April 26, 1935 – July 6, 2021
Tobias, who authored more than 10 books related to math anxiety as well as the military and feminism, spent nearly half of her life researching women’s anxiety toward pursuing math and science fields. An outspoken feminist activist, Tobias lived the last 40 years of her life in Tucson, where she pursued her research, advocated for women’s equality and often left an impression on the people she met.
“I was always in awe of her absolute self-confidence. I think that’s what set her apart from so many other women,” said Alison Hughes, a retired public health policy professor at the University of Arizona and Tobias’ longtime friend.
“She was able to drill down into the roots of women’s oppression, and not just find out where the gaps were in women’s contributions to society. She was able to take on the work to fill in the gaps to make sure women were contributing at all levels, particularly in the sciences,” Hughes said. “Sheila was an icon in the women’s movement. Her writings opened the doors of the sciences to women whose talents had been ignored and shut out for decades.”
Now, Tobias’ death at the age of 86 earlier this month leaves a “void” in the community, said Hughes, who first met Tobias at a feminist speaking event in Tucson soon after Tobias moved to Arizona in the 1980s.
“When Sheila moved to Tucson, we were very excited because she was an East Coast activist, and we were getting the benefit of her experience,” said Hughes, who was an active member of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women at the time. Tobias and Hughes remained friends up until Tobias’ passing, often attending the symphony, eating dinner together and always sharing stimulating conversation.
“She was an amazing scholar,” said Hughes, who described her old friend as trusting, spirited and incisive. “Sheila had that amazing talent of being able to shape words into something really meaningful for women who were struggling with equality issues.”
Born in New York in 1935, Tobias earned bachelor’s degrees in history and literature from Radcliffe College in 1957. She worked as a journalist for a few years before attending graduate school at Columbia University, where she eventually earned two master’s degrees in history. During that time, she followed her partner to Cornell University, where she became an academic administrator by the late 1960s and entrenched herself in the gender equality movement of the era.
“The women’s movement is where my personal and professional life got restarted in the 1960s and 70s,” Tobias told Physics Today in an interview last year. At Cornell, Tobias organized one of the first campus conferences on women and helped teach one of the first women’s studies courses in the nation. “I was captured by the analysis that was offered by very brilliant women like Kate Millett and Gloria Steinem. The analysis was that when women underperform, it suits the power structure: Somebody is benefiting from us being under-assigned and underpaid.”
From 1970 to 1978, Tobias, an active member of the NOW who became personal friends with Steinem, served as associate vice provost of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In addition to spearheading efforts to hire more female faculty members, that’s where she developed her pioneering research into the concept she dubbed “math anxiety.
“I thought there was a big subject out there that nobody was tackling: Smart, ambitious college girls were just “sliding off the quantitative” without objecting, not blaming anybody but themselves, and the university was not paying attention,” Tobias recalled. “The issue was lying there in front of everyone. It was just waiting for me to pick it up.”
Pick it up, she did.
Tobias opened a math clinic on campus for anxious students, and in 1978 published the book Overcoming Math Anxiety, which explored gender biases in the field of mathematics. She started giving guest lectures in women’s studies at the UA before ultimately relocating to Tucson in the early 1980s, marrying the late UA physicist Carl Tomizuka, and establishing herself as a local force for feminism.
“She’s a good example of a scholar activist — someone who wants to understand things and use that knowledge to make a difference,” said Patricia MacCorquodale, a professor emerita in the UA Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, who has known Tobias since the 1980s. “She was dedicated to doing that for her whole life.”
In Tucson, Tobias worked as an independent scholar and education consultant for decades. Starting in 1997, she became a consultant for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and researched the role of the professional science master’s degree, which is designed for students who are interested in the intersection of business and science, in the 21st century. Feminism and science education remained at the forefront of her activism in Tucson, and over the years, Tobias was affiliated with UA’s women’s studies department, served on the Pima County/Tucson Women’s Commission and the Women’s Studies Advisory Council at the UA, and continued to deliver lectures about math anxiety.
“She had a really brilliant mind. She would ask really penetrating questions,” said MacCorquodale, who noted Tobias’ focus on “the big picture,” and her ability to “get you to think about your work in ways that you hadn’t.”
