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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Grace L. Hewell Photo
Grace L. Hewell* (1919-2008)

Dr. Grace L. Hewell was born in Chattanooga and graduated from Spelman College in 1940. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Atlanta University in 1943, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and became a Second Lieutenant while serving in Germany. From 1945 to 1950, she was a Service Club Director with the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe.

She received a Master’s Degree in 1952, a Master’s Degree in Public Health in 1954, and a Doctorate Degree in Education in 1958, all from Columbia University. She worked as a social worker with the St. Louis Housing Authority in the early 1950s and then became a Public Health Educator with the New York City Department of Health. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1960 to work as a Program Coordination Officer at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services). She was assigned to the office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation.

During the first session of the 89th Congress in 1965, she was appointed Education Chief for the House Committee on Education and Labor, Chaired by Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (D-N.Y.), who had been her Pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City. The 89th Congress was labeled “the education Congress” because of the passage of 15 education bills. However, a conference committee reached an impasse on provisions of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that would expand continuing education programs and would provide greater opportunities for historically black colleges to compete for federal funds.

Dr. Hewell helped Powell break the impasse and in the process forced the Federal Government to begin closing the gap between white and black education in the United States. Wil Haygood, Powell’s biographer, described in a 1993 Boston Globe article how the New York congressman used his power and knowledge of the rules to make it more difficult for Southern House members to mass against the bill before it reached the House floor. Haygood, with The Washington Post, quoted Dr. Hewell as saying: “It was the hardest job I ever had. Two or three o’clock in the morning, I was on the floor of the House.”

Powell and President Lyndon B. Johnson considered the comprehensive education bill a magnificent achievement. So did Dr. Hewell. She was an Adult Education Program Officer in the Office of Education for the New York region from 1967-1978 and later a Consultant on Educational Telecommunications for the Department of Education. She was a commission member for UNESCO’s Fourth International Conference on Adult Education from 1975-1980.

Dr. Hewell served on the Executive Board of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and was a life member of the National Council of Negro Women. When she retired from government service, she established a second residence in Chattanooga and helped then-Sen. Al Gore clean up a creek that had been described as “the most polluted and contaminated” in the South.

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.