Eleanor Maccoby, Pathbreaker on How Boys and Girls Differ, Dies at 101

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Eleanor Maccoby, Pathbreaker on How Boys and Girls Differ, Dies at 101

Dr. Maccoby earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in experimental psychology at the University of Michigan and conducted some of her doctoral work at the lab of the renowned psychologist B. F. Skinner at Harvard. She taught and did research at Harvard from 1950 to 1957. But, she said, felt that Harvard was a tough place for women to advance.

After a former Harvard colleague, Robert Sears, with whom she wrote “Patterns of Child Rearing” (1957), became head of the psychology department at Stanford, Dr. Maccoby and her husband, who was chairman of the psychology department at Boston University, transferred to Palo Alto.

While teaching and raising the couple’s three adopted children, she went on to be the author or co-author of 11 books, including a memoir, which she wrote at 99, and scores of monographs and essays. She was chairwoman of the psychology department from 1973 to 1976, the first woman to lead it. She was also “the first woman to teach in slacks rather than in a dress or a skirt,” she said.

Because Stanford had so few women in tenured positions, she said in the oral history, they “overutilized” her, appointing her to numerous universitywide committees. These included one to adjudicate cases of faculty members who had been accused of sexual harassment.

“The thing that struck me was that the men who were accused were absolutely unable to believe that their advances had been unwelcome,” she said. “They had a kind of quality of ego that was remarkable to see in action.”

Dr. Maccoby also served on a committee to help promote accomplished women who had been blocked from advancement or higher pay. This had been the case for Dr. Maccoby herself. At one point, when students got hold of records listing faculty salaries, they broadcast them at a public demonstration and noted that the distinguished Dr. Maccoby was one of the lowest paid professors on campus. Her son said that within a couple of weeks, the chagrined university doubled her salary.

Dr. Maccoby faced mandatory retirement from Stanford at age 70 in 1987, at which point the pace of her writing and research only increased. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993.

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