I got my first impressions of Mariam through my father, her younger brother Harry, who told me about her life as the daughter of Armenian immigrants in Chelsea, Massachusetts, as a student at Radcliffe, and as a pioneering career woman. He admired his sister because, I think, she epitomized what he saw as key Armenian values, education and hard work. She herself affirmed those values; she insisted that her older brother Tony was the scholar in the family who set the standards of achievement. But following Tony’s example meant overcoming poverty and possibly the reservations of her parents who, like many Armenian parents back then, assumed that their daughter would marry and have a family. In continuing her education Mariam took the best of Armenian culture to break free from its constraints, and later did the same on a larger scale. At Harvard she like other women had to use a different entrance to some buildings than men. She later committed herself professionally to opening doors for women across the country in decades of tireless work.
Mariam’s talents impressed her professor, Edward Mason, who helped build an economic research branch in the OSS. Last December, Mariam told my nephew Tom and me that Edward Mason took her and other assistants to a summit meeting in Canada to support the American delegation: without eight years of entering Radcliffe, Mariam had gone to a conference where Churchill and Roosevelt me. With characteristic modesty she added that she never saw Churchill or Roosevelt. As a woman, she had a better working relationship with her British counterparts than with the men in the American delegation. You can see the hallmarks of her later career; her determination to overcome barriers, her service in the cause of justice, and the collaborative and at times international spirit of her work.
It’s hard not to monumentalize Mariam. She was special to me because of her accomplishments, and because of her generosity: she helped pay for my college education. She was special to me because we shared in each other’s personal and professional lives. She came to a paper I gave at my first big academic conference in New York; afterwards she took me to lunch. It was embarrassing that I struggled to keep pace as she speedily weaved through pedestrian traffic. After another conference in New York, we discovered our common love for Mexican food and margaritas. Over lunch at Parnell’s we would talk about the family, politics, travel and work. She would ask “what’s happening at the college” with keen interest; the modest of my answers didn’t matter. In our last conversation, three days before her death, she seemed particularly interested in a conference I had just attended, perhaps because it was in Boston, near Chelsea. Later, we agreed to meet the following Sunday; I didn’t fully trust her short-term memory and asked whether she had written the lunch down in her calendar. Her words, I think, were “I’ll remember.” I didn’t understand her answer then but wonder whether she was promising to remember our meeting or looking forward to telling more of the life stories that bound us together. Mariam created community with so many people—family members, friends, and colleagues; she enthusiastically supported us in our efforts to achieve because she drew energy and life from us. I am honored that Mariam welcomed me into her world and will always cherish my memories of her.
When I was first asked to speak about Mariam’s life and my relationship with her, I drew a blank. I didn’t feel I could adequately describe someone who had accomplished so much and been so helpful to so many people, given that all but three months of my life I lived more than one thousand miles from her, and that the amount of time I spent with her unfortunately reflected that. Thankfully I was able to land a summer internship in Connecticut, while I was in grad school, as I was able to make multiple visits then and was able to spend some time with her, and, of course, become acquainted with Parnell’s.
Then, when someone at the smaller memorial service [at the funeral] was speaking about her, a story was told that I was able to draw some inspiration from. It was about how, during a relatively short hospital stay, Mariam was able to make an impression on the nurses caring for her in a way that few, if any, other patients made on them, through her kindness, class, dignity, and understated humor.
That story made me stop and think about how she had made an impression on me, too, as it surprised me how much she had, and how much more her death got to me than I thought it would. The easy answer was that when I had spoken to her a few days before her death, we had a pleasant conversation (ending with her trying to make sure I would come visit again sometime in the near future), which is the closest to the end that I’ve spoken to a relative. But I think the truth is that during my interaction with her, she seemed to represent everything that was good in people. Despite her numerous and notable accomplishments, she seemed very humble about them, and that came through as her always being more interested in what I was doing (or my brother, or anyone else who was there when I visited), or talking about current events and our take on them, than making light of anything she had done—even though she had led a far more interesting life than I have so far—but she always seemed to be looking forward to what the future held for people. She was always interested in what my point of view was and what my motivation might be for doing what I was, getting to know me and listening to a point of view that was very likely different from hers in a curious, patient way a congressman could only dream of. Her generosity, especially with education, and the sense of humor that had a way of sneaking up on you are also things that I’ll miss.
I hope then, that even though my time with her was somewhat limited, I’ll be able to take the humility, intelligence, vision, and humor she represented so well and have something lasting from it.
