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Remembering Helen Cloud Austin

March 14, 2016

UTSA Special Collections staff was sad to learn of the recent passing of Helen Cloud Austin on February 22, 2016. Special Collections had a long relationship with Austin, beginning in 1997 when she donated the first portion of her papers to the University. However, prior to 1997, Austin had already completed a prolific career in social work in San Antonio and beyond, earning local and national recognition for her dedication.


Austin was born in 1925 in Kentucky, and earned her Masters of Science degree in 1953 from the University of Louisville’s Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work, where she was only the second African-American to attend. After graduation she began work in Chicago at Cook County Hospital. In 1957 she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she became Chief of the Outpatient Department at Longview State Hospital. Her husband’s civil service work led the couple to San Antonio in 1962, where she had trouble finding professional work in the public sector due to Texas’ racial segregation laws. These laws were thankfully overturned in 1965, and Austin was finally able to secure employment that matched her qualifications. That year she was hired by the San Antonio State Hospital; she was the first African-American professional to work there.

Ms. Austin stands in front of the hospital in Chicago where she worked.

Austin stands in front of the hospital in Chicago where she worked.

Austin spent nearly 23 years at the San Antonio State Hospital before retiring in 1987. During her career she was responsible for implementing several new programs, including orientation for newly admitted patients, transportation services for family and friends of patients, and encouraging short-term patients to register and vote. In 1983 she was recognized as San Antonio Social Worker of the Year, as well as Texas Social Worker of the Year. In 1984 she was honored as the nation’s Social Worker of the Year, making her the only Texas to receive all three awards.

Ms. Austin and friends, upon the occasion of being recognized as National Social Worker of the Year, 1984.

Austin and friends, upon the occasion of being recognized as National Social Worker of the Year, 1984.

After retirement Austin remained active in the San Antonio community. She served as a volunteer at the State Hospital, participated in Delta Sigma Theta sorority activities (member since 1945), and began the Senior Citizen Ministry at St. Paul United Methodist Church. She also served on the boards of San Antonio area mental health and community organizations, and was a life member of the NAACP. Her impact on the community, as well as her absence from it, will be felt for many years to come.


Helen Cloud Austin’s Papers are housed at UTSA’s Main Campus and can be viewed by appointment in the John Peace Library Special Collections Reading Room. The collection guide for her papers is available online, and the majority of her papers are also available to view online through the collection guide.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2016 6:49 pm

    Reblogged this on stillness of heart.

  2. Oscar permalink
    April 22, 2016 9:54 pm

    Mrs. Austin was a phenomenal woman! She maybe to far from sight but not to far from thought.

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