Pauline Bart

February 18, 1930 – October 7, 2021

Pauline Bart, feminist sociologist who studied violence against women has died at the age of 91. She taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago for more than two decades. A self-described radical feminist, Dr. Bart said she sought “to demystify the world for women.” She launched her academic career at a time when female sociologists were far outnumbered and often marginalized by their male peers, and was part of a group of researchers who helped originate gender studies as an academic field.

“As sharply witty as she was formidable, intensely empathetic and caring, outspoken and tenacious, Pauline Bart was likely the first sociologist to apply and research the insights and questions of the women’s liberation movement in formal scholarship,” feminist legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon said in an email. Dr. Bart’s research, she added, “was a form of taking women seriously that had just never been done.”

Dr. Bart was a longtime professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was based in the medical school’s psychiatry department but ranged widely, teaching classes in sociology, nursing and public health. Her work combined a wry and lively writing style with a mix of statistical research and intensive interviews, including with rape victims and underground abortion providers. “Everything is data,” she often said, describing her methodology, “but data isn’t everything.”

Much of her research was inspired by her own life, including her mother’s struggle with depression in middle age. For her dissertation, she examined the hospital records of more than 500 middle-aged women being treated for depression and other mental health issues, focusing on Jewish empty-nesters. “There is no bar mitzvah for menopause,” she wrote, noting the “extreme feelings of worthlessness and uselessness” that many women felt after their children grew into adulthood.

Her interest in the Jane Collective, an underground group that offered clandestine abortion services for women in Chicago, was sparked by her own illegal abortion while in college, some 25 years before Roe v. Wade. Dr. Bart, who documented and analyzed the group in an article titled “Seizing the Means of Reproduction,” underwent the procedure to stay in school and finish her degree. When she was hospitalized with complications, she was told that she would not be treated until she revealed who had performed the abortion.

“My personal and my sociological lives are joined at the hip, heart and head, like Siamese twins,” she wrote in an autobiographical essay published in the 1996 collection “Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed.” “They cannot be separated. I turn my personal life into sociology and use sociological analysis to cope with my personal life.”

Fellow feminist sociologist Judith Lorber said that Dr. Bart “helped set much of the critical feminist agenda of the 1970s,” especially with her work on violence against women. She studied domestic battery, rape and femicide — the killing of women or girls simply because they are female — in addition to areas where violence “would be least expected,” as Lorber put it.

A 1973 study she co-wrote with Diana Scully, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Orifice,” analyzed more than two dozen gynecology books and concluded that they were biased toward men, with physicians encouraged to attend to the sexual happiness of husbands rather than the reproductive needs and desires of wives. Arguing that women’s bodies were being treated as mere objects, or “orifices,” Dr. Bart wrote that gynecology was “practiced (some say perpetuated) on women by men and for men.” “Critiques like Pauline’s led to the patient-directed and midwife-led birth movements of the ’70s,” Lorber said in an email, “and [helped make] medical treatment more responsive to patients.”

Dr. Bart later spoke out against pornography, which she viewed as harmful to women, and focused her research on rape, partly because students who had been sexually assaulted came to her for help. She began starting her UIC classes with an anonymous survey, asking students whether they had been sexually abused or assaulted, and said she sought to cultivate a supportive atmosphere for survivors.

But in 1992, she was stripped of her sociology and women’s studies classes at UIC after a Black social work student said she had called him a “potential rapist.” She denied making the remark but said she had described him as “a believer in the rape myth,” in which women want to be sexually assaulted. As she told it, the social work student had taken a hostile tone that caused some women to stop showing up or participating in class. She retired three years later.

“What I study — violence against women — is something people, including women, don’t like to talk about,” she told the Chicago Tribune, noting that if people didn’t like her class they shouldn’t take it. “It deals with the harm men do to women, and it’s not symmetrical — there are not as many female rapists as male rapists. It gets men where they live. They find this very threatening. I said I would not let male speech silence women.”

The older of two children, Pauline Bernice Lackow was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 18, 1930, to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Her father manufactured leather goods, and her mother was a homemaker.

She married Max Bart, a chemical engineer, at age 19, and trained in sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1950 and a master’s in 1952. She was raising two young children when she got a divorce and returned to school, receiving her doctorate in 1967.

