Miriam M. Johnson, a Harvard Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology, and former CSWS acting director, passed away on November 21, 2007. She is remembered as one of the cofounders of CSWS. The staff and members of CSWS are indebted to Miriam for her strong advocacy in establishing a UO center focused exclusively on the issues of women and gender in society.
Miriam played a prominent role, along with professor emerita Joan Acker, in providing the leadership to establish today’s Center for the Study of Women in Society in 1973.
Both Miriam and Joan met with William Harris in the home of UO President Robert Clark, at which time Harris declared his intention to donate the significant estate of his wife, Jane Grant, to establish a center for research on women. For the next thirty-plus years, Miriam continued to be an active CSWS member and contributed generously to the center.
Miriam served three times, across three decades, as acting director for CSWS—in 1974-75, 1986-87, and 1990-91. Joan Acker, who served multiple years as CSWS executive director, and Miriam were friends and colleagues across this entire period. Recalling the early, heady years of women’s rights, Title IX, feminism, and the establishment of the center, Acker remembered Miriam’s traits and contributions: “Miriam was a fine intellectual but was also a very modest person. She was supportive of others and took little credit for the noteworthy things she did as a researcher and a leader in women’s studies and research.”
Acker recalled how much fun they had as she and Miriam pioneered some of the first research in women’s studies. “I remember a research project Miriam and I did on feminism—the Feminism Scale. The question that correlated most highly with who was most likely to identify with feminism was ‘do you shave your legs?’ We had a good laugh over that.”
Miriam also coauthored a number of chapters in key books on women and society with UO colleague Jean Stockard, including Sex Inequality in Cultural Symbolism and Interpersonal Relations (1987), The Social Origins of Male Dominance (1986), and Biological Influences on Gender (1986). Stockard credits Miriam with providing a highly productive and enjoyable collaboration. “From Miriam I learned the importance of sociology as a science, a field where we advance knowledge by careful testing of hypotheses and do so with precision, care, and an open mind.”
“She was truly a pioneer in her field,” Stockard observes. “In fact, her doctoral dissertation in the 1950s was on gender. Her writings all pertained to gender and were models of academic excellence—broad intellectual background, careful reasoning, and incisive thought processes.”
CSWS honors and remembers Miriam Johnson for her theoretical and empirical research that advanced the knowledge of women and gender as a whole and set a precedent for the field of women’s studies. Miriam’s leadership helped establish the bedrock for subsequent generations of women scholars.
Reprinted from The CSWS Review (Winter 2008)