That kind of innovative thinking is what makes Tobias’ research on math and science anxiety so groundbreaking, said Marilyn Heins, retired vice dean of the UA College of Medicine who knew Tobias for some 40 years.
“She was an original thinker,” said Heins. “She wrote an intelligent academic book looking at things no one knew was going on, like how many more times teachers called on boys with their hands raised than girls. She really broke the barrier with this.”
As Heins recalls, Tobias’ passion for learning didn’t stop during her leisure.
“She was an excellent conversationalist,” said Heins, who remembers frequent Starbucks meetings where she and Tobias would “solve the world’s problems,” or chatting so long in Heins’ swimming pool their skin started pruning.
“She desperately wanted to make sure that people understood what she was trying to say,” said Heins, who is confident people will remember Tobias’ contributions toward women’s equality.
“She won’t be forgotten. I think people will continue reading her books, and she’ll be well-known in the world of feminism.”
Sheila Babs Michaels
May 8, 1939 – June 22, 2017
Sheila Babs Michaels, 78, of New York City and St. Louis, died on June 22, 2017 in New York. She was the daughter of Alma Weil Kessler and Ephraim London. She spent her formative years living in St. Louis and the Bronx, with her mother and late beloved grandparents Francie (Sacks) and Irving Weil. She was sister to the late Steve Kessler, the late Jon (Jen) \Ida Kessler, and the late Harvey (Lin Chen) Kessler. A woman of strong principles, Ms. Michaels maintained her singular identity as a feminist, humanitarian, biblical scholar, and civil rights advocate throughout her life. She was credited by The New York Times as being the first to advocate use of the title ‘Ms.’ She was one of the first women to head the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) field offices in Mississippi in the 1960s. Later she interviewed civil rights leaders, resulting in an collection currently housed at Columbia University. Ms. Michaels traveled extensively throughout Asia and in 1975 worked with child survivors of the Vietnam War in Laos. Her favorite job was driving a New York City cab. Please direct donations in her memory to Congregation Beit Simchat Torah of New York, Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis or to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Services: A private burial will be held in St. Louis Riverside Memorial Chapel
Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 6, 2017
Sister Joel Read
December 30, 1925 – May 25, 2017
Sister Joel Read, the longtime leader of Alverno College whose vision of placing abilities over grades put her among the nation’s top college innovators, died shortly before midnight Thursday. She was 91.
For nearly 35 years, Read led her alma mater on Milwaukee’s south side with warmth, determination and energy. The women’s college was a reflection of her trailblazing approach, but her influence reached far beyond campus. She was involved in local and national academic issues, and had an international network of contacts.
In conversation, she was always looking ahead to the next project or advocating for what she saw as the next needed change — often with a charming impatience.
“You couldn’t ask for a fuller life,” close friend Frank Miller reflected Friday, hours after her death. “If you measure people by how much good they’ve done for others, she towers over the rest of us… She wanted to get to know God better, and now she has. I’m happy for her, but sad for us.” …Read More
Judith Ellen Brady
April 26, 1937 – May 14, 2017
Judith (Judy) Brady, a well known feminist and activist, passed away in San Francisco on May 14th, 2017 at the age of 80, after a brief hospital stay for pneumonia and complications of COPD. She was born in San Francisco in 1937 to parents Mildred Edie and Robert Alexander Brady. She grew up in Berkeley and graduated from Anna Heads high school in 1955. She attended Cooper’s Union in New York and the University of Iowa. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.F.A. in 1962. It was in Iowa she met her husband, James Syfers, and they moved to San Francisco in 1963.
As a full time housewife and mother of two young daughters, Judy became a prominent figure in the West Coast Women’s Liberation Movement. She wrote the iconic piece “Why I Want A Wife”, which was published in the first edition of MS magazine in 1972 and has been republished countless times in books and textbooks across the country. She was also active in the movement to legalize abortion.
In the early seventies she went to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, a deeply meaningful experience for her and she returned to Cuba in later years. In the early 80s she was one of thousands of Americans who traveled to Nicaragua to see its revolution in process. What she experienced in both countries expanded her vision of the possible and deepened her commitment to social and economic justice.