While struggling to find a tenure track job, Dr. Bart helped organize a 1969 caucus of female sociologists to promote the work of women in the field. The gathering spurred the creation of Sociologists for Women in Society, an international feminist organization. “She did all she could to create feminist spaces in sociology,” said Myra Marx Ferree, a former president of the group and sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Dr. Bart launched her teaching career at the University of California at Berkeley, where she taught some of the school’s first gender studies and sociology of women classes. She joined UIC in 1970.

One of her first books, “The Student Sociologist’s Handbook” (1971), was written with a former Berkeley student, Linda Frankel, whom she insisted on crediting as co-author. “She was asked by the publisher to have a male co-author, and she said, ‘Forget that,’ ” Frankel recalled in a phone interview. The book was so successful that a revised fourth edition was published in 1986.

Dr. Bart also co-wrote “Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies” (1985), in which she and Patricia H. O’Brien concluded that shouting and fighting back were especially effective tactics at resisting rape. Her other works included articles about lesbian issues, beginning with a 1984 piece about research ethics and sexuality in which she acknowledged she was gay. She wrote that she kept it off her CV “because of homophobia.”

“In my experience, everything I have put into the establishment has been money dropped down a well,” she said, “and everything I have put into students has come back to me.”

In addition to her daughter, of Cary, N.C., survivors include a son, William Bart of Oakland, Calif.; a sister; two granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.

Dr. Bart acknowledged that she could be confrontational and controversial at times, and a difficult cocktail party guest given her focus on violence against women. She liked to quote the radical activist Andrea Dworkin in saying, “I’m a feminist. Not the fun kind!” Still, she maintained a sense of dark humor, including in poems that referenced her feminist activism (one ended, “The Medea is the message”) and in letters to friends and colleagues, many of which are preserved with her papers at Duke University.

“Dear Diana,” she began one letter, according to the Jewish Women’s Archive. “I hope everything is going wonderfully well with you or at least as well as is possible under patriarchy.”

Paula Joan Caplan

July 7, 1947 – July 21, 2021

Paula Caplan, a pioneering psychologist who exposed how her profession had pathologized a wide range of female traits and social responsibilities, including motherhood, mens-truation and even shopping, died on July 21 at her home in Rockville, Md. She was 74. Her daughter, Emily Stephenson, said the cause was metastatic melanoma.

Starting in the late 1970s, Dr. Caplan merged a rigorous clinical analysis with a fierce feminist perspective to show how many of the problems that psychologists said were innate to women — and especially mothers — had in fact resulted from social structures and dis-crimination that forced them into difficult situations, then medicalized their inevitably negative responses.

For example, in a 1984 article, “The Myth of Women’s Masochism” (and in a subsequent book by the same title), she took aim at Sigmund Freud and his acolytes, who said women suffered from “moral masochism” — that is, that they took pleasure in the frustrations and guilt that often arose from their roles as mothers and spouses. Dr. Caplan demolished Freud’s claim, first by pointing out that most women get no joy out of such pain, and then by showing how such frustration and guilt were often the results of unfair expectations placed on them by a patriarchal society.

Dr. Caplan, the author of 11 books, was perhaps best known for her seven-year battle with the American Psychiatric Association as it planned the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the encyclopedic guide used by millions of doctors to make diagnoses and by insurers to pay for them. She took particular issue with the decision by the manual’s editors to include “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” in effect a lengthy or intense instance of premenstrual syndrome.

Dr. Caplan argued that because P.M.S. was the natural result of a woman’s fluctuating hormone levels, it stood to reason that some women would experience it more strongly than others, in the same way that varying levels of testosterone made some men more aggressive than others. “If they had made a decision suddenly pathologizing a half million men, there would be a public outcry,” she told The New York Times in 1994. “I was so deeply disturbed by the lack of concern with scientific support for what they were including or rejecting, and the low level of apparent concern for the effects on patients who might get these diagnoses.”

Half in jest, she proposed that the manual include “delusional dominating personality disorder” for men with high testosterone levels. The editors rejected her proposal, which, she said, just proved her point — and showed that they had no sense of humor. Still, she continued to attack the way her profession treated women, especially as the proliferation of antidepressants in the 1990s made diagnosis lucrative for medical professionals and insurers.

“In our increasingly psychiatrized world,” she wrote in The Washington Post in 2012, “the first course is often to classify anything but routine happiness as a mental disorder, assume it is based on a broken brain or a chemical imbalance, and prescribe drugs or hospitalization.”

