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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Bernice Catherine Harper Photo
Bernice Catherine Harper* (1924-2024)

Dr. Bernice Catherine Harper was Medical Care Advisor to the Health Care Financing Administration in Washington, D.C. Her career, which progressed to this most influential federal level, focused on the area of health care and health care policy formulation. She practiced in varied settings and personified the values and ethical standards of the social work profession even in the most difficult and highly charged political environments. Harper earned her MSW Degree from the University of Southern California in 1948, her MSc.PH from Harvard University in 1959, and her LLD Degree from Faith Grant College, Birmingham, Alabama.

She was instrumental in developing long-term program policies, which highlighted continuity-of-care, including community, and institutional care, and stressed the importance of psychosocial components. Her commitment to the long-term care of those in need served to demonstrate the best of the best for the profession and for those in need. Her insight and commitment to professionals, especially social workers, who are under both personal and professional stress as they work with patients in the final phases of their lives, combined with her perspective, academic, and practice skills with their families, motivated her to produce a definitive publication on death and the special needs for professionals to cope with their related stress. The book, Death: The Coping Mechanism of the Health Professional, was in advance of the interest now placed on this area. Harper identified and labeled specific stages of coping with death that are important to understand, especially for professionals living through the process with clients.

Dr. Harper's work at the City of Hope in California, as Chief Social Worker, and her practice with leukemia patients and families sustained her interest in the important needs of those with chronic and long- term illness. She was nationally-recognized for her work and was sought after for training workshops and conferences. Dr. Harper was consistently referred to as the professional's professional. She was able to represent social work values and bring them into policy statements. She was a personification of social work's value base and sustained that consistency in the Washington scene through multiple and changing administrations as well as political appointees. She never compromised the long-term health care needs of those in the country. She worked with multiple government organizations around minority services and activities for professional as well as other educational needs.

Dr. Harper served on the Board of Directors for the NASW Foundation and was active and held leadership positions at NASW and the International Conference on Social Welfare. She was the first recipient of the NASW Foundation's Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement in Health/Mental Health Policy Award. In 2017, Dr. Harper was inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.

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.