Papell wrote the following statement which sums up her vision for social group work as an integral part of the social work profession.

“A group represents human togetherness. It is not that the group creates the togetherness for the members. Rather it is the other way around — its members must create the group, and if they are unable to do this there is nothing but a collection of individuals striving helplessly for the unknown. Humane human relationship is group membership successfully created. When people —even just two- try to create a group and fail, the search for relationship —for togetherness — becomes tension, frustration, unfulfillment, anger, conflict, failure and even violence. Fulfillment in relationship does not come automatically to us humans. We each bring our very selves to the process, each of us with the complexity of our ever emerging needs. The human process of “grouping” constantly calls upon us to participate in meeting the needs of others in their yearning for connectedness. Of course grouping is difficult, and always will be, as it will always be a fundamental human process that can be misused or fail..."

Significant Achievements and Awards

Dr. Papell was named Social Worker of the Year in 1984 by the NY State NASW.  She was a co-founder and lifetime member of the Long Island chapter of the AASWG.  She served on committees and commissions for both CSWE and NASW. At age 90 she shared her thoughts on aging at Adelphi.

Significant Publications

  • ‘Youth Service Agencies,” in Encyclopedia of Social Work, New York: NASW, 7th Edition, 1987.
  • ‘The Reflective Practitioner: A Contemporary Paradigm’s Relevance for Social Work
  • Education.’ With Louise Skolnik. Journal of Education for Social Work, 1992.
  • "Holistic Designs for Field Instruction in the Contemporary Social Work Curriculum.” With Louise Skolnik. Journal of Education for Social Work. Vol. 30 (1), 1994.

Other Highlights

Documentary Film in which Catherine Papell reflects on the process of aging:  Experiencing Aging.

A Note from Catherine Papell's Family

Catherine P. "Katy" Papell, DSW 
November 12, 1916 - November 14, 2013 

Catherine P. (Katy) Papell, 97, died on Thursday, November 14, 2013 at the Greenhill Center in West Orange, New Jersey. Visitation and a service honoring her life will be held at Prout Funeral Home, 370 Bloomfield Avenue, Verona NJ on Tuesday, November 19 from 2-4 and 7-9 pm, with a Service to be held at 3pm. A Memorial Celebration of Katy’s life will be held on Saturday, December 14, 2013. (Details to be announced.) Her ashes will be buried by the family in a private ceremony at the Flushing Cemetery.

Born in Kalamazoo, MI, Katy lived in Flushing, NY for 50 years prior to moving to West Orange 4 years ago. She had a Bachelors degree from the University of Michigan, a Masters in Education from Columbia Teachers College, a Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania, and her Doctorate in Social Work from Yeshiva University. She committed her life to the celebration of diversity, to social/humanitarian causes, and to building connections between people. She was a Professor Emeritus of Adelphi University’s School of Social Work where she taught for 40 years. Katy was a founding member of the International Association of Social Work with Groups; a member of the National Association of Social Workers, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Queens in Flushing, NY among many other professional and civic affiliations. 

Katy is survived by her children, Linda Kwiatek (and her husband, Louis), Laurie Papell, and Thomas Papell (and his wife, Frances); by her sister Gertrude Peck Handelsman; by her grandchildren, Jesse Freedman, Claire Papell, Emma Freedman, Julia Papell, Terri Bates, Christine Kwiatek and James Kwiatek; and by her great grandchildren, Sarah and Jennifer Bates. 

In lieu of flowers, gifts or food we invite you to make a contribution to: The Catherine Papell Symposium Scholarship Fund: International Association of Social Work with Groups. 

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.