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.

Skip Navigation Links
David Fanshel Photo
David Fanshel* (1923-2012)

David Fanshel was born in New York City in 1923, third youngest of four children of immigrant Russian Jewish parents. His father was a displaced intellectual, forced to support his family upon leaving Ellis Island by selling fruits and vegetables from a horse drawn wagon in the East Bronx. The family became somewhat affluent when the father bought a truck and purchased produce for various stores. When the U.S. entered World War II he volunteered for the Army Air Force and he became a B-24 navigator. He flew 39 bombing missions from Italy over the Balkans, Germany, and France.

His first experience in social work involved working in a teenage lounge in a settlement in the Bronx. His later social work experiences as student, caseworker, researcher and faculty member exposed him to the problems of rendering service to public assistance clients, veterans on trial visits from mental hospitals, couples seeking help with marital problems, aged persons, and children separated from their parents. His interest in research and scholarship developed after he received his Master's Degree from the New York School of Social Work in 1948. He later pursued further graduate education in sociology at Columbia University and then his Doctorate at Columbia University School of Social Work. Dr. Fanshel received his DSW in 1960.

His research career began as an associate in 1952 at Cornell University Medical College, followed in 1955 at the Family and Children's Service of Pittsburgh; and in 1957 he became Research Director of the Child Welfare League of America. In 1961 he joined the faculty at Columbia University School of Social Work as Associate Professor, and was promoted to tenure and full membership in 1966. In 1965 he started directing the Child Welfare Research Program there, a five-year developmental study of 624 foster children. At that time it was the most intensive study of foster children yet made. He also taught in both Master's and Doctoral programs.

Through the years his research projects have resulted in many written monographs, various studies, and the PLAYBACK series in 1972 displaying advanced practice in the form of books and tapes. This was a study under a NIMH grant. He has been Honorary Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Social Work Education, and has been on the Research Committee of FSAA and at one time chairman. He has been Chairman of NASW's Publication Committee and served on committees for both CWLA as well as HEW.

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.