Read the complete obituary on The New York Times website

See Paula Caplan’s Pioneer Histories pages

Sheila Tobias

April 26, 1935 – July 6, 2021

As she worked her way through the ranks of academia during the 1960s and ’70s, Sheila Tobias kept noticing something: Female students seemed to avoid studying math and science.

Tobias, who authored more than 10 books related to math anxiety as well as the military and feminism, spent nearly half of her life researching women’s anxiety toward pursuing math and science fields. An outspoken feminist activist, Tobias lived the last 40 years of her life in Tucson, where she pursued her research, advocated for women’s equality and often left an impression on the people she met.

“I was always in awe of her absolute self-confidence. I think that’s what set her apart from so many other women,” said Alison Hughes, a retired public health policy professor at the University of Arizona and Tobias’ longtime friend.

“She was able to drill down into the roots of women’s oppression, and not just find out where the gaps were in women’s contributions to society. She was able to take on the work to fill in the gaps to make sure women were contributing at all levels, particularly in the sciences,” Hughes said. “Sheila was an icon in the women’s movement. Her writings opened the doors of the sciences to women whose talents had been ignored and shut out for decades.”

Now, Tobias’ death at the age of 86 earlier this month leaves a “void” in the community, said Hughes, who first met Tobias at a feminist speaking event in Tucson soon after Tobias moved to Arizona in the 1980s.

“When Sheila moved to Tucson, we were very excited because she was an East Coast activist, and we were getting the benefit of her experience,” said Hughes, who was an active member of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women at the time. Tobias and Hughes remained friends up until Tobias’ passing, often attending the symphony, eating dinner together and always sharing stimulating conversation.

“She was an amazing scholar,” said Hughes, who described her old friend as trusting, spirited and incisive. “Sheila had that amazing talent of being able to shape words into something really meaningful for women who were struggling with equality issues.”

Born in New York in 1935, Tobias earned bachelor’s degrees in history and literature from Radcliffe College in 1957. She worked as a journalist for a few years before attending graduate school at Columbia University, where she eventually earned two master’s degrees in history. During that time, she followed her partner to Cornell University, where she became an academic administrator by the late 1960s and entrenched herself in the gender equality movement of the era.

“The women’s movement is where my personal and professional life got restarted in the 1960s and 70s,” Tobias told Physics Today in an interview last year. At Cornell, Tobias organized one of the first campus conferences on women and helped teach one of the first women’s studies courses in the nation. “I was captured by the analysis that was offered by very brilliant women like Kate Millett and Gloria Steinem. The analysis was that when women underperform, it suits the power structure: Somebody is benefiting from us being under-assigned and underpaid.”

From 1970 to 1978, Tobias, an active member of the NOW who became personal friends with Steinem, served as associate vice provost of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In addition to spearheading efforts to hire more female faculty members, that’s where she developed her pioneering research into the concept she dubbed “math anxiety.

“I thought there was a big subject out there that nobody was tackling: Smart, ambitious college girls were just “sliding off the quantitative” without objecting, not blaming anybody but themselves, and the university was not paying attention,” Tobias recalled. “The issue was lying there in front of everyone. It was just waiting for me to pick it up.”

Pick it up, she did.

Tobias opened a math clinic on campus for anxious students, and in 1978 published the book Overcoming Math Anxiety, which explored gender biases in the field of mathematics. She started giving guest lectures in women’s studies at the UA before ultimately relocating to Tucson in the early 1980s, marrying the late UA physicist Carl Tomizuka, and establishing herself as a local force for feminism.

“She’s a good example of a scholar activist — someone who wants to understand things and use that knowledge to make a difference,” said Patricia MacCorquodale, a professor emerita in the UA Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, who has known Tobias since the 1980s. “She was dedicated to doing that for her whole life.”

In Tucson, Tobias worked as an independent scholar and education consultant for decades. Starting in 1997, she became a consultant for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and researched the role of the professional science master’s degree, which is designed for students who are interested in the intersection of business and science, in the 21st century. Feminism and science education remained at the forefront of her activism in Tucson, and over the years, Tobias was affiliated with UA’s women’s studies department, served on the Pima County/Tucson Women’s Commission and the Women’s Studies Advisory Council at the UA, and continued to deliver lectures about math anxiety.

