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February 27, 2019

African-American History Month Spotlight: Ruby B. Pernell

Ruby B. Pernell was a professor at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (MSASS), 1968-1982. She was Grace Longwell Coyle Professor Emeritus of Social Work from 7/1/1982 until her death in 2001. When appointed Acting Dean of MSASS in 1973-1974, she became the first African-American woman dean at CWRU.

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Ruby B. Pernell, 1981

Pernell was born 2/21/1917 in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received the B.S. in Biology (1939) and the M.S. in Social Administration (1944) from the University of Pittsburgh and her Ph.D. from the University of London, England (1959). Prior to her work at CWRU, Pernell was a Program Coordinator at Soho Community House in Pittsburgh, Professor of Social Work at the University of Minnesota, and Social Welfare Attache at the U. S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. She was a visiting Professor at the University of Denver, Atlanta University, and University of Washington.

When Dr. Pernell came to CWRU in 1968 it was as the Grace Longwell Coyle Professor in Social Work. She was offered the position in 12/1966 but wanted to fulfill her contract as Social Welfare Attache at the U. S. Embassy in India - which was completed in 2/1968. As MSASS Dean Herman Stein wrote, “The professor so named is to be one who could add to social work knowledge, who has breadth of understanding and interest, who is oriented to social philosophy and attuned to the major social problems of our society.” In accepting the offer Ruby Pernell wrote, “I really am overwhelmed and humbled by the idea that any one would think I could fittingly fill a chair commemorating Grace Coyle.”

Her scholarly interests were curriculum development, program administration, and international social welfare. In her year as Acting Dean, MSASS introduced new facets into the curriculum by adding a study sequence on Management of Human Services which was concerned with management of social agencies and program direction and planning. The School also started the first phase of a new plan for crediting work done in undergraduate social work programs. MSASS and the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences cooperated to launch the new Bachelor of Science in Applied Social Sciences at Western Reserve College (the university’s undergraduate liberal arts college). Students in the new degree program were prepared to work in areas of manpower training, social services, corrections and community organizations. A part-time program for employed social workers to work toward their master’s degrees was in development.

In addition to her work as a faculty member at MSASS, Dr. Pernell served on the CWRU Afro-American Studies Program Advisory Committee and was the chair for several years.

She worked on social policy issues in India, the Sudan, Egypt, and Jamaica. Dr. Pernell served as consultant to several U. S. government agencies such as the U. S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. She published a number of articles on social group work, cross-cultural and international social welfare as well as other social welfare subjects.

Dr. Pernell was a founder of the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups. She was active in the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Social Workers, the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the U. S. Committee of the International Council on Social Welfare. She served on the Peace Corps Advisory Committee and on the boards of various community groups and agencies such as the Cleveland International Program, the North Area YWCA, the YWCA of East Cleveland and the Camp Fire Girls of Greater Cleveland. She served as consultant nationally and internationally. In 1997 Ruby Pernell received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Social Workers Region III.

On 2/4/2001 Ruby Pernell died at home at the age of 83.

You can read past CWRU African-American History Month recollections from 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2011.

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