Ruth Knee

Remembering Ruth Irelan Knee, – Friday, November 14, 2008, Washington, DC

NASW Social Work Pioneer® Ruth Knee passed away on October 8, 2008.

Ruth Irelan Knee, 88, a retired social worker with the U.S. Public Health Service and a prominent figure in the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), died Oct. 8 of lung cancer at her home in Fairfax County.

Mrs. Knee joined the Public Health Service in 1943 as one of its first psychiatric social workers. She later became the service’s liaison with the National Institute of Mental Health for policy development and technical assistance. Before she retired in 1973, she directed Public Health Service programs in long-term care.

A founder of NASW, she served two terms on its Board of Directors and also served on numerous committees, councils, task forces, and planning groups. She was co-founder of the association’s Social Work Pioneers® program to honor contributions to the profession. The NASW Knee/Wittman Health & Mental Health Achievement awards were named partly in her honor.

Mrs. Knee was active in other advocacy groups and was a consultant to federal agencies and private groups.

Ruth Ella Irelan was born in Sapulpa, Okla., and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Oklahoma in 1941. She received a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago in 1945.

She was a member of the Cosmos Club, the Woman’s National Democratic Club and the Vienna Presbyterian Church.

Mrs. Knee and her husband established a fund at the University of Oklahoma to sponsor academic and community programs in public health, social work and fine arts.

Her husband of 38 years, Junior Koenig Knee, died in 1981.

Ms. Knee is survived by her niece, Elizabeth Rasmussen of Edmond, OK; her nephew Robert Armstrong of Los Gatos, CA; cousins Pat Gresham of Ashburn Farms, VA, Bob Hennessy of Tecachapi, CA, Jim Hennessy of Washington, DC; grandniece Janet Rasmussen of Jacksonville, IL; and grandnephew Eric Rasmussen of Deltona, FL.

Excerpted from the Washington Post
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Click here to view Ruth’s NASW Social Work Pioneer® Profile.

To leave a tribute to Ruth, please click on the comments link below.


  1. i would like to join

  2. Ruth was a pioneer in spirit as well as experience. Hers was a pioneering family in Oklahoma. She was at University of Chicago graduate school as Fermi et. al. were developing a nuclear reactor prototype under the bleachers of the football field. She was one of the first social workers to be accepted into the Cosmos Club, Washington’s prestigious intellectual and social club. As a member there she planned, among many other activities, a series of mental health seminars for DC public school teachers. Ruth used networking to bring together groups and individuals from diverse organizations and points of view, helping them to find common ground in issues that mattered. We will miss her broad view, deep dedication, warmth, and nurturing spirit.

  3. Ruth Knee generously shared her wisdom and experience, often adding a sense of perspective that was grounded in history. Sometimes, it would be a history that she would recall as having personally lived. She looked to the future with optimism and hope. Indeed, she will be missed and her contributions will continue to be appreciated by many of us.

  4. Ruth Knee was an outstanding leader in the social work community who was truly dedicated to her profession. So many of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with Ruth on her many innovative programs were inspired by her insightful and sensitive leadership. I, for one, was honored to receive an award in her name and will continue to think of her with tremendous admiration and affection.

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