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In Memoriam: Mariam K. Chamberlain, 1918–2013

MKC HeadshotBy Jennifer Clark

Dr. Mariam K. Chamberlain, a founding member of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women, was the driving force behind the cultivation and sustainability of the women’s studies field of academic research. She is the namesake of IWPR’s prestigious Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship for Women in Public Policy, which trains young women for successful careers in research. Throughout her life, Dr. Chamberlain fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues. She passed away on April 2, 2013, at 94, just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday, following complications from heart surgery.

A Lifetime of Lifting Up Women’s Voices in Academia and Research

The daughter of Armenian immigrants, Mariam Kenosian Chamberlain was born and raised in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a working class suburb of Boston. Interest in the prevailing conditions of the depression led her to economics. She attended Radcliffe College on a scholarship and worked as a research assistant in the summers for Wassily Leontief, who later won the Nobel Prize in economics. During World War II, she worked at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), on the staff of a “brain trust” of economists and other social scientists assembled by General William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan to aid in the war effort. As part of the research and analysis branch, she worked on estimates of enemy, military, and industrial strength.

In 1950, Mariam Chamberlain received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, making her one of the few women of her generation to earn a Ph.D. in the field. In 1956, Dr. Chamberlain joined the Ford Foundation, where she served as a program officer in Economic Development and Administation, and then Education and Public Policy, until 1981. While at Ford, she spearheaded the funding of the academic women’s research and women’s studies movement; she is said to have provided nearly $10 million in support of new feminist initiatives. Her projects fostered a new analysis of women’s position in society, expanded women’s choices in the university, and supported the development of equality in law. She played a major role in building the academic infrastructure necessary to better understand women’s experiences and inform improved policies for women. In short, she paved the way for organizations like IWPR to thrive, and stocked the research pipeline with skilled women and men who have made important contributions to the study of women and public policy.

Economics and the elimination of discrimination against women around the world remained the heart of her wide-ranging activities. After leaving the Ford Foundation in 1982, she headed the Task Force on Women in Higher Education at the Russell Sage Foundation. The Task Force’s work culminated in a published volume, Women in Academe: Progress and Prospects. Before leaving Ford, she had funded an initial meeting of a group of women’s research centers. That meeting established the National Council for Research on Women, which unanimously elected her its first president. She served in that role until 1989, after which she continued to go into the office every day as Founding President and Resident Scholar.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

A Legacy of Training the Next Generation of Women Policy Researchers

IWPR owes much to Dr. Chamberlain. In 1987, Dr. Heidi Hartmann founded IWPR out of a need for comprehensive, women-focused, policy-oriented research. Dr. Chamberlain, who dedicated her career to lifting up women’s voices in academia, recognized the importance of a policy research institute centered on women, grounded by social science methodology, economics, and rigorous data analysis. Applying academic research to inform better policies for women was a natural extension of Dr. Chamberlain’s work, and she became a founding member of IWPR and served on its Board of Directors for nearly 20 years.

IWPR endowed the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship in Women and Public Policy to recognize the legacy of Dr. Chamberlain’s tireless efforts to open doors for the women researchers who came after her. Nearly 20 young women have gained valuable research experience as Fellows at IWPR since the beginning of the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship. Past Mariam K. Chamberlain scholars have gone on to hold positions at government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Congressional Research Service, earn advanced degrees from universities such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, The George Washington University, and Brown University. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, IWPR’s current Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow, was just recently named a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. The fellowship has allowed IWPR to expand its research capacity, strengthen its commitment to cultivating the next generation of women researchers and leaders, and ensure that a pipeline of experienced women researchers are at the policy-making table.

The fellowship helps sustain Dr. Chamberlain’s legacy, built on the belief that relying on credible data and research, rather than anecdote and bias, leads to better policies for working women, which in turn contribute to improved long-term outcomes for their families. May she not only rest in peace, but rest assured that, because of her efforts, there are many more women able to take up the torch she leaves behind.

IWPR’s Fellowship Encourages Advancement in Research Careers

Rhiana Gunn-Wright, 2011-2012 Mariam K. Chamberlain

By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Mallory Mpare

 

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research Mariam K. Chamberlain (MKC) Fellowship in Women and Public Policy is named for a founding member of IWPR and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women. Dr. Chamberlain has fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues.

The MKC Fellowship in Women and Public Policy pays tribute to Dr. Chamberlain’s vision of a world of gender equality in which women reach their highest levels of achievement. Fellows work as research assistants on a variety of IWPR projects and are encouraged to take advantage of wide range of academic, policy,  and networking events in Washington, DC. Currently, IWPR is accepting applications to the fellowship program.

 

This is an introduction to this year’s fellow, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who offers her insight on her experience with IWPR.

Since joining IWPR’s staff in September as the 2011–2012, Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow Rhiana Gunn-Wright has brought great energy to IWPR’s offices. Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a double major in African American studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies.

During her time at Yale, Gunn-Wright embraced women’s issues completely—from the focus of her thesis to her extracurricular volunteer work both on and off campus. Gunn-Wright’s thesis looked at welfare policy and its impact on poor black women by analyzing methods for managing teen pregnancy in the city of New Haven, CT.

Gunn-Wright also served on the board of the on-campus women’s center at Yale for two years, managing staff and resident groups. In this role, she conducted outreach to other groups at her university in order to make the center more inclusive. “When I came in [as board member], the women’s center was almost exclusively upper-class white students so I did outreach to communities of color and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] groups,” said Gunn-Wright. “We also started doing activism around sexuality on campus.”

As part of this activism, Gunn-Wright helped start a pioneering student forum to talk openly about establishing sexual respect on campus and building a healthy sexual culture. These talks involved a diverse range of students, including student faith groups. Some participating groups took the baton by hosting their own talks, and the entire initiative eventually grew into a larger program now called Sex @ Yale.

When Gunn-Wright came across the description of the Mariam K. Chamberlain fellowship with IWPR at her campus, she immediately thought it would be a good fit. One of the aspects that Gunn-Wright enjoys about her fellowship is being able to answer queries and point people to relevant research on women’s issues. She is also appreciative of the opportunity to work on issues that she is most passionate about, particularly education, by assisting with the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI).

“I enjoy the work we do on student parents and looking at the intersection between welfare, race, class gender, and education—especially for a population that isn’t usually recognized,” said Gunn-Wright. “It’s nice to build a community especially when people are as invested in it as they are in SPSI. They are invested in seeing student parents do well.”

Gunn-Wright’s biggest tip for incoming fellows?  “Be mindful of remembering that you really are working to better the status of women,” she said.  “It’s easy to get caught up in work tasks, but you are working on a daily basis to make things better, more tolerant, and more loving.”

Applications for the 2012-2013 Fellowships are due by March 1, 2012. For more information on how to apply please visit our website.

 

 

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mallory Mpare is IWPR’s Communications Assistant.

 

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