Honoring 100 for the 100th: Vilona Cutler

Photo of Vilona CutlerVilona Phillippi Cutler was born in 1890 on a family farm near Harper, Kansas. Knowing about farmer crop problems, she studied bacteriology and chemistry at Kansas State Agricultural College. It was through her YWCA college student membership that she learned about and became a YWCA volunteer to support First World War soldiers and their families. After her war volunteer work ended, she was selected to become general secretary for a new YWCA in Miami, Florida. Staff cuts during the depression of 1929 led to her move to direct a YWCA in Yonkers, New York. It was during her years working in New York that she began her graduate studies in social work at the New York School of Social Work. Faculty from Columbia University taught her courses, but the school was not officially a part of Columbia University. She was awarded a diploma in 1936 which is equivalent to an MSW degree.

Following her graduation, Ms. Cutler accepted a position as general secretary for the Oklahoma City YWCA. Her community work led to a governor appointment on a Children’s Code Commission. She took personal safety risks to bring together racially diverse community leaders to raise funds that would secure a YWCA facility that would serve racial diverse communities. She used her director position to integrate summer camp for girls and to remove race restrictions to the Oklahoma City YWCA dining room.

Ms. Cutler was a founding member of the Urban League of Oklahoma City. Before NASW, she chaired the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of Social Workers. In 1948, Cutler was nationally recognized for her race-relations leadership in Oklahoma City. Her numerous honors include the Norma and Murray Hearn Social Action Award by the New York School of School Work, the first recipient of the Americanism Award by the Lewis Berlewitz B’Nai B’rith Lodge & Women’s Auxiliary, and the naming of an Honorary Award in her name by the National Urban League of Oklahoma. In 2015, Cutler was recognized as a Pioneer in Social Work by the National Association of Social Workers.

Vilona P. Cutler was director of the School of Social Work from 1950-1953 at the University of Oklahoma. During her tenure as director, the school’s graduate program was accredited by the American Association of Schools of Social Work, and a partnership with university hospitals for student field practicum placements was achieved. In 1959, she accepted post of executive director of Oklahoma Health and Welfare Association and continued teaching group work and community organization part-time.

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