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.
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.
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