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Sandra Lipsitz Bem

b. June 22, 1944

Sandra Lipsitz Bem


Sandra Lipsitz Bem, Emerita Professor of Psychology at Cornell, past director of Cornell’s Women’s Studies Program, and a psychotherapist, peacefully ended her own life at her home in Ithaca on May 20, 2014, one month before her 70th birthday. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease four years earlier, she had stated her intention to end her life while she could still do so without assistance if and when the disease became too debilitating for a meaningful quality of life.

Sandra (Sandy) was born to Peter and Lillian Lipsitz in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 22, 1944, where she attended Pittsburgh’s Hillel Academy, Taylor Allderdice High School, and Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT)—now Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU). She received her bachelor’s degree at CIT in psychology in 1965.

During her senior year at CIT, she met and married Daryl Bem, a young assistant professor in his first year on the faculty there. She received her PhD in developmental psychology in 1967 from the University of Michigan and then joined Daryl on the psychology faculty at CMU. In 1969, they both accepted faculty appointments in the Psychology Department of Stanford University, where she initiated her research on gender and psychological androgyny. In 1978, Sandy was offered a joint appointment at Cornell as Professor of Psychology and Director of the Women’s Studies Program (now called FGSS, Cornell’s program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). She remained on the Cornell faculty until her retirement in 2010.

Sandra was honored early and often for her scientific work: She received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Contribution to Psychology (1976), the Association for Women in Psychology’s Distinguished Publication Award (1977), and the American Association of University Women’s Young Scholar Award (1980). Her 1993 book, The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality, was selected the Best Book in Psychology for that year by the Association of American Publishers. It was also the winner of the Annual Book Award given by the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender in 1994. That same year, she received a second Distinguished Publication Award from the Association of Women in Psychology. In 1998, Sandy published An Unconventional Family, her memoir of her marriage to Daryl and their attempts to raise their two children to be as free from the society’s gender constraints as possible.

Both Sandy and Daryl were activists in the feminist movement and frequently spoke together publicly on sex roles in contemporary America. Sandy was an expert witness in two notable sex discrimination cases: one filed by NOW against the Pittsburgh Press for segregating classified job listings into “Male Help Wanted” and “Female Help wanted” columns. The Press lost the case and appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in favor of NOW. Sandy also appeared with Daryl as an expert witness in a hearing before the Federal Communications Commission accusing AT&T of discriminating against women in recruiting and hiring. In a widely publicized settlement, AT&T agreed to modify several of its practices. The hearings and the Bems’ testimony are described in detail in Stockford’s 2004 book, The Bellwomen: The Story of the Landmark AT&T Sex Discrimination Case.

In 1997, Sandy enrolled in Rutgers’ clinical psychology Psy.D program and received her license to practice psychotherapy in New York State in 2000, opening a part-time psychotherapy practice in Ithaca.

Sandra was predeceased by both her parents. In addition to Daryl, her husband of 49 years, Sandra’s survivors include her daughter Emily Bem (Julius Viksne and their 17-month-old son Felix Viksne Bem), son Jeremy Bem, sister Beverly Lipsitz (Roz Basin and their son Ben Basin), brother-in-law Barry Bem and sister-in-law Robyn Bem.

Her final months were considerably brightened by her delight with her new grandson, Felix.


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