Good Evening Everyone. I’m Tom Hoy, Mariam’s Grand Nephew. At Mariam’s funeral, with her death such a close and present occurrence, I spoke about what her passing meant to me based on who this wonderful and usual person was that I had the privilege of getting to know. But with some time passed between her death and now, what keeps replaying in my head, over and over, whenever I think the dear friend I and all of us lost, are the memories of the time I shared with her.
I met Mariam when I was 16. I was in high school and looking for colleges to apply to, and I very much wanted to leave my home state of Iowa, and expressed interest in NYU and Columbia. My mom mentioned this to Mariam in a phone conversation, who then invited us both out for a visit. The first thing that struck me about Mariam was how effortlessly this 84 year old woman walked. She walked everywhere, blocks and blocks at a time and hardly seemed to be phased at all. I was also completely floored by her generosity. I had never been to the city before and here I was getting put up at the Harvard Club, going to see Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Vanessa Redgrave and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and being taken out to lovely restaurants where I was told to order whatever I wanted because “it’s only money”. I was struck by how terrific of a listener she was. For all of her incredible experiences and accomplishments, she spent most of her time simply listening to people.
I didn’t see Mariam again until I was 22 and out of college. Which also, speaking of generosity, thanks to Mariam I have the incredible fortune of being a college graduate who is free of student loan debt. I had moved to the city to pursue acting. Upon moving here, Mariam promptly invited me to galas for the Council and the Feminist Press where I met many of you lovely people here this evening, and was introduced to people and a world that would never have been accessible to me otherwise And we started grabbing lunch now and again at the infamous Parnell’s, which Mariam simply could not be pried away from.
Despite having her in the same city I feel like I only really got to know Mariam during the last two years of her life. Our time together became more frequent, and I began to realize how blessed I was to have Mariam in my family and as a part of my life. I started relaxing much more and show more casual sides of myself to her and realized how easy and ready a laugh she had. Her short term memory started declining, but her stories of the incredible life she had lead remained, and always told in the humblest of terms. She was always exceptionally thoughtful and compassionate, always asking me how I was doing, or what I was up and patiently listening to everything I had to say with rapt attention and never a whiff of prescription or judgment. It always felt like I had to coax her own experiences out of her, they seemed so removed from the center of her day to day person. Her attention was always external, always on what she could learn, what she could do to help, always on the person sitting in front of her. Even as her memory started going and she would forget day to day details, she never stopped making those around her the most important part of her life.
Not knowing how to end this I’d just like to share my two favorite memories of Mariam. One is how I spent three Christmas afternoons here in New York City, eating Mariam’s favorite bagel order. Nova Lox, vegetable cream cheese, tomato and onion on a plain bagel. This has also become my favorite bagel order. The other was going with Mariam to see the Book of Mormon on Broadway. She always had a ready laugh, but during this show I got to experience, a full, uncluttered, guffaw from my dear friend. I think that little moment is the one that will stick with me the most.
I first met Mariam Chamberlain in 1959—fifty-four years ago—not in New York City where we both lived but in Jamaica, West Indies, where her husband, Neil Chamberlain, and I were invited as speakers at an International Conference on Labor. Neil, a leading scholar and writer in the field of industrial relations, was my professor at Columbia University where I was studying for my Ph.D. Both of us brought out spouses to the conference. Neil bonded with my husband who was a labor leader, and Mariam and I discovered our common interest in opportunities for working women. A long lasting friendship grew out of this chance encounter in the Caribbean.
Over the years I came to know about and admire Mariam’s path-breaking role at the Ford Foundation where she was responsible for funding women’s studies programs in universities throughout the United States and other countries. At our occasional lunches she casually referred to experiences in Nairobi, Pakistan, Europe, and South America. I also witnessed her emergence as a leader in the American Economics Association, where she was able to bring feminist issues to the fore in a profession dominated by men. In the year 2000 we were both involved in a comparative analysis of women’s progress toward leadership recognition in various professions, ranging from military to corporate. I wrote the section on Women in Labor Unions, and Mariam, on Academic, for a book published by the American Woman. We had fun comparing notes on our findings. (Women do better in achieving leadership roles in academe than in corporations or unions.) Throughout my more than fifty years of knowing Mariam Chamberlain, I never ceased to be amazed—awed—by her any accomplishments in creating lasting institutions and programs for the advancement of women. Always unassuming and laid back, Mariam was a powerhouse who changed our world. Her life of selfless dedication is a role model for us all.
