Katherine A. Kendall, a world-renowned icon of social work education, was born in 1910 in Scotland. She emigrated to the United States at the age of 10 and excelled academically from childhood on, initially wanting to become a writer. Reading about the appalling work conditions vividly described by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle led her instead to pursue a career in social work. Kendall received an MSW from Louisiana State University in 1939 and a PhD in social service administration from the University of Chicago in 1950.
Kendall was actively involved in the development of social work education in the United States. In 1950 she became executive secretary of the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW). She was involved in the complex negotiations that merged AASSW and other social work governing bodies into the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which is recognized as the sole accrediting body for social work education in the United States. During her long tenure with CSWE Kendall also held the positions of educational secretary, associate director, and executive director. Throughout her career Kendall was able to merge her global outlook with her passion for social work education.
Her initial work in the international arena began in the mid-1940s, when she worked in the international service department of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. During her time there she helped launch a program in Latin America that provided technical assistance and training for social welfare personnel. In 1947 she began working for the United Nations (UN), where she conducted a world survey of social work training that resulted in the publication of Training for Social Work: An International Survey. This pioneering work influenced the Social Commission of the UN to pass a resolution calling for the professionalization of social workers. The document was also the basis of Kendall’s doctoral dissertation and subsequently encouraged the development of social work and social work education around the world.
Kendall first became acquainted with the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) in the late 1940s, when it was known as the International Committee of Schools of Social Work. After her survey of social work training was unveiled at the UN, Kendall was invited to give the keynote address at her first IASSW conference in Paris, France. She made a positive impression on the organization’s leadership and was elected secretary of the organization. Kendall served in that voluntary position from 1954–1963 while holding leadership positions at CSWE. She often used her free time away from her official duties at CSWE to attend to IASSW matters.
During Kendall’s tenure with IASSW she helped transform it from a primarily European association into a global organization. She also played a role in IASSW’s move to consultative status with the UN. From 1971–1978 Kendall was the first paid secretary general of IASSW with a staffed office.
Although Kendall officially retired in 1978, she continued to research and write on various issues affecting social work and social work education. In 2004 she founded and endowed the Katherine A. Kendall Institute of International Social Work Education, which is housed within CSWE, to promote and enhance the social work profession’s international perspective. Key topic areas identified by the Institute include disaster management, global migration, and human rights. The Institute has organized and participated in conferences, workshops, and seminars in the United States, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
In addition to numerous awards, honorary degrees, and accolades, Kendall was made an honorary lifetime president of IASSW and an honorary lifetime board member of CSWE. She celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends from the social work community on September 25, 2010, at her retirement community in Mitchellville, MD. Kendall passed away on December 1, 2010, and will be remembered for her warm and compassionate spirit and her significant global contributions to social work education.