Remembering Florence Cromwell
An esteemed USC alumna and occupational therapy leader passed away on Nov. 5, 2016, at the age of 94
By John Hobbs MA ‘14
Occupational therapy visionary, two-time AOTA president, and former faculty member Florence S. Cromwell MA ’52 died Nov. 5, 2016. She was 94.
The former faculty member was a USC alumna, an interim chair for two years before Elizabeth Yerxa ’52, MA ’53 took the chairship, and a member of the division’s Board of Councilors from 1996 to 2001.
Throughout her career, she loomed large over the occupational therapy landscape, making significant contributions on the national stage in areas of political advocacy, research, and education — all of which are still very much evident today.
A respected leader, Cromwell served two terms (1967-1973) as president of AOTA, the professional organization that represents the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students across the nation.
During her second presidential term, Cromwell moved AOTA from its headquarters in New York City to Rockville, MD, to be near Washington, D.C. — a relocation meant to give AOTA greater opportunities to advocate on behalf of the burgeoning profession among the nation’s policymakers.
Cromwell worked diligently to bring occupational therapy under the umbrella of health care by joining the Coalition of Independent Health Professions, a group of multi-disciplined health care professionals, giving occupational therapy much greater visibility among health care providers. She served as the group’s chair in 1974.
From early on, when she wrote Basic Skills Assessment about job assessments for people with disabilities, Cromwell was a champion for developing and refining the profession’s scientific literature. Throughout her career, she was a prolific researcher, writing several peer-reviewed journal articles and many textbooks, including Hand Rehabilitation in Occupational Therapy, The Changing Roles of Occupational Therapists in the 1980s and The Occupational Therapy Managers’ Survival Handbook: A Case Approach to Understanding the Basic Functions of Management.
Cromwell’s countless contributions to the occupational science and occupational therapy profession did not go unnoticed.
In 1974, she was honored with the AOTA Award of Merit. In 1999, she was recognized with the rarely awarded AOTA/AOTF President’s Commendation in Honor of Wilma L. West. She was also named an inaugural AOTA fellow in 1973 and became the first occupational therapist to be elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Florence Cromwell was the AOTA President when I entered the profession in 1970,” remembered Florence Clark PhD ‘82, associate dean of USC Chan. “At that time, I revered her from a distance, and at 24 years of age, I was so pleased that there was a leader in the profession who not only had the name Florence (which was in rare use in the 1970s), but who also had the same first and last name initials – FC!”
Clark added, “I couldn’t believe that one day I would actually meet her face-to-face, which happened in 1976 when I first joined the USC faculty. After that, we had an ongoing relationship. Once I became chair, she was always there for me, helping me to develop the leadership skills required for my new position. She was one of the foremost leaders in the profession and a remarkable person.”