SANDRA BEM

Obituary
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BEM--Sandra Lipsitz. 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. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2010, and made known at that time 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 was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1965-now Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU). During her senior year, she met and married Daryl Bem, a new assistant professor there. In 1967, she received her PhD in psychology from the University of Michigan and joined Daryl on the faculty at CMU. In 1969, they joined the Psychology Department of Stanford University, where Sandra initiated her research on gender. In 1978, she was hired by Cornell University as Professor of Psychology and Director of the Women's Studies Program. She and Daryl remained on the Cornell faculty until their respective retirements in 2010 and 2007. Sandra received several honors for her scholarly 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 honored by the Association of American Publishers as the Best Book in Psychology for that year. In 1998, she published An Unconventional Family, a memoir of her marriage to Daryl and their strategies for raising their two children to be as free of the society's gender constraints as possible. Both Sandra and Daryl were activists in the feminist movement and frequently spoke together publicly on sex roles in contemporary America. Sandra served as an expert witness in two notable sex discrimination cases: one filed by the National Organization for Women (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 in 1972, which had charged AT&T of discriminating against women. In a widely publicized settlement, AT&T agreed to modify several of its practices. The Bems' testimony is described in detail in Stockford's 2004 book, The Bellwomen: The Story of the Landmark AT&T Sex Discrimination Case. In 1997, Sandra enrolled in Rutgers' Psy.D program and, in 1980, received her license to practice psychotherapy in New York State. She then opened a part-time psychotherapy practice in Ithaca. Sandra was predeceased by her parents, Peter and Lillian Lipsitz. 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. In lieu of a funeral or memorial service, the family met as a group with Sandra two days prior to her death to share their thoughts, feelings, and reminiscences with her and each other.

Published in The New York Times on May 25, 2014
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