On the day I met Mariam 25 years ago, the day of my NCRW job interview, I rode to the 6th floor of Roosevelt House in FDR's rickety elevator and entered a large, bright office with a handsome wooden desk, every inch covered by papers. Behind that grand desk, sitting in the sunlight at the front Sara Delano’s double house facing 65th Street, sat a petite woman with a big, warm smile. For six years of my working life, I walked through Mariam’s office every day to get to my own, happily stopping to discuss the day’s events as just absorbed from her beloved New York Times.
Thus was Mariam literally there at the beginning of my professional feminist life.
And I was there to witness her efforts to help hundreds of people who landed on the shores of that big wooden desk—seeking advice, connections, insight, strategy, and sometimes just the exquisite experience of being listened to FULLY by Mariam.
Here is another Mariam Moment. I was walking down the hall at Hunter College during the 4th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in 1990, thrilled to see hundreds of thinking women from all over the world--in jeans, in saris, in headwraps—when I spied two little women walking and talking at great speed. I accelerated to catch up with Mariam, but drew back when I saw she was deep in conversation with Betty Friedan. Mariam saw me, motioned me over, and said "Betty, this is my COLLEAGUE, Debra Schultz," as if it would be the highlight of Betty Friedan's day, no, LIFE, to meet this earnest young feminist. I can still hear Mariam’s sweet, gravelly voice and remember how stunned I was that someone of her stature would go out of her way to make me FEEL like her colleague.
Of the many great things I could say about Mariam, I would like to highlight her radical egalitarianism. She met each person on their own terms and did not pre-judge. However, once Mariam held you in her regard, you were simply going to achieve your goals, whatever they were—and with a high level of excellence.
Because of Mariam, I learned that as a woman, one simply obtained a PhD. I had no role models for this and she demystified it for me. If getting a doctorate in economics at Harvard as the girl child of Armenian immigrants during World War II was no big deal, what did I have to complain about?
Mariam loved being an economist. During our last visit in March, she reminisced about her time as a Radcliffe undergraduate, when her mentor, future Nobel Prize-winning economist Wassily Leontief, would read the students chapter drafts sent over by John Maynard Keynes! For a moment, I felt her transform into that excited young woman intellectual and it was thrilling.
Averse to the touchy-feeling side of feminism, she nevertheless drew circles of adoring young women around her, by keeping track of our every personal and professional move. I’m proud to have followed in her footsteps to become a feminist in philanthropy—I never knew such a thing existed before Mariam and the Ford stories—and to work with women internationally, which Mariam did decades before it was trendy.
Mariam never seemed to inhabit a particular age, and she also had a slightly naughty twinkle in her eye. Very little got past that eye, even if she pretended not to notice slights or injustices that came her way. Her satisfaction came from supporting, connecting, and catalyzing. When I had the great opportunity to help start the first international women’s program at the Soros Foundation, Mariam told me ruefully that as a program officer, "you give away your best ideas and let others implement them." She modeled a generous way of empowering others, not aggrandizing herself.
I believe I understand FULLY the enormous personal and historical significance of Mariam K. Chamberlain’s generosity and vision.
I’m glad I pushed past both of our natural reticence during our last visit on Sutton Place to say, “Mariam, I love you.”
Mariam, we miss you already.
Mariam was determined, persevering, reserved and had a gifted mind. But she was not a saint. She wasn’t even very saintly. I realized quite early in our friendship that her silence covered an unvoiced obbligato on the people and events around her. Her silent commentary, which she sometimes shared sotto voce, was often witty and even more often acerbic.
Since girlhood Mariam had probably regarded the people and opinions voiced around her with an alienated eye. She certainly set expectations for herself in line with an internal compass. After all, at 18, while her brother chose Boston College she chose Radcliffe.
Mariam often told me that she was fortunate to have always worked in organizations that were young and making their mark on the world. Who would not thrill at Harvard classes reading John Galbraith’s newest works in manuscript; or working at the OSS in Washington during the World War II, when Gen. Wild Bill Donovan brought together “best and the brightest” to outwit the enemy?
Her commitment to elite institutions on the rise never wavered. When she lived in New Haven with her husband, Neil Chamberlain, who was an economist at Yale, she became part of the Yale Growth Center – an economic think tank founded in 1961. After her divorce, she joined the Ford Foundation, which under McGeorge Bundy had the heady atmosphere of new possibilities and the kind of intellectual energy that made risk into an adventure.
