American Sociological Association

Ronnie J. Steinberg - 2016 Jessie Bernard Award

Ronnie J. Steinberg

The Jessie Bernard Award is given in recognition of scholarly work that has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society. It is presented for significant cumulative work done throughout a professional career. The winner of the 2016 Jessie Bernard Award is Ronnie Steinberg, Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Vanderbilt University. 

Professor Steinberg is a distinguished scholar who devoted her career to promoting the status of women in society.  A pioneer in the study of comparable worth, she developed innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding the economic impact of job segregation on women.  She then provided expert testimony to law makers throughout the United States and Canada, resulting in pay raises for thousands of women.  This work continues to benefit workers in race- and gender-segregated jobs.  Her indefatigable advocacy—expert testimony, consulting, speechmaking, report-writing—has kept the cause alive, laying the groundwork for the current resurgence of equal pay and pay equity initiatives, including in Seattle, where she received this Award.

Professor Steinberg was not only at the forefront of pay equity.  Throughout her career she’s shown a penchant for anticipating and leading the field, as witnessed by her early studies of emotional labor, care work, and work and family.  She recently investigated the systems of eldercare in this country, a topic that disproportionately affects women because they retire with limited income and generally outlive men. 

Professor Steinberg began her professional career in 1977 as Research Director of the Center for Women in Government at SUNY Albany.  In that capacity, she organized a conference on existing equal pay and equal opportunity policies for the European Economic Community’s member states that were required to pass such laws.  This project culminated in the passage of such laws and in her first edited book, Equal Employment Policy for Women. Starting in 1985, she worked at Temple University for ten years, where she was a popular professor and a strong advocate for women’s studies.   Later at Vanderbilt she directed the women’s studies program and introduced a major in women’s studies and a graduate certification program.  In 2001, as chair of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, she founded and directed the Women’s Social Policy and Research Center at Vanderbilt University.  During her tenure as director, she oversaw the publication of reports on the impact of the State’s income tax law and housing policies on women.  Although officially retired, she continues to engage in international discussions with feminist scholar-activists in Europe and Japan, and in local campaigns on topics including health care restructuring and immigrant incorporation.

Professor Steinberg played an instrumental role in building the field of feminist sociology, and with it, a community of scholars.  She initiated and edited the first book series on gender, entitled “Women in the Political Economy,” with Temple University Press.  In the 1970s and early 1980s, many publishing companies were uncertain about navigating this new scholarship on women, and most reviewers were not familiar with feminist research questions and methods.  The field needed an advocate, which it found in Professor Steinberg, an academic insider with knowledge of the emerging field.  Her book series published dozens of canonical texts in the sociology of gender, while promoting the careers of a generation of feminist scholars.  In this series, as in her own research, Professor Steinberg promoted an intersectional approach, focusing on gender in the context of class and racial/ethnic inequality.

With the Jessie Bernard Award, the committee expresses our deepest appreciation for Professor Steinberg and her many lasting contributions to improving the lives of working women, both inside and outside the academy.  

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