- Founding President of the National Council for Research on Women
- Credited the anarchist Emma Goldman with doing much to influence the current women’s movement
- Served as a program officer with the Ford Foundation
Mariam Chamberlain was born (as Mariam Kenosian) on April 24, 1918 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Radcliffe College, she enrolled in a PhD economics program at Harvard. But Chamberlain’s post-graduate studies were interrupted by World War II, during which she worked as an analyst for the Office of Strategic Services, and she did not receive her doctorate until 1950.
Chamberlain taught at Connecticut College, the School of General Studies at Columbia University, and Hunter College before taking a job in 1956 with the Ford Foundation, where she would hold a variety of posts over the ensuing quarter-century. She served one stint, for instance, as a program assistant in the Foundation’s Economic Development & Administration Program, and another as a program officer in Education & Public Policy.
From 1971-81, Chamberlain was responsible for approving some $5 million in seed-money grants through which Ford helped bankroll dozens of academic studies, sociological projects, and statistical surveys that laid the groundwork for the development of Women’s Studies departments and public-policy research programs at universities across the United States. Because of her role in dispensing these funds, Chamberlain became widely known in feminist circles as “the fairy godmother of Women’s Studies.” Some specifics:
- In 1972 Chamberlain approved a grant that helped create the Center for Women’s Policy Studies.
- In 1975 she approved a grant for a Princeton University study which held that introductory college courses in English, history, sociology and psychology were replete with gender bias against women. The study warned that unless changes were made to such classes, “most undergraduate men and many undergraduate women would continue to leave college without considering the role of women in history, the implications of sex discrimination in the labor market, or the influence of sex stereotyping on their daily lives.”
- In 1977 Chamberlain arranged a small grant to help establish the National Women’s Studies Association, which helped organize international conferences that eventually introduced Women’s Studies to more than 100 countries worldwide.
Chamberlain left the Ford Foundation in 1981 and became the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women (later renamed as “Re:Gender”), which helped consolidate and coordinate the 100+ university research centers that Chamberlain had helped seed during her years at Ford.
In 1982 Chamberlain was appointed Resident Scholar at the New York City-based Russell Sage Foundation, where she headed a Task Force Study of Women in Higher Education.
Over the course of her feminist career, Chamberlain also sat on the boards of the Feminist Press, the Women’s Interart Center, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the Network of East-West Women, the International Association of Feminist Economists, and the Tribune Center. Moreover, she served on the advisory council of Gender Action, a group seeking to “ensure that women and men equally participate in and benefit from all [International Financial Institution] investments.”
Chamberlain credited Emma Goldman, the early-twentieth-century libertarian socialist who was once imprisoned on charges of conspiring to assassinate President William McKinley, with having done a great deal to influence the modern feminist movement in a positive way. Said Chamberlain: “Emma Goldman came into prominence during the early decades of the twentieth century as an anarchist, free love advocate, and powerful exemplar of free speech. In some respects she was a precursor of the modern women’s movement…. Throughout her controversial public life and stormy private life, Goldman maintained her courage and idealism.”
Mariam Chamberlain died on April 2, 2013, just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday.