Saturday, April 21, 2007

Biography of Cynthia Fuchs Epstein

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein was born at the Bronx Maternity Hospital in New York on November 9, 1933. She was the first child to Jesse I. and Birdie (Seider) Fuchs. When she was seven years old, her younger brother was born and this obviously changed her status as an only child. Since her younger sibling was the first male child in her father’s family to carry on the last name of Fuchs, she realized that being able to carry on a name was important, and she also learned that “a boy was held in special regard” (Epstein 350). At this point in time, Dr. Epstein’s mother observed that she “changed from a pleasant and ‘good’ child into a mood, brooding, and at times selfish child” (Epstein 350). Her mother would point out that “her brother was now the good one, exceptional in intellect as well as in character” and because of this, she was distressed. Her mother had also made it known to her that “in her priority system love for husband came before love for children” (Epstein 350). Dr. Epstein’s love for her mother was unrequited until middle age. Her parents did not put much emphasis on material values, and although as a child, she had desired material comfort, she also “respected the priority [her] mother and father gave to intellectual values over material values” (Epstein 351). This respect for prioritizing intellectual values was influential in Dr. Epstein’s life.

Dr. Epstein’s family also influenced her towards service. Her parents were involved with both charitable and political organizations. As a youth, her father was a socialist and was an active reform Democrat. Her father’s political involvement included working as a leader in the Jewish community in order to achieve statehood for Israel. Her family also adhered to the protestant ethic, in which hard work was valued. However, Dr. Epstein’s mother “seemed to deny the sexual component of life,” whereas fidelity was not a trait of her father’s family (Epstein 351). These observations allowed Dr. Epstein to develop both an appreciation for and tolerance for the complexity of loving. Dr. Epstein’s father provided numerous books to her which contained the biographies of great women. Specifically, these were biographies of Jewish women, such as “Deborah in the Bible; the poet Emma Lazarus, whose words are engraved on the statue of liberty; and the socialist Rosa Luxemburg” (Epstein 352). These books exposed Dr. Epstein to the idea that “women could be doers and movers” (Epstein 352).

Besides familial influences, Dr. Epstein also had other role models in her life. One that she notes in “Reflections with a Sociological Eye” is her thirds grade teacher, Ruth Berken. This teacher would visit the homes of her students in order to learn about the environment her students were coming from and argued that they “stand up straight and not depend on the artificial constraints of girdles and bras” (Epstein 352). Ruth Berken was also the first teacher that Dr. Epstein had in an experimental program that was designed for intellectually gifted students. This program was influential in Dr. Epstein’s life because through the IGC, she came away with “a set of intellectual standards and tastes, a real nose for the person who could generate and defend ideas best, and a good dose of humility” (Epstein 352). However, this experience also left Dr. Epstein with many feelings of insecurity and strains of megalomania.

Through her experiences with her mother, Dr. Epstein got the message that, “as likely as not,” things would go wrong, and therefore [she] came to believe it was important to have an occupations and not to depend on a husband, parents, or anyone else” (Epstein 353). The influences from her mother and the influences of the IGC convinced Dr. Epstein in her later sociological thinking that “perhaps motivation is created by a more complex web than we acknowledge, and that fears as well as rewards act to orient people to good things as well as bad” (Epstein 353).

These experiences are the foundation to the way that Cynthia Fuchs Epstein became an academic.

Information from:

"Personal Reflections with a Sociological Eye" by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein in Authors of Their Lives edited by Bennett M. Berger. 1990. Los Angeles: University of California Press, Ltd.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002.

The Way Dr. Epstein Became an Academic

As a youth, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein participated in a Zionist youth group. This youth group had the socialist ideals associated with the Israeli Kibbutz. This ideology also had the goal of gender equality, even though it was not always achieved. She attended Antioch College which is located in Ohio and is a politically liberal college. She received her B.A. in 1955. Through her time at Antioch College, she became “interested in the ways in which marks of status shape popular and social scientific thinking” ( While she was at Antioch College, she became close with a group of students in the political science department who were studying with Professor Heinz Eulau. According to Dr. Epstein, he made each class an experiment and they had weekly essays on their readings. Through this professor, Dr. Epstein received a scholarship to the University of Chicago Law School.

