March 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 3

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Arlene Kaplan Daniels

Arlene Kaplan Daniels, whose colorful, witty, and generous presence enlivened the field of sociology, died in her sleep on January 29, 2012, at the age of 81. She was Secretary of the ASA from 1991-95 and a member of Council from 1979-82; she also served as President of the Society for the Study of Social Problems and as President of Sociologists for Women in Society. A well-published sociologist of occupations and women’s work, Arlene had a keen sense of social justice and mentored a wide circle of younger colleagues and students.

As a young girl, Arlene Kaplan moved with her family from New York City to Los Angeles, where her parents owned a small natural foods store. In 1948, she enrolled as an undergraduate at University of California-Berkeley; she was poor, but it cost only $25 a semester. She majored in English but turned toward sociology after taking a course with Tamotsu Shibutani. With his encouragement, she entered the Berkeley sociology graduate program in 1952 and completed her PhD in 1960.

In a memorable 1994 essay, “When We Were All Boys Together: Graduate School in the Fifties and Beyond,” Arlene Daniels describes an encounter she had before one of Shibutani’s classes that crystallized her sense of a calling to the profession of sociology: “I bustled up to a little knot of chattering young women who were talking about the class. ‘That Shibutani is so cute,’ said one, ‘Do you think he’s married? ‘I’d like to marry him,’ volunteered another. Pushing my way into the circle, I announced: ‘Not me—I want to be Shibutani when I grow up. Eliminate the middleman!’” 

At that time, Arlene observes, the male model appeared to be the only pathway available; in fact, she was the only woman in her cohort to complete the PhD program. During her graduate school years, Arlene met her future husband, Richard Daniels, in a carpool to the opera; they married and settled on the Peninsula, where he worked in hospital administration. The Berkeley faculty helped male students find jobs, but as a woman, Arlene was on her own, in part because some of the faculty began to see her as a housewife. She kept her connection to sociology alive by doing research supported by grants and contracts. In 1966, Arlene was hired as an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State. She joined other faculty who supported the 1969 student strike over demands for Black studies and ethnic studies programs and, as a result, she was denied tenure. (She and others wrote a book, Academics on the Line, about this experience). Devastated by losing her academic job, Arlene returned to the world of grant hustling.

During the 1969 ASA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, she attended a gathering called by Alice Rossi to discuss the formation of a women’s caucus in sociology. Thus began what Arlene later described as her second professional and career conversion. She began to recognize (as she wrote in the 1994 essay) a “larger pattern in all the slights, snubs, omissions, and patronizing acts that I had shrugged off as my paranoia or my just desserts. I felt rage at what I had endured and terrible sorrow for all that had hampered me. I resolved to help younger women, to protect them against the systematic frustration and neglect that I had experienced.”

Arlene Daniels poured energy and organizing skills into the women’s caucus, which evolved into the ASA Section on Sex and Gender and Sociologists for Women in Society. Arlene also became a consummate mentor, reaching out to women sociologists everywhere. She offered advice, wrote references, edited papers, stayed in touch, and connected people to one another. The broad-brimmed hats Arlene wore, with flair, to professional meetings became a signature of her presence, taking up space like umbrellas that invited us to come in out of the rains of competition and hostility that too often dampen academic lives.

Arlene Daniels studied women’s work lives, including career contingencies, women in unions, feminist networking within the professions, and the organization and significance of women’s voluntary work, culminating in her 1988 book, Invisible Careers. In 1995, Arlene Daniels received the ASA Jessie Bernard Award for her influential efforts to expand women’s presence in the content and practices of sociology.

In 1975, Arlene Daniels became a full professor at Northwestern University with a joint position in the Sociology Department and in the newly formed Program on Women, which, under her leadership, evolved into the Women’s Studies Program and the Women’s Center. She flourished there, teaching, mentoring doctoral students, and pushing for institutional change. Colleagues at Northwestern and elsewhere (including those who served with her on ASA committees) note Arlene’s talent for getting things done—and for making meetings fun. She often used humor to demystify the powerful. Once, according to her colleague, Rae Moses, the Organization of Women Faculty met in an imposing hall with oil portraits of the former Presidents of Northwestern. Arlene entered the room and threw her coat over one of the portraits. The other women did the same, and the meeting began with laughter.

Arlene Daniels relished friendship and food; she and her beloved Richard regularly went to the opera and made the most of travel in Europe. After retiring from Northwestern in 1995, she moved back to California and taught part time at her alma mater. Richard Daniels died last April.

Arlene Daniels enriched the lives of those who knew her, across generations; she fought for social justice and opened many doors for others; and she built organizations that continue to do good work. Gifts in her memory can be sent to the Arlene Kaplan Daniels Fund, an award for graduate students doing research on gender. Make checks out to “Northwestern University,” with “Arlene Kaplan Daniels Fund” in the memo line. Send donations to Northwestern Univ. Development Office, 2020 Ridge Ave., Evanston IL 60208. Or donate online at with “Arlene Kaplan Daniels” as the designation.

Barrie Thorne, University of California, Berkeley, Marjorie DeVault, Syracuse University, and Judith Wittner, Loyola University, Chicago

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