Psychology in the United States
Although both Jewish men and women have made significant contributions to American psychology from its earliest beginnings, it is exceedingly difficult to determine who is Jewish. More than other social sciences, psychology has identified itself with scientific objectivity—holding that the sex and race of its practitioners are irrelevant to their research and practice. Religious identity and social class are even less likely to be noted.
It is surprising, nevertheless, how invisible Jews, as Jews, are in the field of psychology; because, in absolute terms, a disproportionate number have contributed to the field as theorists, researchers, and practitioners. Jewish women are well represented in the field but are not necessarily named as Jews or, with a few exceptions, appear to be concerned with Jewish issues. As Evelyn Torton Beck notes, “To be visible as a woman, a feminist, and a Jew makes you multiply vulnerable to attack on those counts. No wonder major Jewish theorists are stripped of their Jewishness in histories of psychology.”
It is clear that generational differences in self-naming also exist. Those women who came to the United States as part of the wave of intellectuals fleeing Nazism in the mid- and late 1930s spoke openly about their Jewishness and the antisemitism they were attempting to escape. The American-born women of their generation also mentioned antisemitism as part of their professional lives. However, those women who began their professional lives in the 1960s or 1970s, when antisemitism had diminished or become less overt, were less likely to mention their Jewish identity.
Younger women appear to be more willing to identify themselves as Jewish. Many of these women are also feminists. They are particularly likely to be found among the leaders in the new field of the psychology of women. It is not surprising, however, that many are activists for other forms of social justice as well. In this, they resemble their male counterparts, who have been found in disproportionate numbers among the presidents of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI).
Many of these women have working-class origins. Many mention their sense of class, as well as ethnic marginality. Some attribute their activism to their parents’ values. Sandra Tangri3 spoke for these women in her tribute to her father on his ninetieth birthday, “I got more than love from my father. I got my most important values and the basis for my politics from him. I got my sense of place, of belonging to an historic stream of thinkers and ‘tooers’ (activists), and the confidence to be my own person from him.... His passionate commitment to the idea of social justice planted in me the seeds of my feminism.” Other women speak out for all those older women who have been silenced. And some, because no autobiographical material exists, do not tell us why they have spoken or why they have remained silent.
Like their male counterparts, the first generation of American women psychologists (educated in the nineteenth century) were almost all native-born Protestants. In contrast, the first major Jewish women contributors to psychology were trained in Europe more than a generation later and fled to the United States to escape the Nazis in the mid- or late 1930s. Like their male counterparts, many of these women made their most important contributions in psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory. For example, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and Else Frenkel-Brunswick (who were placed among the group of 228 psychologists living between 1900 and 1967 who had made eminent contributions to the field) were both psychoanalysts.
Many of the other women who immigrated to the United States during this period also had an impact on the developing field of clinical psychology. They included Eugenia Hanfmann (1905–1983) who, as a child, moved with her family to Lithuania and later Germany because of the Russian revolution. Hanfmann’s career was supported by a network of male Jewish mentors. She reported that a mentor sent her to work with Kurt Koffka at Smith College in 1930 and that she then remained underemployed until another Jewish man helped her to get a clinical position at Worcester State Hospital where she did research with Tamara Dembo on new patients’ reaction to the hospital. Her major contributions to clinical psychology during this period involved the study of conceptual thinking in schizophrenics and of the role of projective tests in the assessment of personality.
Hanfmann worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and was later appointed a lecturer in clinical psychology at Harvard University. Like a number of women in her cohort, she was unable to obtain a permanent faculty position after World War II. In 1952, Abraham Maslow invited her to start a counseling service for students at the newly formed Brandeis University, a position she described as her last and longest lasting.
Erika Fromm (1910–2003) is another Jewish woman trained in Europe who has made important contributions to clinical psychology. In her autobiography, she described herself as the oldest of eight children born in Germany of an Orthodox Jewish family with intellectual and artistic interests. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Frankfurt in December 1933 and two weeks later left Germany for Holland. She immigrated to the United States with her husband in 1938, narrowly avoiding the Holocaust. Fromm believes that sexism hindered her career and delayed for nine years the attainment of a full professorship that had been promised her at a well-known university. She has nevertheless had an important impact on psychoanalysis through her work on dream interpretation and on hypnosis as a key to the unconscious.