Working under Marshall Robinson she became part of Ford’s audacious $40 million investment in reconceiving business education. The plan to effect change in undergraduate business education and to institute an academically acceptable Masters in Business administration privileged large and mostly elite institutions with funding that sometimes dwarfed mere mortals. Rarely have a foundation’s plans been so successful.
By the time women’s clamor for change had reached the ears of Ford in the early 1970s, Mariam had become a skilled program officer and absorbed lessons of success from the business education program. With a pot of money that was approximately ¼ that spent on business education, she sought out nascent organizations that could become long-lasting institutions and anchor women-centered research and education into the future.
She spread her funds among research centers, academic programs, and scrappy grass-roots organization and coalitions. Not surprisingly they included Stanford, Michigan, Wellesley, and two centers at Radcliffe – Schlesinger and the Bunting. However, risk was the nexus of her intellectual landscape. She was, after all, an economist who thought in algebraic equations. The unknown “x” factor was central to her calculations. And it was in this space – between the provable, the probable and the possible – that she made her most original decisions. She believed that the Feminist Press, IWPR, and the National Council for Research on Women would be the institutions of the future.
It was also in this space that our friendship thrived. We had very different kinds of minds and education. We often disagreed. Her conviction that economics was the queen of disciplines was never shaken. She would ask why I spent my time on history, let alone ancient history. Just recite the facts, she would say. I would respond that the facts had different interpretations. She would parry: not if you presented them properly. I liked life lived on the margins. She was unwavering in her conviction that change came through institutions. She wanted data; I insight. We were intellectual sparring partners who never were bored by our exchanges and who never were threatened by our differences.
I miss Mariam.
Eulogy by Mary Rubin
Mariam pursued her goals with a strength and a passion that I will always admire. She taught me about courage, loyalty, and leadership—and about endurance, how to persist in the face of resistance.
In 1982, Mariam asked me to join her at the Russell Sage Foundation on a book project to examine progress and prospects for women in higher education, a companion assessment to an earlier book by Alice Rossi. Immediately she welcomed me into Russell Sage’s heady atmosphere of notable social scientists, and often invited me to tag along at elegant meals and meetings she hosted for prominent feminists. Today, whenever I invite a guest for lunch at the Harvard Club, I relish following the tradition she established.
Becoming a Resident Scholar at Russell Sage represented a crucial transition in Mariam’s life. She could have chosen to envelope herself in nostalgia for what Ford had enabled her to achieve. But that was never Mariam’s way. Instead, she stayed vigilant for opportunities. She maintained her accessibility to a steady stream of feminist scholars and practitioners who arrived seeking her advice and contacts in the foundation world. In these meetings, I learned to pay as much attention to what she didn’t say as to what she actually said.
Not only did she help me to find my voice in discourse with thinkers who’d completed their doctorates before I was born, she introduced me to Zabar’s coffee beans, elegant Italian leather boots by Galo, and the pleasures of eating only hot fudge sundaes for dinner. I had barely started working for her when she agreed to guarantee the lease on my first-ever apartment—a railroad flat on the Upper East Side with a claw foot bathtub in the kitchen. In characteristic fashion, she shared my delight, while simultaneously withholding her opinion of its truly miniscule size.
No matter how early I arrived at work, or how late I stayed, she was always ensconced in her office; however, she never pressured me to adopt the same schedule. She set high expectations, but rarely criticized. Hers was a quiet form of guiding and shaping. She taught me to listen intently, to ask probing questions, to be steadfast in advocating my perspective. Her goal always was to win others over, never to squash them. When a discussion moved in an unproductive direction, I watched how she lightened the atmosphere by describing a favorite New Yorker cartoon—and then resumed her line of argument. I’m guessing she used this technique frequently while at Ford.
Mariam was fierce and gentle, open-minded and deeply opinionated, lavish with others but never for herself.
Thank you, Mariam, for believing that each of us carries within ourselves the strength, patience, and passion to set the world on fire.
