Can you tell us a bit about your early life: where you were born, where you grew up, family and siblings?
I was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1937, into a middle class family. Both my parents went to Ivy League/Seven Sisters colleges, and I was expected to do the same. My mother’s father was Chair of the Math Department at Dartmouth. I never met him, unfortunately, since he died before my mother married. I had an older sister, Mary Ann. I grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, living in the same house until I went away to college.
Where were you educated?
Not in one of the Seven Sisters. I visited some of them, but decided on the University of Rochester, based on the advice of a guidance counselor. I was valedictorian of my high school class, but also won the music prize (violin) and I didn’t know which way I wanted to go. The Eastman School of Music is part of the U of R, so the counselor suggested it. It was the perfect place for me, although I very soon discovered that I could not compete in music. (First semester grades: 4 A’s, 1 B—in violin.)
Have you had any life-shaping experiences? If so, can you describe one for us?
I have had many life-shaping experiences, the first—and probably the most important—at the U of R. I was engaged to be married in the spring of my junior year. In the fall I was doing some hourly work for Professor Vincent Nowlis, from whom I had taken social psychology (in the psychology department, where I was a major). While doing my work (chi-squares done on a Monroe electric – not electronic – calculator) we would talk, and he
started to nag me about graduate school. I had never considered it, thinking that I would do social work after college. When I saw my fiancé in January (he had graduated and was working elsewhere) I raised the question, and he said, “No wife of mine is going to graduate school.” Two months later when I saw him again, I gave him back his ring and then went to see Nowlis. “I broke my engagement, where should I apply to graduate school?” Says he, “I hope it wasn’t anything I said!” He advised Harvard and Stanford, and I applied to both and got a fellowship from Stanford. So off I went to their Psychology Department to work with Leon Festinger.
When did you first become aware of sociology as a discipline? How?
I minored in Sociology at Rochester. The most valuable course I took was called, “Orientation to social work”. It convinced me that I was not cut out for social work.
What made you pursue sociology as a profession?
JAP: I didn’t. I pursued psychology. I ended up in sociology in a very strange way. After not getting tenure in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, I ended up with a job offer from the home economics school at Wisconsin, where my husband had accepted a job. (This was after an exhaustive search we each pursued as individuals, since there were at
that time, 1970, no programs to help spouses find work in the same area.) I worked there for six years, at which time the school became independent from the College of Agriculture and hired its first Dean. I was by then the chair of my small area, child and family studies, and thus had to meet with the Dean and the other chairs. She did not understand the “bottom up” governance of the university, and neither did the other chairs,
who had never been allowed to exercise them by the Dean of the College of Agriculture. So our new Dean would make unilateral hiring and budget decisions, and I would call her on them. “The Executive Committee has to make those decisions.” Unknown to me, after our meetings, the other ladies would all tell her to pay no attention to me. So, of course, she decided that I was impossible to work with and called the Chancellor to give me and my budget line away. This is how I ended up in sociology. (Psychology was never interested in me.)
Where did you spend the early part of your sociological career? What were your sociological interests? How have they changed?
My first job after my Ph.D. was at the Survey Research Center at Berkeley. I had recently married, and was geographically immobile. I never interviewed for the job. I got it because my advisor, Festinger, was at a cocktail party with Brewster Smith, whose job it was. They paid me at a lower rate than I deserved, because I was captive. The project was a study of adolescent anti-Semitism. I worked on it for five years. In 1967, I got divorced and left for the job at the University of Pennsylvania. There, I got interested in the study of emergency
intervention, and in one form or another I have studied altruism and helping behavior ever since. I have moved from experimental work to survey work, which I attribute to my being in sociology. And my theoretical preferences have shifted from cognitive social psychology to symbolic interaction theory.
Can you tell us a little bit about your private life—for example, do you play bridge, sail, do country line dancing, or have other hobbies and interests besides sociology?
I knit, both for my family members and for charity. I always knit in faculty meetings, seminars, and student orals. Students have said that they would be really nervous in their oral if I weren’t knitting. I have also done needlepoint, and I sew my granddaughters’ Halloween costumes, now that I am living near them (near, by California standards—75 miles). I go to the symphony; I have never lost my love of classical music. I used to play softball and swim. Now I just work out—pilates and aerobics. I do a lot of volunteering now that I am retired. I teach a Bone Builders class, which consists of a set of exercises designed to slow down osteoporosis. And I “glean”. Oxnard, where I live, is an agricultural area, and the local Food Share organization has a gleaning branch. We go out to orchards and fields and pick stuff, which then gets distributed to food banks.
Are you married? Do you have kids? If yes to either, how did you manage high productivity with competing family demands?
I am married. It will be 40 years this year, and it was not the first marriage for either of us. Between us, we have four children: two of his, one of mine, and one of ours. We have six grandchildren. Two are in their 20’s, and are from his older son. We have little to do with them since they are politically and religiously very different from us. We have four young grandchildren, ages 8, 8, 6, and 3. They say that each child is worth two publications, but I am sure it is far more than that. I never was very productive—maybe 2-3 things a year, with long gaps when collecting and processing data. I think I still neglected them more than I should have. My daughter says so.
Do you know something today that you wish that you had known when you started in sociology? What is it?
I think this is not really relevant to me, since I started in psychology. But if you mean the academic world in general, I’d say that I didn’t know how disciplined you have to be, and how you have to learn to manage your time. This is particularly important if you have family responsibilities, as most people—both male and female—do.
What one piece of advice would you give a graduate student? Or an assistant professor?
Don’t forget that you went into sociology for two reasons (at least): intense curiosity about how the world works and a desire to solve social problems. If it stops being fun and you are just going through the motions, pick a different problem, or work up a new course.