Another important European-educated contributor to psychoanalytic theory was margaret mahler, who was born in Hungary in 1897. Mahler’s work involved object relations theory—an area that also interested later Jewish scholars such as Nancy Chodorow, Jean Baker Miller2, and Jessica Benjamin.
Tamara Dembo (1902–1993) made important contributions to both clinical and social psychology. She was educated at the University of Berlin, where she soon became a member of the study group that formed around Kurt Lewin. Her early career closely paralleled that of Eugenia Hanfmann. She came to the United States to work with Kurt Koffka (an important Gestalt psychologist) at Smith College and, as conditions in Germany deteriorated, remained and worked at the Worcester State Hospital from 1932 to 1934. After moving through a number of temporary positions, she finally became a full member of the faculty at Clark University.
Dembo’s major contributions were in the field of rehabilitation psychology, where she advocated adapting environments to people rather than the other way around. She taught the field to see that disabilities are in the environment rather than in the person. She worked with a large range of handicapped individuals, including children with cerebral palsy and veterans who had lost limbs or been blinded in World War II, as well as institutionalized retarded patients.
These female (and male) refugees from Nazism helped to change the focus of American social psychology by giving it a more “outsider” perspective. Psychology was no longer the domain of a privileged white male establishment. This increased ethnic diversity helped shift the field from an emphasis on the differences between individuals and groups to an emphasis on the social forces that induce the perception of such differences. These women were also early activists for various social causes. This was especially true of Marie Jahoda, who spent the war years in England but had an illustrious career in the United States beginning in 1945.
The four American-born Jewish women whose contributions to psychology began shortly after the end of World War II were more diverse in their focus than the women discussed above. Mary Henle, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1913, resembles the immigrant group most—probably because she became interested in Gestalt psychology after studying under Wolfgang Kohler as an undergraduate at Smith College.
Henle remained committed to experimental and theoretical issues involving Gestalt psychology throughout her graduate studies at Bryn Mawr. In her autobiography, Henle made an explicit statement about the sexism and antisemitism that were prevalent in psychology during the Depression of the 1930s and later. “It is hard to say whether, as a woman, I had special difficulty in finding employment, though I suppose I did. In addition to the scarcity of positions, antisemitism was prevalent and often explicit. Thus, if I did not get a job for which I applied, I could not know for sure whether I lacked the qualifications, or whether it was because I was a woman or Jewish.”
Thelma Alper (b. 1908) described herself in her autobiography as having grown up in a very achievement-oriented, but not at all college-oriented, Jewish family in Massachusetts. In 1939, she applied to the Ph.D. program in psychology at Harvard University. Her account of her interview with the department chair is illustrative of the difficulties women in psychology faced during this period.
“It was not without trepidation, however, that I asked for an appointment with the chairman of the psychology department, Dr. Edwin G. Boring. Set up for thirty minutes, the interview lasted almost three hours. Dr. Boring was polite but not very encouraging. He told me that the department did not really welcome female graduate students, that they had accepted very few over the years and that only a handful had survived. But at the end he agreed that if I was ready to “throw myself to the lions,” the department would accept me on my terms as a part-time student, beginning in the fall of 1939.”
Alper persevered and in 1943 became the eleventh woman (and the first Jewish woman) to be granted a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard. She was appointed a lecturer (due, partly, to the scarcity of men available for non-war-related positions) and remained the only woman in the department until she was joined by Eugenia Hanfmann in 1946. However, Harvard was not prepared to offer tenure to women, and eventually both left. Alper finally accepted a tenured position at her alma mater, Wellesley, in 1952, where she remained for the rest of her career.
Alper’s research combined elements of clinical and social psychology. Her social psychological research was greatly influenced by Kurt Lewin, whose class she had taken at Harvard, and focused primarily on memory for completed and uncompleted tasks.
Bernice Levin Neugarten was born in a small town in Nebraska where her father, who had emigrated from Lithuania, bought and sold goods from farmers and ranchers. She moved to Chicago at age seventeen to attend the University of Chicago and never left—receiving all of her degrees there.
