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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Mary Catherine Jennings Holden Photo
Mary Catherine Jennings Holden* (1916-2012)

Mary Catherine Jennings Holden was the first social welfare attaché in the history of the United States Department of State. In this position, she was posted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for 12 years. Mary Catherine worked in the International Program of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW, renamed the Department of Health and Human Services) prior to moving to Brazil, and after her tour, returned to the Department.

She had previously worked for the Girl Scouts of America in New York City and as a teacher in Parkersburg, West Virginia. She was a world traveler in her career, as well as for her personal enjoyment. She was a passenger on the first voyage of the RMS Queen Mary following her rehabilitation from a troop ship in World War II.

She was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and was a graduate of Marietta College. She received her MSW from the National Catholic School of Social Work. She was an active member of NASW, as well as the International Council of Social Work. She attended several ICSW conferences. She also was involved in many other organizations which  promoted education and human rights.

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.