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Wilcox Lecture Series

Irene Wilcox

Her name might not be a household word or her extensive contributions to the welfare of Idahoans highly publicized, but we are all indebted to the pioneering of this small-in-stature, enormous-in-will woman. Every time any one of us looks to Idaho’s mental health system to investigate child abuse, or we interact with a member of Boise State University School of Social Work faculty or student body, we are affected by Irene.

Though neither were Idaho natives, in 1953, she and her husband moved to Boise from St. Louis, MO. Both had a broad range of educational and life experiences that could have taken them anywhere, but they decided to make a life in Idaho. Given the condition of Boise’s mental health services when they arrived, we can wonder at their choosing to stay—we can also be very thankful. Irene could not turn away from the many abused children being turned away by the system that had little or no assistance to offer.

Bringing her prior experiences from the places she’d lived and studied, she wanted to see mental health services available to the public. She was told there was no need for “those types” of services here… Boise was not “plagued” with the kinds of problems she had seen and treated elsewhere.

No need? Irene remembered it differently. The child welfare laws hadn’t been changed since 1890. There was no public mental health system. There were no advocacy groups. No program for training social workers. In an interview many years later, Irene would tell of unspeakable abuse going untended and stories of pain not confronted.

Irene’s presence was a major force in creating and sustaining the welfare system that we now take for granted. She found grant money for documenting welfare needs. She helped establish and work in Boise’s first mental health center. She was a founding member of the Idaho Conference on Social Welfare. She taught the first classes in social work at BSU, became the first chair of the Department of Social Work. There was a fully accredited program in place by the time she “retired” from academic life, to become Boise’s first clinical social worker in private practice.

Irene Wilcox received many awards throughout her career—locally and nationally. But what she found most rewarding was contributing to the welfare of others. It is in this spirit that the Irene Wilcox Memorial Scholarship and the Irene Wilcox Lecture Series have been formed.


The School of Social Work has been a host to three national lecture series honoring the legacy of Prof. Wilcox. Last one was held in 2008 with the topic: Practicing the Strengths Perspective. The day-long workshop featured a presentation by nationally renowned author and speaker Dr. Dennis Saleebey, DSW.


The late Professor Irene Wilcox was a unique Idaho pioneer in social welfare and behavioral health reform. A memorial scholarship fund had been established at Boise State University to honor this outstanding citizen, advocate, and pioneer, Irene Wilcox.

Contributions are being accepted to finance the Irene Wilcox Memorial Scholarship Fund. Not only will you be recognizing the work of this amazing woman, but you will also be helping to extend the legacy of Irene through the work of BSU Social Work students assisted by this scholarship.

There is no more pressing need in higher education today than funding for scholarships. For many students pursuing a degree at BSU, a scholarship means the difference between attending on a full or part-time basis, attaining their goal and succeeding to their fullest ability.

To provide financial assistance to BSW Social Work students who otherwise could not receive a college education, the Irene Wilcox Memorial Scholarship Fund will offer scholarships annually on a competitive basis to Social Work majors.

The goal of the scholarship committee is to create a fund to ensure 5 scholarships will be offered annually in perpetuity.

You can participate in recognizing and commemorating this outstanding educator, professional clinical social worker, and social welfare advocate by contributing to the Irene Wilcox Memorial Scholarship Fund.

For more information on the Irene Wilcox Memorial Scholarship, contact the Boise State School of Social Work at 208-426-1568