Despite taking eight years off to raise two children, Neugarten wrote or edited eight books and wrote more than 150 professional articles and monographs. She pioneered the field of adult development and aging and originated the important concepts of “social clocks” and “age norms.” Neugarten died in 2001.
Jane Loevinger (b. 1918) received an offer of an assistantship at the Institute of Child Welfare of the University of Minnesota, but this was later withdrawn. In her autobiography, Loevinger indicates that having politically radical sympathies and being Jewish were probably more important to this decision than her gender. Loevinger finally completed her graduate work at Berkeley where, she noted, she was never aware of any prejudice against Jews, women, or sympathizers with left-wing movements.
During World War II, Loevinger had a series of teaching appointments at first-class universities. When the war ended, however, women were expected to retire from their careers to leave room for the returning men to resume theirs. Unable to obtain an academic position in St. Louis where her husband was on the faculty of Washington University, Loevinger conducted a variety of research studies supported by grants to others and, eventually, to her. In 1971, twenty-five years after she had arrived in St. Louis, Loevinger (at her own request) finally became a tenured professor at Washington University.
Loevinger’s work involved the areas of measurement and psychoanalysis. She published work on the construction of projective tests as well as on the meaning and measurement of ego development.
Although the first generation of women often mentioned antisemitism in their accounts of their lives, there are fewer comments about anti-Jewish prejudice in later women’s accounts. This group of women (born in the 1920s or early 1930s) embarked on their careers after World War II when discrimination against Jews had become less overt. Instead of their Jewishness, social activism appears to have been the important focus for their professional lives.
With the exception of Ethel Tobach2, all of these women were born in the United States. As the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s made positions of leadership for women more acceptable, a number of Jewish women became presidents of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
Marcia Guttentag (1932–1977) became the second female president of SPSSI in 1971, fifteen years after the election of its first female president, Marie Jahoda. Guttentag’s career was cut short by her early death. Nevertheless, she managed to write or edit many books during her short life. Several of these focused on mental health evaluation. She was also interested in gender inequity in education and in 1983 coauthored with her husband, Paul Secord (also a psychologist), a book on the societal implications of varying male:female ratios that is still cited.
Gordon Derner’s conclusion to Guttentag’s obituary in the American Psychologist sums up Guttentag’s impact on public policy as well as on the people with whom she worked.
“Marcia was ever the activist. She vigorously insisted on strict moral, professional, and personal standards. Her writings, her speeches, her direct action, and her untiring interest in people encouraged concern for others and helped improve standards of human interaction.” Her book Undoing Sex Stereotypes helped in making provisions in the Career Incentive Act of 1977 for the elimination of sex stereotyping in elementary and secondary career education efforts. In 1970 she was the first scholar in residence at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights where she was able to study and appraise public laws and policies with respect to equal protection of all without regard to color, race, religion, national origin, or sex. The reports of the Commission were submitted to the President and Congress for action in civil rights.
The election of June Louin Tapp in 1979 marked what James Capshew called the beginning of an “informal affirmative action” program within SPSSI. Between 1978 and 1988, seven women were elected president (about 30 percent of the membership during this period were women). Six of these women were Jewish or part Jewish.
June Tapp (1929–1992) did her major research on psychology, law, and public policy. As is usual for women within this cohort, Tapp held a number of short-term positions in several cities before “settling in” as a professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota in 1972.
Tapp was a leader within several divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA). She was one of the founders of the Psychology-Law Society (now a division of APA). She was also the coauthor/editor of two books: Ambivalent America (1971) and Law, Justice, and the Individual in Society (1977). But, for Tapp, justice was not simply an abstract concept. During the 1960s, she worked with Saul Alinsky and studied African-American men in Woodlawn (one of the most impoverished communities in Chicago), and in the 1970s, she worked with a team of graduate students on the Wounded Knee Trial (as adviser as well as researcher-scholar).
