Ellen B. Sherwood, 65, a retired social worker, died of cancer Sunday at her home in Arlington.

She had worked in family guidance and adoptions with Northern Virginia Catholic Charities.

Since retiring in 1972, Mrs. Sherwood had been a volunteer counselor and clinic aide with the Northern Virginia Planned Parenthood Association.

Born in Mountain View, Calif., she was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. During 1937-39, she worked with itinerant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley under the U.S. Argriculture Department's Farm Security Administration.

In 1940, Mrs. Sherwood earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago. She then was associated with community family services in Beloit, Wis.

During World War II, she was a volunteer American Red Cross worker in San Diego, Calif.

She came to Washington with her family in 1957, and three years later joined Family and Child Services here.

From 1963 to 1967, Mrs. Sherwood was with the evaluation and guidance clinic for retarded children in the Fairfax County Health Department.

An enthusiastic duplicate bridge player, she participated in numerous local and regional tournaments. She was a member of St. Michael's Episcopal Church.

She is survived by her husband, Robert M., of the home; three children, Arthur Robert, of Los Alamos, N.M., Judith Lousie McLeod, of Charlottesville, Va., and Charles B., of Bethesda; a sister, Mrs W. E. Bowles, of San Luis Obispo, Calif.; two brothers, L. A. Beck, of Sunnyvale, Calif., and A. E. Beck, of Palo Alto, Calif., and five grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy may be in the form of contributions to the Virginia division of the American Cancer Society in Vienna.