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Arlene Daniels, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Dies at 81

Prof remembered for humor, courage, mentoring and furthering women’s studies

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University Professor Emeritus of Sociology Arlene Daniels -- who came to Northwestern in 1975 to become the head of the University’s new Program on Women -- died of heart failure Jan. 29 in her home in Berkeley, Calif. She was 81 years old.

By 1980, Daniels -- known for her floppy hats and generous can-do spirit -- had divided Northwestern’s Program on Women into the women’s studies program and created the Women’s Center as a place where women students could get support and counseling. The women studies program later became the gender studies program.

She was a serious scholar who served as secretary of the American Sociological Association and was founder and then president of Sociologists for Women in Society.

Daniels was one of only a few tenured female professors at the University when she arrived in 1975. Her contemporary and longtime friend Rae Moses, an associate professor emeritus in linguistics at Northwestern, cited Daniels’ trailblazing reputation within the academy.

“Arlene was a path breaker internationally and at Northwestern a veritable force of nature,” Moses said. “She had the kind of magnetic personality that was essential to nurture and build a new academic program.”

A principal investigator on grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and other organizations, Daniels co-edited several publications, including “Academics on the Line,” “Heart and Home: Images of Women in the Media” and “Women and Work.” In 1988, she wrote “Invisible Careers: Women in the Volunteer World.” 

At the heart of all things involving women on campus, Daniels “watched the women’s studies curriculum like a hawk, making sure that our gateway courses taught students to think against the grain and explore gender as it intersected with issues of race, class and sexuality,” Frances Freeman Paden said. Paden is a distinguished senior lecturer in the gender studies and writing programs in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“Arlene was a very serious scholar and a very serious feminist with ample courage and integrity,” said Northwestern Professor Cristina Traina, who served as a faculty fellow at the Women’s Residential College with Daniels.

“At the time, the college housed a fascinating mix of women,” she said. “Some chose to live there because they were strong feminists and others because their parents insisted they live in an all-female dormitory, which meant living in the Women’s Residential College.”

Over lunch, Daniels would tell fascinating stories and ask challenging questions of the dormitory residents, Traina added. “She undertook all things optimistically and inspired other people to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.”

Matching her booming voice and big spirit, her big hats were a tribute to Bella Abzug, a women's rights beacon from the 1960s.

Daniels always found time to mentor, both faculty and students, whether in her office, over lunch or walking across campus,” Traina recalled. “And she undertook all matters with optimism, confidence and good humor.” 

“Arlene not only supported young women faculty and women students, she also educated male administrators and helped make Northwestern a female friendly university,” said Moses.