Katherine Kendall celebrated her 100th birthday at a party in September 2010. She died Dec. 1.
NASW Social Work Pioneer Katherine Kendall, who celebrated her 100th birthday in September, died Dec. 1 at her home in Mitchellville, Md.
Kendall was regarded both domestically and internationally as a trailblazer in international social work and education, having received several honors over her lifetime, including the NASW Foundation’s International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award in 2002 for significantly advancing the public image of social work.
“Katherine Kendall had an exciting and important role in the development of social work in this country and abroad,” said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. “She was adventuresome and forward-thinking. She was both a great leader and an inspiration for all of us.”
Scottish by birth, Kendall emigrated with her family to the U.S. in 1920 when she was 10 years old and became a naturalized citizen in 1940.
She credited Upton Sinclair’s turn-of-the-century novel “The Jungle,” about the plight of Polish immigrant workers in Chicago’s meatpacking industry, for igniting her interest in social work.
“The feeling of injustice was so strong I couldn’t let it alone,” Kendall recalled in her autobiography, “Essays on a Long Life: Jottings and Random Thoughts,” published last year.
During World War II, she worked for the American Red Cross as a home service correspondent and then as an assistant director of training. After the war, Kendall worked in the international service department of the U.S. Children’s Bureau.
From 1947 to 1950, Kendall served as a social affairs officer with the fledgling United Nations, where she conducted a world survey of social work training and qualifications that eventually led to the U.N. calling for the professionalization of social workers who have received formal training in social work theory and practice.
After earning a doctorate in social service administration from the University of Chicago in 1950, Kendall briefly served as executive secretary of the American Association of Schools of Social Work, playing a major role in its merger in 1952 with two other organizations to form the Council on Social Work Education.
She then became the first educational secretary at CSWE, where she remained until 1971. During her tenure at CSWE, she served as associate director and executive director, eventually stepping down from the latter post to serve as director of international education so she could be more active with the International Association of Schools of Social Work.
From 1966 to 1971, Kendall served as secretary — a voluntary position — of the IASSW. She was appointed IASSW’s first secretary general in 1971 when it established an independent, paid secretariat. Under Kendall’s leadership, the IASSW expanded from its initial European focus into a global organization.
Although she retired in 1978, she continued to serve as an honorary lifetime member of the boards of CSWE and the IASSW, and as lifetime president of the latter. She also was a longtime member of the International Council on Social Welfare Steering Committee for the U.S.
Kendall served on the faculties of the University of Chicago, the Richmond School of Social Work and the School of Social Work at Howard University, and held a Carnegie Visiting Professorship at the University of Hawaii School of Social Work. She inaugurated the first Henry and Lucy Moses Distinguished Visiting Professorship at the Hunter College School of Social Work.
In 1991, the IASSW established the Katherine A. Kendall Award for Distinguished Service in International Social Work Education.
Kendall didn’t begin her adult life intending to be a social worker. She loved to write and desired more than anything to be a foreign correspondent. In her autobiography she acknowledged that she hadn’t achieved her ambition. Still, she authored more than 100 articles and books.
“Instead of becoming a foreign correspondent, I married one who promptly gave up his overseas assignment to become a university professor,” she said. “Then I became a social worker, not in frustration, but as part of a search for a meaningful way to work toward social change and a better world. There have been no regrets.”