Nancy Humphreys

Transformational leader in social workers’ education, professional associations, and influence on policy

A pioneering social work educator and leader, Nancy A. Humphreys led a national effort to modernize the social work profession, helping to establish a new vision for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), emphasizing the role of social work in policy and politics, and encouraging women to pursue leadership roles in the professional organization and elected office.

Having earned her MSW from the University of Southern California in 1963, Humphreys served in the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services, rising from direct services worker to assistant program deputy of family and children’s services and staff development administrator. She completed her DSW degree at UCLA in 1975 and held teaching positions at many schools, including USC; UCLA; California State University, Los Angeles; and California Polytechnic University, Pomona. She later served as dean of two schools of social work, at Michigan State University and University of Connecticut.
During her time in California, she played an instrumental role in the merger of 16 California chapters of NASW into a statewide chapter in 1970. As one of the first state chapter presidents and later as the second woman elected as national president of the professional organization, in 1979, Humphreys led a major initiative to revise the organization’s code of ethics and advocated for ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

At a time when men dominated leadership roles in social work despite women constituting more than three fourths of the NASW membership, Humphreys championed equality and made gender a permanent feature of the organization’s affirmative action plan. She became the first female editor of the journal Social Work, established the first national women’s conference in the field, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the only social worker on the National Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues. In recognition of her accomplishments, she received the NASW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. Humphreys was one of the pioneering educators who met the challenge in the early 1990s to establish BSW and MSW programs at the Republic of Armenia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Throughout her career, Humphreys sought to establish relationships with political figures, including working with the California State Legislature during the 1970s to secure insurance payments for mental health social workers. She founded the Institute at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in 1995 to investigate ways that social workers can facilitate the political empowerment of clients as well as increase the number of social workers who are directly involved with electoral politics. Humphreys’ pioneering efforts have inspired many to enter the oftentimes brutal world of politics with the social work core values, theory, and ethics as foundational to political practice. Today, there are more social workers in elected and appointed positions than ever. Humphrey’s significant influence state and nation wide has inspired social workers to apply their training and compassion to build policies and systems that address the needs of the poor, sick and the disadvantaged.

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