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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Virginia Karl Photo
Virginia Cardona Karl (1916-2020)*

Virginia Cardona Karl was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 3, 1916. She attended the Girls Latin School in Boston and received her BS in Social Work from Simmons College in 1938. In 1941 she received her MA in social work from the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago. Her social work experience included serving as a social work trainee Boston City Hospital, medical social worker at the Evanston Hospital Association, and psychiatric and medical social worker with the American Red Cross stationed at the Walter Reed General Hospital.

In 1944 Karl started her career with the Veterans Administration (VA) as a Employee Counselor at the Veterans Administration Central Office and in 1945 she moved to the Veterans Administration Regional Office D.C. and worked as a Medical/Psychiatric Social Worker and Supervisor and Acting Chief Social Worker. In 1949 she returned to the Veterans Administration Central Office where she remained until her retirement in 1974. During those years she worked in Social Work Service as Chief, Administrative Standards & Services Division and Chief, Manpower and Staffing Division.

In this position, Karl was responsible for the administrative standards and management activities needed to implement the SWS programs in the VA regional offices and hospitals. For example, she assessed procedures and methods of work, as to their appropriateness, redeveloped procedures and methods in keeping with changing social work practices in the VA and social work profession. She developed appropriate reporting systems regarding all aspects of social work program activities to serve administrative, supervisory, professional and budgetary purposes, initiated studies and plans in the beginning days of data processing for the use of automated systems and methods by social workers in the VA. She worked on the development of a more meaningful method for measuring the quantitative accomplishments of social work programs for use in determining the manpower resources needed to accomplish the social work programs mission and to develop criteria for staffing requirements.

Karl fostered and nourished the development of the social work research program in the VA, culminating in the establishment of the first social work research position within the VA. She documented the establishment and development of the foster home program for the psychiatric patients in the VA, collecting data over the years and publishing findings in VA publications. This program of care was in the vanguard and the data were basic for the field and used by many other professionals as reference points and resources in their program activities and development in this field of patient treatment and care.

She studied the whole VA experience with the initiation and use of the social work assistant as a provider of care to the veteran patient. Based on the numerous studies of the experiences of the field she was able to document the effectiveness and aptness of the social work assistant in specified situations not requiting the expertise of the fully trained professional social worker. This opened up a new resource of personnel for social work.

On retirement, January 1,1974, Karl received the Distinguished Career Certificate from the Administrator of Veterans Affairs:

" recognition and appreciation of distinguished services in the Veterans Administration. Her work has been characterized by outstanding efficiency, integrity, dedication and loyalty. The high standards of performance exhibited throughout her 30 years of employment have set an example to others to follow. Her achievements have brought great credit to herself, the Veterans Administration, and the U.S. Government."

In retirement, she built a second career as a public school volunteer working with students of all ages and grade levels from pre-school through high school with an emphasis for many years on teaching English to non-native English speaking children in the schools; participated in a demonstration "Elder-mentor" program with middle school students on a one to one basis, sharing life experiences, goals and activities as encouragement to learning and achieving; and volunteered in kindergarten, assisting young beginners to learn the basics of numbers and the alphabet for their entry into the life of learning ahead of them.

Karl also learned a new skill in retirement, ballroom dancing.  She advanced from the "assistant" level to the "masters" level, and was heading for the "doctorate" level. She performed such dances as the tango, mambo, paso doble, swing, etc. This was a decided achievement and Karl noted it was a satisfying way to socialize all age levels and at the same time to promote fitness and well-being. Social work skills and attitudes were put to good use.

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.