“She had a really brilliant mind. She would ask really penetrating questions,” said MacCorquodale, who noted Tobias’ focus on “the big picture,” and her ability to “get you to think about your work in ways that you hadn’t.”

That kind of innovative thinking is what makes Tobias’ research on math and science anxiety so groundbreaking, said Marilyn Heins, retired vice dean of the UA College of Medicine who knew Tobias for some 40 years.

“She was an original thinker,” said Heins. “She wrote an intelligent academic book looking at things no one knew was going on, like how many more times teachers called on boys with their hands raised than girls. She really broke the barrier with this.”

As Heins recalls, Tobias’ passion for learning didn’t stop during her leisure.

“She was an excellent conversationalist,” said Heins, who remembers frequent Starbucks meetings where she and Tobias would “solve the world’s problems,” or chatting so long in Heins’ swimming pool their skin started pruning.

“She desperately wanted to make sure that people understood what she was trying to say,” said Heins, who is confident people will remember Tobias’ contributions toward women’s equality.

“She won’t be forgotten. I think people will continue reading her books, and she’ll be well-known in the world of feminism.”

Sheila Babs Michaels

May 8, 1939 – June 22, 2017

Sheila Babs MichaelsSheila Babs Michaels, 78, of New York City and St. Louis, died on June 22, 2017 in New York. She was the daughter of Alma Weil Kessler and Ephraim London. She spent her formative years living in St. Louis and the Bronx, with her mother and late beloved grandparents Francie (Sacks) and Irving Weil. She was sister to the late Steve Kessler, the late Jon (Jen) \Ida Kessler, and the late Harvey (Lin Chen) Kessler. A woman of strong principles, Ms. Michaels maintained her singular identity as a feminist, humanitarian, biblical scholar, and civil rights advocate throughout her life. She was credited by The New York Times as being the first to advocate use of the title ‘Ms.’ She was one of the first women to head the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) field offices in Mississippi in the 1960s. Later she interviewed civil rights leaders, resulting in an collection currently housed at Columbia University. Ms. Michaels traveled extensively throughout Asia and in 1975 worked with child survivors of the Vietnam War in Laos. Her favorite job was driving a New York City cab. Please direct donations in her memory to Congregation Beit Simchat Torah of New York, Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis or to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Services: A private burial will be held in St. Louis Riverside Memorial Chapel

Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 6, 2017

> Read Obituary from NY

 Sister Joel Read

Sister Joel ReadDecember 30, 1925 – May 25, 2017

Sister Joel Read, the longtime leader of Alverno College whose vision of placing abilities over grades put her among the nation’s top college innovators, died shortly before midnight Thursday. She was 91.

For nearly 35 years, Read led her alma mater on Milwaukee’s south side with warmth, determination and energy. The women’s college was a reflection of her trailblazing approach, but her influence reached far beyond campus. She was involved in local and national academic issues, and had an international network of contacts.

In conversation, she was always looking ahead to the next project or advocating for what she saw as the next needed change — often with a charming impatience.

“You couldn’t ask for a fuller life,” close friend Frank Miller reflected Friday, hours after her death. “If you measure people by how much good they’ve done for others, she towers over the rest of us… She wanted to get to know God better, and now she has. I’m happy for her, but sad for us.”  …Read More

> Read Obituary from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
> Read Obituary from

Judith Ellen Brady

April 26, 1937 – May 14, 2017

Judith BradyJudith (Judy) Brady, a well known feminist and activist, passed away in San Francisco on May 14th, 2017 at the age of 80, after a brief hospital stay for pneumonia and complications of COPD. She was born in San Francisco in 1937 to parents Mildred Edie and Robert Alexander Brady. She grew up in Berkeley and graduated from Anna Heads high school in 1955. She attended Cooper’s Union in New York and the University of Iowa. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.F.A. in 1962. It was in Iowa she met her husband, James Syfers, and they moved to San Francisco in 1963.

As a full time housewife and mother of two young daughters, Judy became a prominent figure in the West Coast Women’s Liberation Movement. She wrote the iconic piece “Why I Want A Wife”, which was published in the first edition of MS magazine in 1972 and has been republished countless times in books and textbooks across the country. She was also active in the movement to legalize abortion.