I came into Mariam’s orbit in the late 1970s through Marjorie Lightman and the Institute for Research in History. We connected in the following years over a number of shared interests, one in particular being curriculum transformation, first at Hunter College and later among the faculty throughout the City University. She often urged me to “write it up,” for to Mariam, if it was worth doing, it was worth telling others about it. We traveled in the same groups that went to Nairobi and Beijing, and through these years of international women’s studies concerns, I became a “station” on the way for women from abroad seeking information about grants, coming to me at Hunter and being sent by me to Mariam, wherever she was located, from Russell Sage to Roosevelt House to the latest offices of the National Council for Research on Women.
Mariam, Florence, and Helene became a troika in my life as well, and they always surprised me with their delightful hostess gifts at the annual New Year’s party my husband and I gave to celebrate the Millennium and the decade that followed.
Mariam and I met up over the years at the conferences of National Women’s Studies Association and the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, often having at least one dinner together to discuss whatever was the latest news or just to schmooze. Many times these dinners included at least one other woman, and I listened to their projects being presented to her for help and approval. I remember in particular the dinner with Heidi Hartmann when her policy organization was barely more than a gleam in her eyes.
I also remember being in the same university dormitory in Nairobi and chatting in the hallway before going to bed. We were in the same Swiss-run hotel in Beijing, seeing each other at breakfast and dinner. In other words, Mariam and Women’s Studies were intertwined in my life, a person with whom one could talk about the latest issues, particularly transforming the curriculum and the problems facing the new Ph.D. programs in Women’s Studies. I know that Mariam was an important sounding board for many people. It was a way for them and her to keep up with the latest activities in the field . It also provided a way to tap her suggestions, based on her wide, wide knowledge of who was doing what and, of course, where it might be possible to get project funding.
Mariam’s generosity was open and casually extended. When she had to cancel her trip to Australia for a meeting of the International Congress on Women, she offered me her prepaid room. I accepted, and then, in the same spirit, shared it with another woman who did not have a place to stay. Mariam, of course, wanted a full report when I returned.
We sat together, often literally, on the board of the Feminist Press, and across the table at Parnell’s with people like Marjorie and Blanche Cook. On the trip from Beijing, via Helsinki, we both accepted a $200 bribe from the airline to bump us off our flight to take another one three-hours later. That allowed us time to wander the Helsinki airport, window shopping, and my personal coup was to convince Mariam, who never seemed to buy herself any personal luxury, to purchase a large amber and silver ring. She wore that ring on occasions like Feminist Press and NCRW galas, and she was wearing it the last time I saw her this year. Like so many others, my life was touched by hers, and I have many happy memories by which to remember her.
Many people are curious. They want to know: How did the relationship between you and Mariam start? How did you meet again? When did you become close?
Here’s my story:
After graduate school and years of working at nonprofits, I began working at the National Council for Research on Women (the Council) in 2003. My office was next door to Mariam’s.
One of my first tasks was to organize a fundraiser in honor of Mariam’s 85th birthday. Mariam is so not interested in being the center of attention (she’s likely rolling over in her grave at the thought of all of these speeches today), but she would pop over to my office daily with names of friends to contact for her party.
Ironically, I was planning my 30th birthday party. My approach was different. It was all about me and my friends. I had an amazing dinner and drinks outing planned with friends and family.
Mariam and I quickly realized that our birthdays were a week apart. Mariam was turning 85 on April 24th, 2003; I was turning 30 on April 17th, 2003.
She inspired the next decade of my life.
From that point on, Mariam and I would visit each other’s office and talk…. Talk about everything. Mariam was out and about on the weekends, and actually so was I. What people don’t know is that Mariam and I are a lot alike. On face value, we are about the same size and that’s it. Mariam and I loved to go out, surround ourselves by our friends, shared the same issues/concerns/complaints/solutions for the feminist movement. In Mariam’s voice “where are all of the women of color… where are all the men?”. I’m with you Mariam!
I quickly was asked to join Mariam for lunches at the Harvard Club, Girls Inc luncheons etc. The Council office became a social place for us, and Mariam was actually at the center. On Fridays, we were actually allowed to have casual Friday. That meant – JEANS. Mariam decided to Eileen Fisher (presumably with Florence), and purchase a pair of dungarees -- as she called it. Her jeans were up to her neck. But she was she cute about it. And was committed to wearing them every Friday.
Mariam and I actually really bonded during the famous blackout. I walked down 20 flights of stairs with Mariam and walked all the way to 30th street on the east side so that we could catch the one bus that was not completely. Hours went by and we were still talking. I think that’s the point where I started to fall for Mariam. She was the person I admired most at that time.
