Jessica Blanche Peixotto
1864 – 1941
Jessica Blanche Peixotto, a member of a prominent Sephardic family distinguished for its long history of intellectual, philanthropic, and cultural contributions to the United States, broke gender boundaries throughout her career as a social economist and university professor. She was born in 1864 in New York City, the only daughter and oldest child of Raphael Peixotto, a prosperous Ohioan involved in trade with the South, and Myrtilla Jessica (Davis) Peixotto, originally of Virginia. In 1870, Raphael Peixotto moved his family and business to San Francisco. Jessica Peixotto’s four brothers were Edgar, a San Francisco attorney; Ernest Clifford, an artist and author; Eustace, director of public school athletics in San Francisco; and Sidney Salzado, a social worker.
After high school graduation in 1880, Peixotto acquiesced to family disapproval of her ambitions for higher education, continuing her studies at home through private instruction. In 1891, however, she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1894, and continued on to graduate study in political science and economics. She received a Ph.D. in 1900, the second given to a woman at the University of California. Peixotto’s thesis The French Revolution and Modern French Socialism, published in 1901, was based on independent research undertaken at the Sorbonne in 1896–1897.
In 1904, Jessica Peixotto joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley as a lecturer in sociology. Her appointment was soon transferred to the economics department, where she taught until her retirement in 1935. In 1918, Peixotto was the first woman to earn the rank of full professor at Berkeley. Her service as head of her department was also a first for a woman there. National honors include her election as vice president of the American Economic Association in 1928. Following her retirement, Peixotto received honorary doctorates in law from Mills College in 1935 and from the University of California in 1936.
Peixotto’s published works include Getting and Spending at the Professional Standard of Living: A Study of the Costs of Living an Academic Life (1927), and Cost of Living Studies. II. How Workers Spend a Living Wage: A Study of the Incomes and Expenditures of Eighty-Two Typographers’ Families in San Francisco (1929). A collection of papers and comments Essays in Social Economics in Honor of Jessica Blanche Peixotto (1935) provides full details of her life and published writings.
Throughout her career, Peixotto was deeply committed to social causes, serving for twelve years on the California State Board of Charities and Correction. During World War I, she worked in Washington, first as executive chairperson of the child welfare department of the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense, and then as chief of the council’s child conservation section. She was also a member of the Consumers’ Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration in 1933. At the University of California, Peixotto founded a program within the economics department that ultimately led to a professional school of social work.
Jessica Peixotto died in October 1941. While proud of her Jewish background, she was not involved in the Jewish community or any Jewish causes. Her funeral service, followed by cremation, was conducted by a representative of the Unitarian Society, together with the vice president and provost of the University of California.
Getting and Spending at the Professional Standard of Living: A Study of the Costs of Living an Academic Life (1927); Cost of Living Studies. II. How Workers Spend a Living Wage: A Study of Incomes and Expenditures of Eighty-Two Typographers’ Families in San Francisco (1929); The French Revolution and Modern French Socialism (1901).
AJYB 24:189, 44:342; JE; NAW; Obituary. NYTimes, October 21, 1941, 23:5; UJE; WWWIA 1; WWIAJ (1928, 1938); Essays in Social Economics in Honor of Jessica Blanche Peixotto (1935).