Josephine Harris Stewart was a prominent social worker and activist who is recognized as a pioneer in the field of social group work. She was born June 9, 1924 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is of Hungarian Jewish descent. She received a bachelor of science degree in education in 1945 from the University of Cincinnati Teachers College. Following graduation, she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps and was assigned as an occupational counselor in Des Moines, Iowa, until her discharge in September 1946. She graduated in 1949 from the University of Pittsburgh with a master of social work degree, with a specialization in social group work. In 1960 she earned an advanced curriculum certificate in community organization from the University of Pennsylvania, and completed all the requirements, except for the dissertation, for a doctoral degree in social work.
Stewart's early career encompassed a number of jobs in the social work field, including teaching and social work practice at public and private social welfare agencies and hospitals. She was a social group worker at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, where she was the first social group worker in Kansas, the LaRue D. Carter Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she served as psychiatric social work supervisor, and the Rollman Institute of Psychiatry in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was a psychiatric social work educational supervisor. She was also a family counselor at Jewish Family Service of Philadelphia. Her teaching positions include serving as field work instructor and lecturer in social group work at Indiana University and lecturer in social welfare and field work consultant at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1964 to 1975, Stewart was an assistant professor and lecturer at West Virginia University, where she taught a number of social work courses. In 1975 she moved to Houston, where she was the first social worker hired at Methodist Hospital. She retired from Methodist shortly before her death from lung cancer on September 26, 1990.
Stewart was an activist for gay/lesbian and women's issues, particularly during her years in Houston. She was a charter member of the National Association of Social Workers and served the organization as national chairman on gay/lesbian issues during the 1980s. Stewart was also a co-founder of the Houston Area Women's Center.