Tapp was succeeded by Cynthia Deutsch (b. 1928), who reported that there was some concern among the male SPSSI leadership about the election of two women presidents in a row. Deutsch has been primarily concerned with the psychological consequences of early intervention in the lives of children at risk. Her presidential address to SPSSI, titled “The Behavioral Scientist: Insider and Outsider,” seems to summarize the sense of marginality in this cohort of socially activist women.
After a year with a male president, Clara Weiss Mayo (1931–1981) was elected president of SPSSI in 1982. Mayo’s father was Jewish, and she acknowledged both her Jewishness and the antisemitism that had caused her parents to flee Austria in 1938. Unfortunately, Mayo died before she could serve her year in office. She acquired her applied social interests from Tamara Dembo during the period she was a graduate student at Clark University.
After she joined the faculty at Boston University, Mayo was involved in one of the first studies to examine the effect of busing on school integration. She was also interested in the way nonverbal communication patterns helped or hindered relationships between individuals from different social groups.
Mayo’s term was filled by Martha Mednick1,3, the president-elect of SPSSI. Born and educated in New York City, Mednick was an influential pioneer in the study of women and gender.
Mednick was succeeded by another Jewish woman, Lois Wladis Hoffman (b. 1929). She spent most of her professional career at the University of Michigan where she became a professor of psychology in 1975. Hoffman’s earliest work was on child development, much of it conducted with Martin Hoffman, her former husband. Hoffman also maintained a long-standing interest in the effect of maternal employment on children which began with her doctoral dissertation. She wrote two important books in this area: The Employed Mother in America (1963) and Working Mothers (1974). Later, Hoffman teamed up with Martha Mednick and Sandra Tangri to edit Women and Achievement: Social and Motivational Analyses (1975).
The final individual in this group of Jewish female presidents of SPSSI is Phyllis Katz1,3 (b. 1938). Katz has worked against both racism and sexism. She founded the feminist journal Sex Roles and served as its editor from 1975 to 1990. She has served as the editor of the Journal of Social Issues, SPSSI’s major journal. She was a professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, but since 1975 she has maintained her own research institute in Boulder, Colorado. Katz’s major work in psychology has been on the socialization of gender roles in children. She has also edited two books on eliminating racism.
Not all members of this cohort have had the same educational and career trajectory. Although she was born in New York City, Frances Degen Horowitz (b. 1932) received her undergraduate education at Antioch in 1954 and her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1959. Much of her professional career was spent at the University of Kansas, where she rose from professor of psychology to the dean of the Graduate School. She has been president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York since 1991. Horowitz’s research has focused on early childhood development and children in poverty. She was president of the APA Division of Developmental Psychology in 1977–1978 and president of the Society for Research on Child Development in 1996–1997.
Judith Seitz Rodin (b. 1944) is a former college president who had an illustrious academic career before moving into administration. Rodin did important work on obesity, aging, and social control while a professor of psychology at Yale, where she also became dean of the Graduate School before moving to the presidency of the University of Pennsylvania in 1994, and of the Rockefeller Foundation a decade later. She has been an important contributor to research and policy issues involving women’s health.
Judith Alpert (b. 1944) has made her primary contributions to psychology in the areas of school psychology and, later, psychoanalysis.
It is sometimes difficult to decide where to place women chronologically, since their professional careers are frequently interrupted. Thus, the year of birth of Sylvia Scribner (1923–1991) should place her among an earlier generation of contributors to psychology. But Scribner’s career was frequently interrupted by her political activities. After graduating with honors from Smith College in 1943, Scribner worked as a union organizer and an indefatigable antiestablishment activist for many years. While she worked as assistant to the director and operational research analyst for the Jewish Board of Guardians in New York City (1958–1962), she enrolled as a graduate student at the New School for Social Research. She finally received her Ph.D. in 1970 under the direction of Mary Henle. Scribner’s scholarly contributions were primarily in the area of cross-cultural psychology. During the 1970s, she traveled frequently to Liberia to study the relationship between culture and thought. Her body of scholarship is a remarkable accomplishment for someone who received her only full-time faculty appointment at the age of fifty-nine.
