Maurice V. Russell


Maurice V. Russell (1923-1998; School of Social Work 1950, Teachers College 1964). Over more than 40 years, Russell taught and directed social services at several New York institutions. Upon his death, he was professor of clinical social work at N.Y.U.’s School of Medicine. For 15 years, from 1973 to 1988, he had been director of the Social Service Department of N.Y.U.’s Medical Center. He also taught at Columbia, Hunter College and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is credited with establishing the first professional department of social work at Harlem Hospital 30 years ago, and he was director of social services at Jacobi Hospital. Earlier he was associate director of Brooklyn Psychiatric Center, Inc.

At the time of his death he had been president for 25 years of the Kenworthy-Swift Foundation, which funds projects to promote mental health in young people. He was a Trustee of Columbia from 1987 to 1995, the first African-American elected to represent the alumni of the University on the board.

“He was one of the most innovative and honored leaders in social work education over a period of many, many decades,” Dean Ronald Feldman of Columbia’s School of Social Work said. His many awards included designation as “Social Worker of the Year” in 1986 by the American Public Health Association. The Maurice V. Russell Professorship in Social Policy and Social Work Practice was created at Columbia in 1994 with the help of a gift of $1 million from Edith K. Ehrman, a colleague he had known since the 1950s.

“He initiated new and exceptionally important health care programs and fostered cutting-edge advances in social work education,” said Feldman. “He was one of the very best friends of the School of Social Work, and everyone throughout the social work community—locally and nationally—will miss him sorely.”

Russell was born May 7, 1923, in Philadelphia and remembered a childhood of hard struggle and poverty after his father was struck and killed by a car when the boy was only 7. “I became acutely aware of what it felt to need help,” he later recalled. “That experience sensitized me, and perhaps for that reason I have always found a lot of satisfaction in helping people.”

A good student, he graduated from high school at 16 and attended Temple University at night, working during the day to support his mother and pay his tuition. It took eight years to earn his B.A. while he helped his mother realize her life’s dream, to own a house of her own. With a loan and fellowship and two jobs, he earned the master of social work degree from Columbia in 1950. Teachers College awarded him the Ed.D. in 1964.

At Columbia he was an active alumnus. A longtime member of the advisory board of the School of Social Work, he was currently co-chair of the school’s 1998 Centennial Honorary Committee. He received the University’s alumni medal in 1993.

As a Columbia Trustee, Russell chaired the educational policy committee and served on the executive, alumni affairs, community affairs and health sciences committees.