We stayed in touch, and I was QUICKLY added to the VIP list. I was invited to Sunday dinner with Florence, Helene, Marjorie, Amy, Don and Jorge. I was part of the clique. Private dinners turned into holidays at the Cosmopolitan Club, Harvard Club, and then weekly visits to Parnells.
When Mariam had her first spill/fall (before Joan and Thelma entered her life as angels), Liz, Florence, Marjorie, and I had to quickly take turns checking in on Mariam and making sure she was comfortable. That transition to the wheelchair was horrible. When Mariam fell, I was actually no longer at the Council, and looking for a job (which as an aside, I swear is a constant in this town… always looking for a date, a job, or an apartment….). My flexible schedule allowed me to attend doctor’s appointments and lunches with Mariam. In fact, I often wondered if Florence and Mariam were secretly sabotaging my job opportunities so that I would be on hand to assist the crew.
There are many things that I LOVED and cherished about Mariam. What I observed is Mariam’s utmost respect for any and all people. I don’t think she has ever used the word “young people”, and if she did….she was referring to herself. She never dismissed people for their ideas or personal beliefs (like I do at times, and I’m working on that), and is genuinely interested in everyone.
Towards the end, it was quite interesting to see Mariam. She had good days and not so great days. I have to say that her unpredictability was somewhat entertaining. I wonder if she was doing this for us….just to keep us on our toes and to get a giggle every now and then.
Honestly - I would walk in the door of Parnells (her favorite restaurant), and wonder what decade Mariam thought she was in today. Sometimes it was 1972….. and all of her stories would center around that decade. Then it was 1935…… But – we indulged her.
Again –there were days when Mariam was so sharp, that I felt downright stupid and couldn’t keep up. If you had not read and/or analyzed Paul Krugman, she was not amused.
One of our last outings together at Parnells was particularly interesting. Mariam, Gwen, Joan and I dined with Mariam and observed her becoming more concerned with the “lack of men”. She kept saying “where are the men?”… and pointing to people at Parnell’s. She would see a man and say “there’s a man”. Clearly she wanted to make sure we included men…. Well, I think that was the point. I love Mariam dearly, but for whatever reason she wanted to see, meet, engage, or possibly hang out with men – I knew that Parnell’s was likely the last place that we should look for sourcing these types of men. But – the point was well taken.
I did – however – know she was coming to an end. And with that, the last few months have been a little tough.
What Mariam has done for me in the past decade of my life cannot be captured in a 2 minutes speech. And I can only be so privileged to have that kind of impact on someone else’s life.
At age 30, I walked into the doors of the national Council for Research on Women (the Council), and my life was changed.
It was because of Mariam that the Council existed.
It was because of Mariam that the Corporate Circle at the Council existed. I met Melinda Wolfe through the Corporate Circle who would later become my boss (and most amazing boss ever) at American Express.
It was because of Mariam that I met Tonni brodber at the Council. Tonni helped me to land a role at the Brunswick Group after a 4 month stint in Nicaragua
It was because of my relationship with Mariam that Florence has been a lifeline to me and a true supporter of mine
It was because of Mariam that Liz, Gwen, Nellie, Tonni, Linda, the Debs, Becky, Sunny, and Andrea are such valuable people in my life – the former staff members at NCRW are still strong
It was because of Mariam that I met Don and Jorge – they are responsible for making my apartment a beautiful sanctuary and an apartment that I love.
It was because of Mariam that I met Tom, Mary, David, and Mark – her family from near and far
It was because of Mariam that I met and learned to love Thelma and Joan. (And Joan is still trying to get me knocked up so that she can care for my child. And Joan – I’m working on it)
It was because of Mariam that I am working right now.
It was because of Mariam that my life in New York is what it has been for the past 10 years.
There are no accidents. Mariam was gifted to me at age 30.
Mariam died shy of her 95th birthday and just shy of my 40th. Mariam has shaped my life, and as I enter a new decade, I think she knows that her work is done……….I will be great!
Gwendolyn Beetham’s Remarks for Mariam’s Memorial
I met Mariam in the last decade of her life – she was 85 and I was 25, and had just begun work as a Research Associate at the National Council for Research on Women. Although she had retired as the Council’s first President well over a decade before, Mariam still came to the office every day, taking the subway from her apartment in mid-town east to our offices off Wall Street. Having come straight from a masters program in Gender Studies, I couldn’t believe my luck – I got to spend time every day with the person who gave the funding that started women’s & gender studies programs in the U.S., and world wide.
