Marie Jahoda was a major figure in psychology for her work on the effects of unemployment on emotional well-being, as well as the social impact of McCarthy-era blacklisting. Jahoda earned her doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1933 and co-wrote a book on the effects of unemployment in a small town, though in 1937 she fled Austria for London. After moving to the United States in 1945, Jahoda did significant work in social psychology, co-writing a major text on methodology and conducting studies for the American Jewish Committee. In 1953, Jahoda was elected the first woman president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. She later returned to England in 1958 and taught at the University of Sussex until her retirement.
Marie Jahoda was an important figure in psychology in England as well as the United States. Her biography by Stuart Cook, himself a major figure in American social psychology, begins with the following words:
While most women who entered psychology before the gender enlightenment of recent years encountered major obstacles in their professional careers, few have faced less promising circumstances than did Marie Jahoda. She was born into a Jewish family in a country and at a time when anti-Semitic discrimination was widespread. Most of the copies of the book reporting her first major research were burned because its authors were Jewish. She lived through World War II under the Nazi aerial bombardment of London. (Cook 1990, p. 207)
Despite these circumstances, Cook noted, Jahoda built a distinguished scientific career. She authored or coauthored eight books and coedited five more. Jahoda received an award for distinguished contributions to the public interest from the American Psychological Association in 1979. The citation for the award read: “The inspiring model that Marie Jahoda has set for many—of socially concerned, empirically competent, responsible, and psychoanalytically enriched psychology brought to bear on the important issues of freedom, justice, and equality in the contemporary world, as they touch the lives of real people—continues to serve psychology and the public interest.”
Jahoda received honorary awards from the British Psychological Society as well as the Commander of the British Empire medal, personally bestowed by Queen Elizabeth. She became internationally famous for her pioneering work on the psychological consequences of unemployment, the psychodynamics of racial and ethnic prejudice, and the psychology of positive mental health.
Early life, education, and marriage
Jahoda was born on January 26, 1907, in Vienna, Austria. Her father, Karl Jahoda (1867–1926), was a businessman, born in Vienna. Her mother, Betty Probst (1881–1967), a homemaker, emigrated from Bohemia to Vienna as a teenager. Marie had three siblings: Eduard (1903–1980), Rosi (Kuerti; 1905–2004) and Fritz (1909–2008). During her undergraduate and doctoral work at the University of Vienna, she worked with Karl and Charlotte Buhler (born Jewish, but baptized by her parents to protect her from German antisemitism), who had founded the Psychological Institute there. Jahoda was also secretly analyzed by one of Freud’s students during this period and retained a lifelong interest in psychoanalysis. During this time she married Paul Lazarsfeld, a young instructor at the institute. Their daughter, Lotte Bailyn, born in 1930, was a professor of organizational psychology and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Paul and Marie divorced in 1934.
Contributions to social psychology
After the end of World War II, Jahoda emigrated to the United States—partly to be reunited with her daughter, who had spent the war years there. In the years between 1945 and 1958 (when she returned to England), Jahoda became one of the best-known social psychologists in the United States. She worked with the American Jewish Committee on efforts to reduce prejudice through persuasive communications and on the identification of a personality type, the authoritarian personality, that was predisposed to prejudice. Later, while a professor at New York University, she coauthored a widely used book on research methodology (Research Methods in Social Relations, with Morton Deutsch and Stuart W. Cook, 1951), which focused on the needs of the rapidly developing field of social psychology. Still later, during the McCarthy period, Jahoda investigated the psychological effects of the suppression of political opinion by loyalty oaths and employment blacklisting.
In 1953, only eight years after she had come to the United States, Marie Jahoda was elected the first woman president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues; in 1980 that organization awarded her its Kurt Lewin Memorial Award “for furthering in her work, as did Kurt Lewin, the development and integration of psychological research and social action.”
Return to England and retirement
In 1958 Jahoda returned to England to marry Austen Albu, a Labor member of Parliament. She became a professor of psychology at the University of Sussex in 1965 and continued her research there until her retirement in 1972. After retirement she joined the Scientific Research Policy Unit (SPRU) at Sussex as a research fellow and authored a number of books on futurism, Freud, and unemployment. Her last and most prized publication consisted of her translations into English of the sonnets of Louise Labe, a sixteenth-century French poet.
During this post-retirement period she received many honors, including honorary degrees from Sussex and Stirling in Britain and from Vienna and Linz in Austria. She also received the Golden Cross Medal in Austria. A chair in her name was established in Germany, and a German edition of her memoirs was published. Marie Jahoda died on April 28, 2001, at her home in southeast England.
Selected works by Marie Jahoda
Christie, Richard, and Jahoda, Marie, eds. Studies in the Scope and Methods of the Authoritarian Personality. Glencoe, IL: 1954.
Jahoda, Marie, and Cooper, E. “The Evasion of Propaganda: How Prejudiced People Respond to Anti-prejudice Propaganda.” Journal of Psychology 23 (1947): 15–25.
Jahoda, Marie, Deutsch, Morton, and Cook, Stuart W. Research Methods in Social Relations. New York: 1951.
American Psychologist 35 (1980): 74–76.
Cook, Stuart W. “Marie Jahoda.” In Women in Psychology: A Bio-Bibliographic Sourcebook, edited by Agnes N. O’Connell and Nancy F. Russo. New York: 1990, 207–219.
Stevens, Gwendolyn, and Sheldon Gardner. The Women of Psychology. Vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: 1982.
Saxon, W. “Marie Jahoda, 94.
Studied Work and Women.” The New York Times, May 10, 2001, A31.