Judith Brady with Sally Gearhart

Judith Brady with Sally Gearhart

In the early seventies she went to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, a deeply meaningful experience for her and she returned to Cuba in later years. In the early 80s she was one of thousands of Americans who traveled to Nicaragua to see its revolution in process. What she experienced in both countries expanded her vision of the possible and deepened her commitment to social and economic justice.

Judy eventually divorced and took full time work as a secretary to support her family. She developed breast cancer in her forties and subsequently expanded her activism to the political context and environmental causes of cancer. Her book “1 in 3: Women Confront An Epidemic”, published in 1991, emphasized the root environmental causes of cancer in modern industrial capitalism, rather than blaming the victim as an individual. She was a powerful articulate public speaker and writer and gave many speeches and interviews. She also published many articles, including a regular column “Cashing in on Cancer” for the Woman’s Cancer Resource Center newsletter in Berkeley. Judy was a co founder on the board of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. She worked with Breast Cancer Action and the Toxics Links Coalition. Judy was a fierce critic of the “cancer industry” and was featured in the film Pink Ribbons, Inc. in 2011, which exposes the hypocrisy and manipulative nature of corporate PR campaigns by polluting industries.

Judy had purchased a three flat Victorian in the Mission District in the 1980s along with her close friends Nancy and Judith, and eventually moved to her ground floor flat in 2004. There she became involved in the local community and the fight to resist gentrification. She was a “regular” at water aerobics classes at the Garfield community pool for years and developed treasured friendships.

Judith Brady in Ireland

Judith Brady in Ireland

Affectionately known as Ji by her two daughters, Judy was a woman of fierce conviction and strong intellect, as well as great passion for the good fight in all its forms. She well understood the interconnections between all issues of injustice and was involved in many different struggles during her life. Her homes were always open to friends and activists needing a place to stay and her answering machine always included the phrase to leave a message for herself or “anyone who may be staying here”. She loved flowers and gardening, and was also a talented quilter, sewing each quilt entirely by hand and gifting many to friends and family. Judy loved and was loved by her daughters very much, and was a generous and loyal friend to many.

Judy is survived by her sister, Joan Brady, her daughters Tanya and Maia Syfers, her grandchildren Alex and Becca Moore, and Lily Syfers, and her nephew Toby Masters. Judy took her place in history and in our hearts and will be greatly missed.

A memorial will be held at the Woman’s Building in SF, located at 3543 18th St, on August 27th at 11:30am. In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations can be made to Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, or Breast Cancer Action, in San Francisco.

Aileen Hernandez

May 23, 1926 – February 13, 2017

Aileen HernandezThe only woman appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to the first EEOC, Hernandez has spent a lifetime working to improve the political and economic status of minority groups and women. A native of Brooklyn, NY, she moved to California in 1951 to become an organizer and later education and public relations director for the Pacific Coast Region of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, where she worked for 11 years. Before accepting the EEOC post, Hernandez was assistant chief of the California Division of Fair Employment Practices. Elected as executive VP at the founding conference of NOW in 1966, Hernandez declined that position but later agreed to serve as VP West, soon after resigning from the EEOC and launching her urban consulting business, Aileen C. Hernandez Associates, in San Francisco in 1967. She has chaired the national advisory committee of NOW, served on the board of NOW LDEF, and co-chaired a NOW task force on minority women and women’s rights. She facilitated sessions at the founding meeting of the NWPC in 1971 and at the 1973 NOW-sponsored International Feminist Conference held in the Boston area. She also founded and was active in Black Women Organized for Action, Bay Area Black Women United, The National Hook-Up of Black Women and Black Women Stirring the Waters. She has served on numerous boards and commissions at national and local levels, including The Urban Institute, National Urban Coalition, Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, Ms. Foundation for Women, Bay Area Urban League, National Advisory Board of the American Civil Liberties Union, African American Agenda Council, and Center for Governmental Studies. She chaired the California Council for the Humanities, the Center for the Common Good, the Coalition for Economic Equity, and the board of the Working Assets Money Market Fund. In 1996, Hernandez helped create and became chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a virtual network of over 600 women’s groups organized to implement the Platform for Action adopted by 189 nations at the Fourth International Conference on Women held in China. Hernandez holds a B.A. from Howard University, an M.A. from California State University at Los Angeles, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Southern Vermont College.

from Feminists Who Changed America 1936 – 1975, ed. Barbara Love, University of Illinois Press, 2006

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