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Stanford psychologist Eleanor Maccoby dies at 101

Eleanor Maccoby, 1917-2018 (Image credit: Chuck Painter)

Dec 14 2018

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Faculty, In the News

Eleanor Maccoby, the first woman to serve as chair of the Stanford Department of Psychology, was recognized for her scholarly contributions to gender studies and child and family psychology.

By Kate Chesley

Eleanor Maccoby, the Barbara Kimball Browning Professor of Psychology, Emerita, at Stanford, recognized for scholarly contributions to gender studies and child and family psychology, died Dec. 11 at age 101 of pneumonia in Palo Alto.

Maccoby was the first woman to serve as chair of the Stanford Department of Psychology, a position she held from 1973 to 1976. At Stanford, Maccoby was associated with the Center for the Study of Families, Children and Youth. Through that work, she became known for research on social and intellectual development in children. She made key contributions to understanding differences in development between girls and boys, infants’ emotional attachments and how divorce and child custody affect children.

“Eleanor was one of the very few tenured women at Stanford in the 1970s, and she was a generous role model for new women faculty,” said Myra Strober, professor emerita at Stanford Graduate School of Education. “She was active in the formation of the Center for Research on Women, which is now the Clayman Institute, and her pathbreaking book with Carol Jacklin on sex differences was exciting and one of the first books in the field of gender studies. She wrote her memoir just before her 100th birthday, continuing to inspire us all.”

Gordon Bower, professor emeritus of psychology, said: “Eleanor Maccorby was a real gem – an important contributor to the scientific literature, a consummate teacher, departmental chair and academic citizen. Importantly, due to her fame, she was also a capable representative to many national and international groups fostering psychology on the international stage. She was socially and politically active right up to her waning days. Personally, she was a joy to be with, full of life, energy and mischievous charm. Her warm presence will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”

Maccoby earned her master’s degree and doctorate in experimental psychology at the University of Michigan. She did the work for her PhD with psychologist B.F. Skinner at Harvard University, where she later taught in the Department of Social Relations and did research from 1950 to 1957. At Harvard, Maccoby participated in large-scale studies investigating whether certain parental practices were related to children’s personality characteristics. The study resulted in the influential book Patterns of Child Rearing in 1957.