Adeline Johnesse, 78, a retired psychiatric social worker with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, died of cancer Monday at her home in Cabin John.

She had worked in HEW's Vocational Rehabilitation Services Administration and was considered a pioneer in the field of establishing rehabilitation programs to combat mental illness, alcoholism and drug abuse.

Miss Johnesse retired from HEW in 1970. She had joined one of its predecessors, the Federal Security Agency, here in 1945.

She was born in Grangeville, Idaho, and grew up in a mining camp operated by her father, Frank E. Johnesse, in the Seven Devils Mountains on the rim of Hells Canyon in Idaho. Her mother, Mary Patton Johnesse, was a pioneer in women's participation in politics in this country.

After attending St. Margaret's School in Boise, Idaho, Miss Johneese earned bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from the University of Michigan. She attended the New York School of Social Work on a fellowship and worked on a rehabilitation program in New York City under the direction of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband was governor of New York at that time.

From 1936 to 1945, Miss Johnesse was a member of the faculty of the University of Chicago's School of Social Work. She also was affiliated with the American Red Cross during World War II.

She was a member of the National Association of Social Workers and of the PEO, a philanthropic organization.

She is survived by a sister, Mary Louise Johnesse, of Cabin John.