Markers of Distinguished Contributions to the Field
While many women were involved in the study of social issues during this period, in the 1970s and 1980s many activist women focused their energies on the study of women and gender and on feminist organizational activities within APA. One such leader in the development and legitimization of the psychology of women is Florence Denmark1,2,3. Her career also shows some of the discontinuities familiar from other women’s life histories. Despite a somewhat late start, however, Denmark has held virtually every elected office in the profession of psychology. In 1980, she was the first Jewish woman to be elected president of the American Psychological Association.
A disproportionate number of Jewish women have been active scholars and practitioners in the field of the psychology of women. For example, the 1996 APA membership directory lists 209 fellows of this division (a status conferred by APA as a whole through evidence of unusual or outstanding contribution or performance in the field of psychology). By name, fifty-six of these individuals appear to be Jewish, and this figure does not include deceased individuals or those who are no longer members of APA.
From 1985 through 2003, the Committee on Women in Psychology gave distinguished contributions to psychology awards to forty-four women; fifteen of these awards were given to Jewish women. Jewish women (not all of them psychologists) have also received seven of the twelve distinguished career awards conferred by the Association for Women in Psychology since the inception of the award in 1978. Twelve Jewish women and one Jewish man have received the Society for the Psychology of Women’s (Division 35 of APA) most prestigious award—the Carolyn Wood Sherif memorial lectureship. This represents about half of all recipients of the Sherif award since the Society conferred the first one in 1985.
Barbara Strudler Wallston1,3 (1943–1987), a fine feminist scholar who died young, was the recipient of many awards. Wallston possessed awesome organizational skills and rose to early leadership in organizations fostering women’s careers within psychology and the development of the psychology of women. She was a leader in the Association for Women in Psychology as well as the sixth president of the APA’s Division on the Psychology of Women.
Wallston also made important contributions to psychological research. She developed a health locus of control scale with her then husband, Kenneth Wallston, which is used internationally to measure people’s beliefs about what controls their health status. She also worked in the area of dual-career couples, stereotyping, and feminist methodology in psychology.
A number of other Jewish women have also served as president of the APA’s division on women. Annette Brodsky1 (b. 1938) followed Florence Denmark and Martha Mednick as its fifth president (1977–1978). She originated the feminist therapists’ roster for the Association for Women in Psychology in 1970.
Brodsky was the coeditor of the first book on psychotherapy and women and has conducted important research on sexual contact between therapists and clients. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is a director of clinical training for a large hospital and an expert witness on sexual abuse in psychotherapy.
Rhoda Kesler Unger1,2,3 (b. 1939) was the eighth president of the division (1980–1981). Like many of the other women in this group, she was born of working-class parents and educated in New York City. She taught for a few years at Hofstra University, where her interests changed from physiological to social psychology. During this period she met Florence Denmark and coauthored an early text on the psychology of women with her. From 1972 to 1999, she was a professor of psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey and director of the All-College Honors Program. Since 2000 she has been a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. Unger’s primary work has been on the relationship between ideological values, theory, and methodology within psychology. She has also written and/or edited four textbooks in the psychology of women.
Hannah Lerman1 (b. 1936) was the twelfth president of the Division of the Psychology of Women (1984–1985). Unlike many of the women discussed in this article, Lerman has been in private practice as a therapist for all of her working career (mostly in the Los Angeles area). She is a cofounder of the Feminist Therapy Institute. Unusual among psychologists in private practice, Lerman has contributed extensively to the research literature on psychotherapy.
Lenore Walker1 (b. 1942) was the seventeenth president of the division (1989–1990) and is best known for her groundbreaking work on battered women.
Another important contributor to the psychology of women who has also been president of the APA Division on the Psychology of Women (1990–1991) is Bernice Lott1,2,3 (b. 1930). Lott began her professional activities in behalf of women somewhat later than usual because she did not obtain a full-time tenure track position (at the University of Rhode Island) until 1977—twenty-four years after she had received her doctorate in social psychology from UCLA. Lott’s autobiography contains striking similarities to other important Jewish women psychologists’ accounts of the social activism of their parents and in their own social activism. Lott’s career also shows discontinuities similar to those of other women who are/were married to prominent men in the field. She taught in the extension division of the university where her husband had a regular appointment and then as a special education teacher in junior high school. Following her second marriage, to Albert Lott, she began to publish research regularly both in collaboration with him and by herself. Her work has focused on prejudice and discrimination against women and on the social learning of gender.