Judy eventually divorced and took full time work as a secretary to support her family. She developed breast cancer in her forties and subsequently expanded her activism to the political context and environmental causes of cancer. Her book “1 in 3: Women Confront An Epidemic”, published in 1991, emphasized the root environmental causes of cancer in modern industrial capitalism, rather than blaming the victim as an individual. She was a powerful articulate public speaker and writer and gave many speeches and interviews. She also published many articles, including a regular column “Cashing in on Cancer” for the Woman’s Cancer Resource Center newsletter in Berkeley. Judy was a co founder on the board of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. She worked with Breast Cancer Action and the Toxics Links Coalition. Judy was a fierce critic of the “cancer industry” and was featured in the film Pink Ribbons, Inc. in 2011, which exposes the hypocrisy and manipulative nature of corporate PR campaigns by polluting industries.
Judy had purchased a three flat Victorian in the Mission District in the 1980s along with her close friends Nancy and Judith, and eventually moved to her ground floor flat in 2004. There she became involved in the local community and the fight to resist gentrification. She was a “regular” at water aerobics classes at the Garfield community pool for years and developed treasured friendships.
Affectionately known as Ji by her two daughters, Judy was a woman of fierce conviction and strong intellect, as well as great passion for the good fight in all its forms. She well understood the interconnections between all issues of injustice and was involved in many different struggles during her life. Her homes were always open to friends and activists needing a place to stay and her answering machine always included the phrase to leave a message for herself or “anyone who may be staying here”. She loved flowers and gardening, and was also a talented quilter, sewing each quilt entirely by hand and gifting many to friends and family. Judy loved and was loved by her daughters very much, and was a generous and loyal friend to many.
Judy is survived by her sister, Joan Brady, her daughters Tanya and Maia Syfers, her grandchildren Alex and Becca Moore, and Lily Syfers, and her nephew Toby Masters. Judy took her place in history and in our hearts and will be greatly missed.
A memorial will be held at the Woman’s Building in SF, located at 3543 18th St, on August 27th at 11:30am. In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations can be made to Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, or Breast Cancer Action, in San Francisco.
May 23, 1926 – February 13, 2017
The only woman appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to the first EEOC, Hernandez has spent a lifetime working to improve the political and economic status of minority groups and women. A native of Brooklyn, NY, she moved to California in 1951 to become an organizer and later education and public relations director for the Pacific Coast Region of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, where she worked for 11 years. Before accepting the EEOC post, Hernandez was assistant chief of the California Division of Fair Employment Practices. Elected as executive VP at the founding conference of NOW in 1966, Hernandez declined that position but later agreed to serve as VP West, soon after resigning from the EEOC and launching her urban consulting business, Aileen C. Hernandez Associates, in San Francisco in 1967. She has chaired the national advisory committee of NOW, served on the board of NOW LDEF, and co-chaired a NOW task force on minority women and women’s rights. She facilitated sessions at the founding meeting of the NWPC in 1971 and at the 1973 NOW-sponsored International Feminist Conference held in the Boston area. She also founded and was active in Black Women Organized for Action, Bay Area Black Women United, The National Hook-Up of Black Women and Black Women Stirring the Waters. She has served on numerous boards and commissions at national and local levels, including The Urban Institute, National Urban Coalition, Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, Ms. Foundation for Women, Bay Area Urban League, National Advisory Board of the American Civil Liberties Union, African American Agenda Council, and Center for Governmental Studies. She chaired the California Council for the Humanities, the Center for the Common Good, the Coalition for Economic Equity, and the board of the Working Assets Money Market Fund. In 1996, Hernandez helped create and became chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a virtual network of over 600 women’s groups organized to implement the Platform for Action adopted by 189 nations at the Fourth International Conference on Women held in China. Hernandez holds a B.A. from Howard University, an M.A. from California State University at Los Angeles, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Southern Vermont College.
from Feminists Who Changed America 1936 – 1975, ed. Barbara Love, University of Illinois Press, 2006
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