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Berry, Margaret E.

in: People

Margaret E. Berry (1915-2002) — Social Group Worker, Executive Director of the National Federation of Settlements and the National Conference on Social Welfare


Margaret E. Berry 
Margaret E. Berry 
Photo: NASW Foundation

Introduction: Margaret Berry was well known throughout the world of social work, nationally and internationally, because of her work in the field of group work, and her work with the National Conference on Social Welfare, of which she was President in 1970-1971 and then as Executive Director from 1972 to 1979.  Berry was also closely identified with the settlement house movement, especially from the 1940s through the 1960s. During her career, she was involved with such organizations as the Industrial Department of the Cleveland YWCA, Soho Community Settlement House and the Social Service Employees Union in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the German Youth Leadership Project, National Federation of Settlements, International Federation of Settlements, National Conference on Social Welfare, and the U.S. Committee of the International Conference of Social Work.

Career: Margaret Berry was born in 1915 in the small lumber town of Hermanville, Michigan. The daughter of a minister father and a teacher mother, she received her B.A. in Sociology from Albion College and her M.S.S.A. (Master’s of Science in Social Administration) in 1937 from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She also served as a graduate assistant at the Bryn Mawr School for Women Workers.

After several field work and summer employment experiences, Berry began her post-graduate work experience with the Industrial Department of the Cleveland YWCA. From 1941 until 1952, she worked at Soho Community Settlement House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, eventually becoming executive director in 1947. During this time, she was also a field instructor for the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. In 1951 to 1952, she went to Stuttgart and Munich under the auspices of the German Youth Leadership Project to teach group work principles from a cross-cultural perspective. The project was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and administered by the National Social Welfare Assembly.

Berry joined the staff of the National Federation of Settlements (NFS) in 1952, becoming the executive director in 1959. While working at NFS, she also served as president of the International Federation of Settlements from 1963 to 1971. She remained at NFS until 1971, when she resigned to become director of the National Conference on Social Welfare (NCSW). She retired in 1979.


“It was with much reluctance that the Board of the National Conference on Social Welfare recently accepted Margaret Berry’s re­quest to retire upon the completion of the 1979 Forum in Philadelphia. It will bring to an end a rather intimate association which the National Conference has been priviledged to enjoy with Margaret.

“First, she served the year as President of the Conference in 1970-71. Since 1971 she has served as the Executive Director of the National Conference succeeding Joe Hoffer in this post. During these years, her name has become synonymous with that of the National Conference on Social Welfare. Margaret brought with her a vast reservoir of information, experience, wisdom and the best in professionalism. From the beginning, until now, she has been called upon to give more than should be expected of her and she has delivered. Those of us — officers, program committee members, and board members — who have had the pleasure of working with her will miss the preparedness, the orderliness, the resourcefulness, the understanding, the zeal and social spirit, the humor and warm smile. All of which consistently characterized her performance.

“The National Conference is indeed indebted to Margaret for her visceral contributions to the National Conference. But perhaps more importantly we are grateful to her for her contribution to the larger mission which the Conference addresses — maintaining and strengthening the common cause of social welfare and social development. Margaret was far more than a good implementor, she was and she is a social leader.”

Her leadership years at both NFS and NCSW came at the time when social welfare organizations faced some of their most profound challenges, in particular surrounding the relationship of race and civil rights to welfare and social work. Berry also served on the U.S. Committee of the International Conference of Social Work from 1972 to 1979 and again from 1987 to 1990.

Margaret Berry was honored on several occasions for her contributions to the field of social work, particularly that of social group work. She received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Albion College and the School of Applied Social Sciences, Case-Western Reserve University, the Jane Addams Award from the National Federation of Settlements, the Grace Coyle Award for her International Contributions, and Special Citations from both the National Conference on Social Welfare and the National Committee on the Advancement of Social Work with Groups. Margaret Berry passed away in Amherst, Massachusetts, on November, 2002.


NASW Foundation, NASW Social Work Pioneers:

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN. More information is available at:

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): 

Social Welfare History Project. (2012). Margaret E. Berry (1915 – 2002). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from