One of the more recent Jewish presidents of the Division of the Psychology of Women, Laura Brown3 (b. 1952), is also one of the few women in this group to discuss explicitly what being Jewish means for her: “Feminist therapy has joined at the root with my Jewish heritage so that, an hour at a time, a life at a time, I can participate in the revolutionary activity of ‘Tikkun olam’ healing the world through the transformative work of feminism that takes shape for me in the practice of feminist therapy.” Brown describes herself in her autobiography as coming from a large family of Jewish women in which women’s intellect and education were specifically valued and encouraged. She has lived in Seattle since 1977, where she has a full-time private practice and serves as a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Washington. In 1991, Brown became the first openly lesbian licensed psychologist in Seattle. Before becoming president of the Division on the Psychology of Women, Brown was also president of APA’s Division on Gay and Lesbian Psychology. Brown has been a precocious and prolific contributor to the professional literature on psychotherapy and women. She has written a compelling book in this area, Subversive Dialogues (1994).
Judith Worell1,3 (b. 1928), a former president of the Division on the Psychology of Women and later co-chair of the Division’s Feminist Professional Training and Practice Committee, is another New York City–born woman who has contributed extensively to this field as well as to counseling psychology. In addition to her active administrative responsibilities and scholarly work, Worell completed a five-year term as editor of the Psychology of Women Quarterly. Worell’s research interests focus on the development of a feminist model for counseling psychology. She coauthored a widely used textbook in this area and is a leading figure in the pursuit of a feminist transformation of psychological education, research, and practice. She has also conducted extensive research on women’s roles throughout the lifespan and on their satisfaction with their close relationships.
Many other women born during the late 1930s and early 1940s made important contributions to psychology. Some of them identify themselves as Jewish in biographical statements, while others do not. Very few have been directly involved with Jewish religious issues or Jewish cultural life. Phyllis Chesler —who wrote the challenging book Women and Madness (1972) during the early days of the feminist movement—is an exception in this respect.
So, too, was Nancy Datan (1941–1987), who had a significant impact on both anthropology and psychology during her short life. Datan immigrated to Israel in 1963 but completed her Ph.D. in the human development program at the University of Chicago while in Israel and returned to the United States in 1973 because, she said, there was no place in Israel for a divorced woman with three young children. Datan and several colleagues conducted a pioneering study of aging among women from five subcultures in Israel, which ranged from traditional to modern in their conceptions of women’s roles. Datan’s work consistently reflected her concerns about Jewish identity, marginality, and sexuality and love—the latter two terms were interchangeable in her lexicon. She also edited an important series of books on adult development and aging. In the final year of her life, she wrote a moving (and surprisingly humorous) account of her experiences with breast cancer and her reservations about breast reconstruction.
Sandra Schwartz Tangri (1937–2003) also wrote about her Jewish ethnicity. She described herself “as a highly educated daughter of Jewish immigrants one of whom was a Yiddish poet and wallpaper-hanger, and neither of whom finished high school....” She also noted that as a child she always knew that being Jewish meant being different and that California in the 1940s and 1950s was not a land of unbounded tolerance. Her parents, however, worked to make her working-class Jewish identity a source of pride. Until she finished high school, she attended a Jewish school three days a week, learning to read, write and speak Yiddish as well as a little Hebrew and a lot of Jewish history. While a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Tangri met Martha Mednick with whom she collaborated on important research in the psychology of women. Between academic posts, she was director of the Office of Research for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for four years and senior research associate at the Urban Institute for three years. She eventually returned to academia and retired as a professor of psychology at Howard University shortly before her death. She conducted longitudinal research on women’s career development for her Ph.D. dissertation and returned to the original group several times during her career to examine long-term changes. She also studied sexual harassment in the federal work force and ethical issues in population programs.
