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  • NASW-IL Staff

NASW congratulates Social Work Pioneer Dr. Bernice C. Harper on her 100th Birthday

WASHINGTON, DC—National Association of Social Workers CEO Angelo McClain and President Mildred "Mit" Joyner, today congratulated Dr. Bernice C. Harper on her 100th birthday and for contributions to the field of social work, both nationally and internationally. “Coming of age during the Jim Crow era, Dr. Harper was a trailblazer in the field of social work. She was among the first Black women to receive social work and public health masters degrees, from USC in the 1940s and Harvard University in the 1950s," said McClain, PhD, LICSW. "She came of age in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s – the height of Jim Crow and pre-Civil Rights eras. To be a Black woman throughout those decades, she faced extreme racism, sexism and classism. She handled it with grace, style and no resentment." Commended by universities, state and federal political leaders, and social work policy makers for her accomplishments over the decades, Dr. Harper is still going strong. “Still active with NASW, a leading board member at the NASW Foundation and other international boards, Dr. Harper is an inspiration to social workers just starting out and to those of us who have been working in the field for decades. She motivates us all," NASW President Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW, said. “Dr. Harper felt strongly that highly trained social worker professionals would be crucial players in modern health care efficacy," Joyner continued. "Her work in national hospice and palliative care systems laid the foundation for more effective, integrated partnerships among social workers, hospitals and patients.”

About Dr. Bernice C. Harper: Dr. Harper was the first Black out-of-state social work student to obtain her MSW at the University of Southern California in 1948 and among the first Black woman to earn a Master of Science in Public Health from Harvard University in 1959. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Faith Grant College in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. Harper began her social work career at Children’s Hospital Society of Los Angeles. She worked at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Durate, California, from 1961-1976, becoming the director of its social work department. She then transitioned to Washington, to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where she stayed for 30 years. Additionally, Harper was the Founding President and Chair of the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa (FHSSA). A scholarship program for African social workers was jointly established in her name by NASW and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). Other honors include: the U.S. HHS Department’s Distinguished Service Award, and the first recipient of the NASW Foundation’s Knee-Wittman Outstanding Achievement in Health and Mental Health Award. She has been designated an NASW Social Work Pioneer® by the NASW Foundation, and was recognized by inclusion in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

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