Remembering Rhoda G. Sarnat

Rhoda Sarnat at Bernece SimonRhoda Gerard Sarnat, AM ’39, died on April 14, 2018. She was 102. Sarnat was a life-long clinical social worker. She once wrote to SSA about her fond memories of professors Edith and Grace Abbott, Sophonisba Breckenridge and said of professor Charlotte Towle, “she was my role model of a psychiatric social worker.” Sarnat also took professor Helen Harris Perlman’s course on supervision, which, together with extensive first-hand experience, prepared her for her first clinical role as a caseworker for the Jewish Social Service Bureau in Chicago. She worked there for three years and was a field instructor for SSA students. These early experiences would help her later in her career as the director of field education and the assistant dean of student affairs for the University of Southern California School of Social Work from 1961-81.

Bernard Sarnat, SB ’33, MD ’37, her husband of 70 years and a noted plastic and reconstructive surgeon, academician, and researcher, preceded her in death in 2011. 

Dr. Bernard and Mrs. Rhoda Sarnat endowed the Rhoda G. Sarnat Lecture at SSA, a lecture that has been presented annually since 2004 by a prominent researcher or practitioner on topics especially pertinent to clinical social work. In addition to creating the Sarnat Lecture Fund at SSA, Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat generously assisted hundreds of SSA students over the years through the funding of the Rhoda G. Sarnat Student Loan Fund in 1984.

The Sarnats also established numerous other awards and lectures around the country including the National Academy of Medicine’s Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award, which honors professional social workers who have made a significant contribution to advancing the public image of professional social work. 

She is survived by her two children Gerry and Joan and their spouses, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. She is pictured above with her friend and SSA classmate, the late Bernece Kern Simon, AB '36, AM '42.