A feminist sociologist and gerontologist whose leadership, scholarship, teaching, service and mentoring were a model for many women, Beth Bowman Hess was born on September 13, 1928, in Buffalo, N.Y., the daughter of Yetta Lurie Bowman, who died in 2005 at the age of 103, and Albert Bowman. Her mother was a 1923 graduate of Ohio State University. Beth Bowman grew up in Buffalo and graduated from Radcliffe College with a B.A. in 1950. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from Rutgers University in 1971. She was Professor of Sociology at the County College of Morris from 1969 to 1997. While she had no illusions about the status of this position in the elitist hierarchy of academia, she valued her students and the opportunities to combine her teaching with her family life.
Despite the rigors of teaching at a community college, Beth B. Hess published numerous articles on aging, gender and the family and was the author and editor of many pathbreaking books. She was a pioneer in integrating gender into the analysis of aging and her introductory sociology textbook broke new ground in bringing race, gender and class out of the ghetto of separate chapters into the overall analysis of all dimensions of society.
Hess was president of the Association for Humanist Sociology (1986–1987), Sociologists for Women in Society (1987–1989), the Eastern Sociological Society (1988–1989), Society for the Study of Social Problems (1994–1995), secretary of the American Sociological Association (1989–1992) and executive officer of the Eastern Sociological Society (1978–1981). She became a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America (1978) and was chair of the Behavioral and Social Science Section of the Gerontological Society (1987–1988). She was awarded the Society for the Study of Social Problems Lee Founders Award in 2000.
Hess also served as editor and member of the editorial boards of Society/Transaction, Research on Aging, Contemporary Sociology, Gerontology Review, Teaching Sociology, American Sociologist, and Gender and Society.
Hess’s research and writing reflected a broad-based and humanistic perspective, with an emphasis on contemporary social problems. Her work presented social problems as not those of the elderly, women and wives, but of the social order that marginalized, exploited and diminished them. She was a feminist who was committed to thinking about gender as a social construction, a relationship of power and a structural factor with massive material consequences, and she was a humanist who celebrated the effective agency and life-long potential for change in every individual.
Beth Bowman Hess died of a brain tumor in Mt. Hope, New Jersey, on April 17, 2003. Her husband, Richard Hess, died on December 25, 1986. She had a son, Laurence, of Virginia, a daughter, Emily Robinson, who lives with her husband, Gary, in Rockaway, NY, and three grandchildren.
SELECTED WORKS BY BETH B. HESS
Hess, Beth B., and Myra Marx Ferree, eds. Analyzing Gender. Newbury Park, CA: 1987; Hess, Beth B., and Elizabeth W. Markson. Aging and Old Age: An Introduction to Social Gerontology. New York, NY: 1980; Idem. Growing Old in America, 4th ed. New Brunswick, NJ: 1991; Hess, Beth B., Elizabeth W. Markson, and Peter J. Stein. Sociology, 5th ed. Needham Heights, MA: 1996; Hess, Beth B., Peter J. Stein, and Susan A. Farrell. The Essential Sociologist. Los Angeles, CA: 2001; Marx Ferree, Myra, and Beth B. Hess, eds. Controversy and Coalition: Three Decades of the Feminist Movement, 3rd ed. New York, NY: 2000; Marx Ferree, Myra, Judith Lorber, and Beth B. Hess, eds. Revisioning Gender. Thousand Oaks, CA: 1998; White Riley, Matilda, Beth B. Hess, and Kathleen Bond. Aging in Society: Selected Reviews of Recent Research. Hillsdale, NJ: 1983; White Riley, Matilda, Bettina J. Huber, and Beth B. Hess, eds. Social Structure and Human Lives. Newbury Park, CA: 1988.
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Lorber, Judith. "Beth Bowman Hess." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 1, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hess-beth>.