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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Sarah Young Austin* (1927-2015)

Sarah Young Austin was born on February 4, 1927, in Four Oaks, a small rural town in Johnson County, southeast of Raleigh. She was the youngest of seven children in a politically active family. Miss Austin went to Women's College in Greensboro , which is now University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and studied sociology. After graduation, she returned to Johnston County to work for the Johnston County Department of Social Services.

After spending a year in graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Miss Austin applied to the social services department in Forsyth and Durham counties and at Family Services. She got job offers from all three and picked Family services. She worked with unmarried pregnant women, placing their babies with infertile couples.  She placed about 400 babies with adoptive families.

In 1963, Miss Austin went to UNC-CH, got her master’s degree in social work and returned to Family Services. Most notably in the field of social work, she received the Irvin B. Sperry Award in 1977 from the North Carolina Family Life Council, and in 1981, she was named Social Worker of the Year by the North Carolina chapter of NASW.  In 1984, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the alumni association of the UNC Department of Social Work.

Governor Robert Scott appointed Miss Austin to a six-year term on the North Carolina Board of Social Services in 1969, and she was chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Social Services for five years, from 1977 to 1982. She was instrumental in requiring that social workers get certification, which improved the integrity of the field of social work. Miss Austin took over as the director of Family Service’s family division in 1979, and became the president in 1984. NASW Social Work Pioneer 1995.


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.