Other important Jewish contributors to the psychology of women have been less involved in organizational activities. However, these women have contributed much to the field. Indeed, the first and still classic article in this area is “Psychology Constructs the Female” (1968) by Naomi Weisstein (b. 1940). Weisstein was born into a passionately antiauthoritarian family in New York City—she has, in fact, described herself as a “red diaper baby.” She received her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Harvard University in only three years in spite of that university’s enormous sexism, which she described wittily in the article “How Can a Little Girl Like You Teach a Great Big Class of Men?” (1977). Sexism within psychology led her to “the only position I could find”—a lectureship at the University of Chicago, which she described as “a position tailored for overqualified faculty wives” that did not even carry library privileges. She finally joined the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1973, where her research life was cut short by chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome. Despite her relatively short life as a researcher, Weisstein contributed to the understanding of the neuropsychology of visual perception as well as to feminist scholarship.
Marilyn Safir1 (b. 1938) has also been relatively uninvolved in organizational issues within APA—probably because she immigrated to Israel shortly after receiving her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Syracuse University. She had become disenchanted with the treatment of women in the United States and went to Israel because she believed that there would be more sexual equality there. In Israel, she became an early advocate of feminism and has fostered dialogue between American and Israeli scholars. She wrote an article on nature versus nurture issues in sex differences on cognitive tests and coedited a collection of works challenging myths of sexual equality in Israel.
Sandra Lipshitz Bem (b. 1944) is another important figure in the study of the psychology of women. Bem was born to a working class family in Pittsburgh and attended an Orthodox Jewish day school throughout her childhood. She and her husband, Darryl Bem did early collaborative work on the internalization of gender stereotypes as a source of gender inequality, which served as evidence in a major sex discrimination case. She also originated the concept of androgyny as a measure of personality that views “masculine” and “feminine” traits as independent of each other. Her book The Lenses of Gender (1993) examines the way gender is constructed by societal constraints.
Michelle Fine3 (b. 1953) has contributed an astonishing body of work on psychology and education in the past two decades. Although some of Fine’s work is on women, it is probably better characterized as being on social justice. Fine is especially challenging and exciting when she looks at marginality and the way issues of race, class, and disability “braid” with one another. Fine was the Goldie Anna Charitable Trust Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, but she resigned that position, in part because of the unwillingness of that institution to offer tenure to qualified women. She is currently professor of psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Fine is a passionate social activist. She has coedited a book on women and disability, written a book on African-American and Latina high school drop-outs, and coedited a book on problematizing whiteness. Her book of essays, Disruptive Voices (1992), provides a comprehensive view of her articles in the professional literature—ranging from analysis of theory and method to hands-on descriptions of rape and rape counseling.
Jewish women in psychology have made their most important contributions in two areas—clinical psychology and the social psychology of intergroup relationships, especially as it involves groups marginalized in our society. Their interest in psychodynamic issues is consistent with findings on psychologists as a whole, which suggest that those who identify themselves as Jewish are more likely to have a subjectivist theoretical orientation than other psychologists. Recent immigrant status (parents or grandparents) has also been found to be associated with social rather than biological explanations for group differences. And various forms of social marginality appear to be related to researchers’ interest in “real-life” aspects of power rather than laboratory-based demonstrations of social influence.
The marginality of women within psychology has been ameliorated by the important influence women have had on one another. Many mentor/student relationships exist. As the field of the psychology of women became an organized structure within psychology, collaborative efforts appear to have multiplied exponentially.
Feminist women in psychology value environmental rather than biological explanations for behavior, the important role of historical and cultural circumstances, and the significance of subjectivity in psychological research. Since many of these feminist women are also Jews from working-class immigrant backgrounds, their social activism as well as their concentration in certain areas of psychology make a great deal of sense. Psychology would be poorer without their perspective.
1Committee on Women in Psychology (American Psychological Association) Senior Leadership Award:
2Association for Women in Psychology Distinguished Career Award:
JESSIE BERNARD (SOCIOLOGIST)
JEAN BAKER MILLER (PSYCHIATRIST)
RHODA KESLER UNGER
3The Carolyn Wood Sherif memorial lectureship of the Society for the Psychology of Women (Division 35 of APA):
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How to cite this page
Unger, Rhoda K.. "Psychology in the United States." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/psychology-in-united-states>.