Former Board Member Ruth Knee Dies at 88

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


Ruth Irelan KneeRuth Knee co-founded NASW’s Social Work Pioneer Program.

Ruth Irelan Knee, an NASW Social Work Pioneer®, died Oct. 8 at the age of 88.

"Ruth's impact on social work was immeasurable. She devoted her life and career to social work. She will be greatly missed by all of us at NASW," said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark.

After helping found NASW, Knee served on the NASW Board of Directors for two terms. She also served on a variety of committees, councils, task forces and planning groups and co-founded NASW's Social Work Pioneerw program to honor contributions to social work.

"Ruth has been an active, participating member of NASW throughout her lifetime," said Mark Battle, former executive director of NASW and current co-chair of the Pioneer Steering Committee. "It was a privilege working along with her on what she believed in. She influenced a lot of young, new professionals, as well as policies." Knee launched a 30-year government career during World War II with the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and became one of its first psychiatric social workers. She went on to advance social work at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Knee later returned to PHS to help guide a number of interdisciplinary research and program development projects of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), eventually working as the NIMH liaison for policy development and technical assistance concerning the mental health components of Medicare and Medicaid. She directed PHS programs in long-term care in 1972.

In 1974, Knee retired from the U.S. Public Health Service, giving her more time to devote to NASW, as well as her other volunteer activities and interests.

In retirement, Knee participated in advocacy groups for nursing home reform and consulted for federal agencies and private organizations. Knee chaired the group that developed NASW's "Standards for Social Work Services in Long-Term Care Facilities" and served as an NASW representative to the Joint Commission on Inter-Professional Affairs, attending the regular meetings with psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses for many years.

"Throughout her life, Ruth constantly urged the four major mental health professions to meet together and work together," said NASW Foundation Director Robert Carter Arnold.

Knee also served on the President's Commission on Mental Health from 1977 to 1978 and the Institute of Medicine Committee for the Study of the Future of Public Health from 1986 to 1987.

Knee was born in Sapulpa, Okla., and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma and her Master of Arts degree from the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago. The NASW Knee/Wittman Health and Mental Health Achievement Awards are named for Knee and Milton Wittman [see related story].

Knee's memorial service was held on Nov. 14 at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and was followed by a reception at the Cosmos Club that was attended by colleagues, family and friends.

"In her lifetime, Ruth Knee made a tremendous impact on the National Association of Social Workers, on the social work profession and on the lives of those helped by her professional expertise," Arnold said at the memorial service. "We pledge to continue her work and to carry on the good fight to help improve the world around us."

Get more information: NASW Foundation.