The existence of two autobiographies and two biographies attest to the importance of Florence Denmark’s contributions to American psychology. However, none of these published materials mention the fact that she is Jewish, probably because she has never felt that her Jewish heritage is particularly salient to her. Nevertheless, like the work of other Jewish women of her generation, Denmark’s contributions to psychology have been socially activist in nature. She is a founder of the field of the psychology of women, and has contributed much to its legitimization in terms of both scholarship and organizational leadership.
She was born on January 28, 1932, in Philadelphia, where she grew up as part of a large extended family. Her mother was a musician, and her father was a lawyer. Her sister became a physician. She describes her mother as the driving force behind her accomplishments.
She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania in 1952 with honors in two majors—history and psychology. She married Stanley Denmark, an orthodontist, within a year after receiving her B.A., but continued her graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and received a Ph.D. in social psychology from that institution in 1958. After graduation, Denmark and her husband moved to New York City and had three children (a daughter and a mixed-sex set of twins). During this period, Denmark began to teach as an adjunct professor at Queens College, where she met Marcia Guttentag (another young mother) and began to collaborate on studies with her. Their research looked at the impact of college reentry on mature women, the effects of racial integration in preschool education, and the consequences of psychiatric labeling on immigrants.
In 1964, after six years of postdoctoral experience, Denmark was appointed an instructor at Hunter College. She remained at Hunter and was promoted to full professor there in 1974. In 1984 she received a distinguished professorship, and in 1988 she became the first Robert Scott Pace Professor at Pace University—an endowed chair. At that time she also became chair of Pace’s department of psychology (a position she continues to hold).
Denmark was instrumental in establishing the psychology of women as a recognized and legitimate scholarly field. She helped get funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Mental Health for the first research conference in this field (held in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1975), which brought both senior and junior women together for extensive dialogue. The book that developed from this conference, The Psychology of Women, was considered an important resource for scholars. Denmark also coauthored one of the earliest text/readers in the field, Woman: Dependent or Independent Variable? She has written extensively about the disadvantaged status of women in psychology and has worked to help the field recognize women’s neglected contributions to it. Recently, she coedited Psychology of Women, which contains insightful reviews of various aspects of the field contributed by leading scholars.
Denmark’s organizational skills are superb. She was one of the founders of the American Psychological Association’s Division on the Psychology of Women and its third president in 1975–1976. In 1980, she was elected the fifth woman president of the American Psychological Association (the first Jewish woman to hold this office). She has held many offices in national and international organizations and has received numerous awards, including the three highest honors awarded to scholars and practitioners in the field of the psychology of women: the Committee on Women in Psychology (of the American Psychology Association) Senior Leadership Award (1985), the Association for Women in Psychology Distinguished Career Award (1986) and the Society for the Psychology of Women (American Psychological Association Division 35) Carolyn Wood Sherif memorial lectureship.
Denmark believes “in empowering other women.” Her support is appreciated by her many colleagues and former students, whom she has taught to aspire greatly and collaboratively.
SELECTED WORKS BY FLORENCE LEVIN DENMARK
“Autobiography.” In Models of Achievement: Reflections of Eminent Women in Psychology, edited by Agnes N. O’Connell and Nancy F. Russo. Vol. 2 (1988): 279–293; “Contributions of Women to Psychology,” with Nancy F. Russo. Annual Review of Psychology 38 (1987): 279–298; “Feminist and Activist.” In Feminist Foremothers in Women’s Studies, Psychology, and Mental Health, edited by Phyllis Chesler, Esther D. Rothblum, and Ellen Cole (1995); Psychology of Women: A Handbook of Issues and Theories, edited with Michele A. Paludi (1993); The Psychology of Women: Future Directions of Research, edited with Julia A. Sherman (1978); Woman: Dependent or Independent Variable?, with Rhoda K. Unger (1975).
Denmark, Florence Levin. Correspondence with author, February 1997; Paludi, Michele A., and Nancy F. Russo. “Florence L. Denmark.” In Women in Psychology: A Bio-Bibliographic Sourcebook, edited by Agnes N. O’Connell and Nancy F. Russo (1990): 75–87; Stevens, Gwendolyn, and Sheldon Gardner. The Women of Psychology. Vol. 2 (1982).
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Unger, Rhoda K.. "Florence Levin Denmark." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 7, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/denmark-florence-levin>.