Maryann Mahaffey Legacy Campaign

Mahaffey legacy

Maryann Mahaffey at Detroit City Council Meeting
Maryann Mahaffey at a Detroit City Council Meeting

Maryann Mahaffey empowered social change in Detroit as a social worker, author, educator, civil rights activist, volunteer and political leader. For nearly 60 years at the local, state, national and international levels, Mahaffey put into action her deep commitment to solving critical social issues. Holding steadfast in her ideals, she supported the most vulnerable of our citizens and advocated for equal rights as Detroit City Council president for 12 years and as a council member for 32 years. To memorialize and honor the impact Mahaffey had on Detroit, its residents and the social work profession, the Wayne State University School of Social Work has launched the Maryann Mahaffey Legacy Campaign.

Maryann's youth was rooted in the value of hard work and the importance of education and equality. Born in Burlington Iowa in 1925, Maryann grew up witnessing her wallpaper salesman and gas station operator father work 12-hour days to support his family during the Great Depression. After visiting Little Rock, Arkansas in high school, Maryann came face-to-face with the reality of racism in the South and was encouraged by her civics teacher to explore civil rights advocacy. Maryann was further encouraged by her mother to advocate for equality, including a woman's right to vote and earn an education. After Maryann's mother was not permitted to complete high school, due to her family's fear of women being overeducated, she insisted that her daughter finish school and launch her career prior to marriage. Throughout her career, Maryann earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell College, a Master's in Social Work from the University of Southern California and her Doctorate of Humanities from the Detroit International School of Ministries.

Maryann Mahaffey with daughter Susan Dooha at a campaign rally
Center from right, Maryann Mahaffey and her daughter Susan at a campaign rally. 

Honored in the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, Maryann became a champion for women's rights, filing the precedent-setting lawsuit, which established a woman's right to run for office using her birth name, leading the fight to open the doors of the Detroit Athletic Club to women, and she enacted an ordinance explaining and prohibiting sexual harassment of city employees.

There was also another legacy Maryann left: the hundreds of students and rising stars that the Councilwoman taught and mentored, including the late City Council Member and President Erma Henderson, the current Dean of the Wayne State University School of Social Work Sheryl Kubiak and members of the WSU Board of Governors. Maryann worked as a faculty member in the Wayne State School of Social Work from 1965 to 1990 and taught classes on a methodology, community work, community planning, policy development and supervised field placements for students in Metro Detroit. Maryann, a proud social worker, was the first woman elected as president to the National Association of Social Workers, co-edited a seminal text (Practical Politics: Social Work and Political Responsibility), was a member of the executive committee of the International Federation of Social Work and initiated the creation of the Detroit Mayor's Task Force on Malnutrition and Hunger, which she also chaired.

Mahaffey papers digital exhibit

We are proud to partner with the Walter P. Reuther Library to develop a digital exhibit of the Maryann Mahaffey papers, which explore her youth and work as a leading community advocate. This exhibit will be free and open to the public. Additional details on the exhibit will be coming soon.

Upcoming events

Maryann Mahaffey with a male soldier and female using crutches. All are smling.Maryann worked closely with the disability justice community in Detroit to achieve equal rights and access for all and in support of her work in this area, we encourage supporters to attend our upcoming Disability Justice Series. We are proud to host this open, honest and powerful three-part series, which will allow us to take an in-depth look at the student disability experience (October 7, 2021), hear lessons from world-renowned disability justice advocate Judith Heumann (October 21, 2021) and explore the disability justice climate in our own backyard of Detroit (March 24, 2022). We hope participants leave the series with tangible ways in which they can advocate for a just society and empower social change in their communities. 

To provide accessibility for all, this series will be held virtually. Each event will host an American Sign Language interpreter and provide the option for captioning. Two Social Work CE's will be offered for a cost of $10 at the October 21, 2021 and March 2022 events. 

Make an impact

Make a gift

To honor and memorialize the impact Maryann made in Detroit and at Wayne State, we are calling on the community to join us in honoring her work through a gift to the Maryann Mahaffey Legacy Fund. Gifts to this fund will be used to support initiatives and events that support the elimination of poverty and housing insecurities, the advancement of disability justice, and other causes that Maryann championed.

Help us ensure that Maryann's memory and impact are honored by making a gift to memorialize her.