Edna Chamberlain (1921 -2005): A Leader through Times of Transition and Change

Lesley Cooper


Professor Edna Chamberlain was an outstanding leader in Australian social work. She contributed extensively to social work education at the University of Queensland, the social work profession through her leadership of the Australian Association of Social Workers and to the community through advocacy for progressive social policies. Her life experiences were influential is shaping her career and her particular teaching and research interests. Early in her life, Chamberlain was exposed to individual deprivation as a result of the Great Depression. This provided the incentive for a career in social work. She worked as a social work practitioner for some years and entered the academic world until after the death of her husband. In the university and profession, she was confronted by conflict between traditionalists and those wanting immediate reform. In managing these tensions, she tried to find the common ground but these tensions also moderated and changed her views about the purpose and practice of social work. Her rich practice and later research and teaching background provided a strong basis for her professional leadership, research activities and curriculum initiatives. Whilst social casework methods were influential early in her career she sought in later years to integrate the private pain of individuals with social policy and community planning by focusing on the purpose of social work – demonstrating her commitment to the disadvantaged in the context of social justice.

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