While the decades that separated us might make our pairing might seem an unlikely one, over the years Mariam became not only an important mentor, but a close friend. Our closeness was due in no small part to the fact that, despite her age and wide experience in the field, Mariam remained, until her last days, genuinely interested in the feminism of the present. Although she wasn’t on the internet much (though I have a great story from the day I taught her how to “google” – ask me after), she often asked me what younger generations of feminists were doing to further the cause, and considered herself an ally of contemporary feminist work online and off. These conversations - during our conversations at lunch (at Parnell’s!) and over the phone - were a daily reminder of the power–and pleasure–of intergenerational feminism not only for the movement at large, but in our everyday lives.
In honor of that bond, today I’d like to read a short piece by Grace Paley. The piece, called “Conversations”, appears in her book Long Walks and Intimate Talks, which, as many of you will know, was published by the Feminist Press. And I got my copy of the book at one of the many NCRW dinners I attended as Mariam’s guest.
Conversations, by Grace Paley
My husband’s mother lived in Florida on the sandy shore of a small lake in the middle of an orange grove that looked something like a child’s painting, based in the color of sand with an occasional spear of green green grass bending this way and that. She was dying and wanted to ask a couple of questions about life. We could speak to her only at lunch – briefly – and later at supper. She didn’t eat much but it was the hour of her little strength and she offered it to us.
One evening at supper she asked me about Women’s Lib. She and her best friend (also very sick) had been talking about it. She said she thought I might know something about it. What was it like? Did it mean there would be women lawyers?
Would they work for women?
Oh, surely, I said.
Would women get paid the same? Was that the idea?
One of them, I answered. Equal pay at least.
Would women be free of men bossing them around?
Hopefully, I said. Though it might take the longest amount of time since it would involve lots of changes in men.
Oh they won’t like that a bit, she said. Would people love their daughters then as much as their sons?
Maybe more, I said.
Not fair again, she said slyly.
But that wasn’t all, I said. Most of the Women’s Libbers I know really didn’t want to have a piece of the men’s pie. They thought that pie was kind of poisonous … [with] all kinds of mean junk we didn’t even want a slice of.
She was tired. That’s a lot she said. Then she went upstairs to sleep.
In the morning she surprised us. She came down for breakfast. I couldn’t sleep she said … You know I was up all night thinking about you and especially those young women. I couldn’t stop thinking about what wonderful lives they’re going to have.
I met Mariam in 1997, well after her years of making history at the Ford Foundation. I came from outside the world of women’s studies and research. My role then at the National Council for Research on Women was administrative – not related to the focus of her busy life.
But I had come of age in the 60s, under the influence of the same forces that Mariam leveraged to change possibilities for women in academe and beyond. And I had a daughter and a group of young colleagues whose educational and social context reflected the changes that her work – and the work of many of you in this room – brought about.
So we 3 generations were a club sandwich of experiences – with Mariam the foundational layer for our parallel but very different lives.
We met often in her last years for leisurely weekly lunches – often including those younger colleagues – capturing her memories and building the connections between her life, my experiences, and those of the next generation. Mariam was smart, reflective, honest, well connected, and funny. She had a prodigious memory, and was canny and politically savvy –she understood power and organizations. And she was generous and deeply interested in what we were doing.
Most of all, she was forward looking. While she enjoyed our efforts to track and record her life, she was most interested in what the future held, what our “young-uns” were facing and how they were going to fulfill the promise of their generation. She wanted to know what I was going to do to address the problems that concerned me, and she returned again to her first interest – economics -- and wondered how effective a gender lens was in analyzing economic crises. She asked herself if she was really a feminist, and she wanted to know: where are the men in all this.
In the course of these discussions, I came to understand that these were the traits and perspectives that made Mariam a history-changing force. I understood how she was able to leverage her role at Ford into a position of great impact, a power that continued to affect lives and institutions even after she left the foundation.
I know it’s perhaps strange for someone with her own Medicare and senior citizen MTA card to talk about the life-changing impact of a contemporary relationship – but Mariam, even at this stage of my life, had a profound effect on me, as she did on other women and men throughout her life. I mourn the conversations I will not have with her now that she is gone, the history I will not hear about, the concerns and critiques that I will not share – but I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to know her as I did and when I did. Thank you, Mariam, for being my friend.
