Helen Cloud Austin earned local and national recognition for her accomplishments and dedication as a social worker at the San Antonio State Hospital. Austin was only the second black student ever to attend the University of Louisville’s Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work. After earning her Masters of Science degree in 1953, Austin was hired as a social worker at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Austin moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1957 and became Chief of the Outpatient Department at Longview State Hospital. In 1962, Austin’s husband, a civil service worker, was transferred to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. After moving to Texas, Austin applied to the San Antonio State Hospital for a social work position, but was denied employment due to a “No blacks hired as professional” policy. Austin, however, found professional work in the private sector. In 1965, with the help of Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, the racist policy was lifted, and Austin became the first African-American professional hired at the San Antonio State Hospital.
Austin cultivated a rewarding career at San Antonio State Hospital, spearheading several new programs as Chief of the Social Services Department. Austin’s accomplishments were formally recognized in 1983 when she was declared San Antonio Social Worker of the Year and Texas’ State Social Worker of the Year. In 1984, Austin was honored as the nation’s Social Worker of the Year by the 94,000-member National Association of Social Workers, making her the first Texan to receive all three awards. Among other prestigious honors, Austin was inducted into the San Antonio Hall of Fame in 1985.
Austin retired from the San Antonio State Hospital in 1987, but remained active in the field of social work and in other community organizations. She continued to volunteer at the San Antonio State Hospital, and served on the Advisory Committee of the Hogg Foundation, and as the President of the Board of Directors for the San Antonio Halfway House, Inc. Austin also served on the boards of several mental health organizations. In addition, Austin continued her activities with the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. A member of the sorority since 1945, Austin served as President of the San Antonio Alumnae Chapter from 1970-1972.
Correspondence, newsletters, news clippings, award programs, high school diploma, photographs, and a scrapbook documenting Austin's career and community involvement have been digitized and are available online.
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