Good evening. My name is Helene Goldfarb and I am the President of the Feminist Press at CUNY. I am here to speak of Mariam as a friend for many years but also as a very important part of who the Feminist Press was and what it has become over the years because of her nurturing and caring. Mariam, who was a Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, was one of the first to make a grant to the Feminist Press. It was for $12,000 for Who’s Who and Where in Women Studies. Interestingly, she wouldn’t let us use computers because she “didn’t want to become involved with us” but she changed her mind and introduced us to Terry Saario also at Ford who gave us our first large grant for the “Women and Work” high school series. Mariam continued her interest in the Press and gave us a small grant to bring five women to Copenhagen in 1980 and to organize two weeks of workshops and panels on women’s studies.
Even after she left Ford in 1982, Mariam’s interest in the Press never flagged. She became a very active member of the Board of Directors of the Press and remained on our board until she passed away last month. While she was not as active as she would have liked to be this past year or so, whenever Florence and I met her for dinner at Parnell’s, the Press was always on her mind. I miss those dinners at Parnell’s and Sunday is a little lonelier for the lack of them.
It is always a little difficult to express thanks publically for the many years she contributed not only expertise to the Press but also donations. Without her support, our Galas would not have been as successful and we certainly would not have been able to print many of the books that are found in bookstores today. I am also very pleased to say that she has left us a legacy that will help us continue for years to come. She will be missed as a friend and as someone who knew and cared about the Press and its success.
Mariam Chamberlain was a cherished adviser to myself and to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She was a founding member and a generous supporter from its inception in 1987. She served 18 years on our Board of Directors. She was knowledgeable and wise about the ways of foundations, and while she was unfailingly encouraging and supportive, I learned to pay attention to the rare instances in which she expressed skepticism about the likelihood of getting funding for some particular project or other. More often her suggestions of where to go and whom to meet with led to productive relationships for IWPR. She understood that nonprofits would actually sometimes have negative profits, and I recall one instance when several of IWPR’s board members were a bit agitated about a couple of years in the red in a row, when she said something like, “aren’t deficits normal for nonprofits?” and then she lent us funds so we could pay our bills until some expected grants arrived. Her general view seemed to be that if an endeavor was worthwhile it might go through some ups and downs but it would prove its worth in the long run. And she was in it for the long run.
Mariam and I both studied economics at similar institutions and knew many of the same people and, despite the difference of a generation, had had some of the same experiences in being a small minority in a male-dominated field. I believe I first met Mariam at a business meeting of the American Economics Association, probably in the early 1980s when a group of progressive members was trying to pass a set of resolutions. My cohort was sitting together, and when our resolutions would come up we would all raise our hands while the rest of the hands remained down, except for one, a small, older, very professional-looking woman. The content and the outcome of the motions are long forgotten, but I recall Mariam like it was yesterday. That event provided a hint of the deep and abiding radicalism that was Mariam.
I got to know Mariam better at the 1987 NWSA meetings held at Spellman College when we, both being frugal, stayed in the dorms and asked them to assign us a roommate and we got each other. Just then in the process of forming IWPR, I shared my dreams for IWPR and we shared some personal stories in late night discussions. My mother is virtually the same age as Mariam and came to America on her own in 1938, and so I like Mariam was an immigrant daughter. And like her I rose up from poverty through getting good grades and earning a scholarship to a top school. Perhaps because Mariam was so much like my mother (both very smart, courageous, kind, and persistent), I thought of Mariam as my intellectual mother, an intellectual version of my own working-class mother.
Mariam loved IWPR because we use economics to advance women and she knew how much difference having numbers makes in the policy world. She loved being part of that world through IWPR. She valued the fellowship we named after her in 2001. IWPR typically funds a young woman en route to graduate school to work at IWPR for an academic year to learn practical research skills in a policy setting. More than 100 young people apply every year, and thousands of graduating students learn about Mariam and the opportunity to use social science to help achieve social justice. I am very pleased to let you know that Mary Rubin and the Borrego Foundation have generously provided IWPR with a challenge grant of $95,000 to honor Mariam’s 95 years by expanding our Mariam K. Chamberlain fellowship to give an opportunity to a second fellow each year.
Mariam’s choice to recognize the Feminist Press, the National Council for Research on Women, and IWPR in her will reflects her lifelong commitment to the radical idea of considering women fully human. Many of us here share that commitment and share our love of Mariam.
Thank you for everything Mariam. I will miss you.