Her time at the University of Chicago was an “abortive experience” because she found law to be “incompatible with [her] humanistic-behavioral orientation” (Epstein 354). Her main reason for going to law school was because of the scholarship she was offered and because at that time, she had not thought about pursuing graduate work in political science. She primarily thought of law “as a field of learning that turned one into a real professional, that is to say, a lawyer, a person with a marketable skill” (Epstein 354). After six months, she left law school, but she felt guilty about this choice because she felt that she had let all women down.

After leaving law school, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein had to face the sexism that was prevalent during the 1950s. She worked for a non-profit charitable organization, whose executives were women volunteers. From this job, she decided to figure out why these women she worked with were considered to have deficient capacities to run a business or government, even though they had the administrative abilities that were required of these jobs. With these influences in mind, she went to the New School for Social Research at night where she received her M.A. in 1960. Due to the encouragement of Henry Lennard, went to Columbia University to get a Ph.D.
While she was at Columbia, she worked as William J. Goode’s research assistant. As his research assistant, she worked on a project that was focused on family structure and the cross-national differences in family structures. Through this project, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein “not only saw how much women’s roles differed cross-culturally, but also the way similar rationales about women’s ‘nature’ were used to explain completely different behaviors” ( She was also taught by Robert Merton and in these classes, “social theory and social structure suggested how individuals’ choices are made within structural constraints” ( Cynthia Fuchs Epstein would later rely upon Merton’s theoretical approach of status sets and opportunity structures in her dissertation, which “analyzed the factors that’s contributed to professional women’s inclusion and exclusion” in the legal profession ( During her work on her dissertation, she met Betty Friedan. Betty Friedan is the author of The Feminine Mystique. In 1966, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein joined in the formation of the National Organization for Women in New York City. Betty Friedan and many other academic women and professional women were a part of forming this organization.

Dr. Epstein was a student for a long time because she took various teaching and research jobs in-between her schooling. She was also afraid of taking comprehensive exams. While she was working towards her Ph.D., she and her husband (Howard Epstein) had a child. She received her Ph.D. in 1968.

Dr. Epstein’s first teaching job was at Finch College from 1961-1962 in anthropology. Since then, she has taught at Columbia University, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Queens College of the City of New York, Stanford University School of Law, and she is currently a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center for the City University of New York. She was appointed to this position in 1990.

This information is from:


"Personal Reflections with a Sociological Eye" by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein in Authors of Their Lives edited by Bennett M. Berger. 1990. Los Angeles: University of California Press, Ltd.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002.


Dr. Epstein's favorite classes to teach are courses on the Sociology of Culture and Cultural Sociology, as well as courses on the Social Construction of Identity. Since she teaches graduate students, she employs a seminar approach which entails students reading various studies and theoretical issues and then having class discussions on the material. This past semester Dr. Epstein taught a graduate course on the Sociology of Culture, and the description of this course is as follows:

The theme of culture and empirical work on culture has
grown in the last 20 years. Such topics as cultural practices and
processes, symbolic and classificatory systems, repertoires of action, of
contention, and webs of significance, and cultural structures are topics
comprising the “cultural turn.” in sociology. We shall read the work of scholars
who have conceptualized these topics, sought research sites and methodologies
for exploring them in such arenas as music, art, fashion, communications,
celebrity culture, sexuality, conceptions of gender distinction and
politics. For example, we shall read DiMaggio and Diana Crane on the
institutionalization of cultural categories, Zerubavel on cognitive
sociology, Alexander on myths and narratives, Mary Douglas and (Alexander) on the sacred and profane, Bourdieu on cultural capital, Brubecker on groups and ethnicities, Geertz on thick description and a webs of significance, Schwartz and Wagner-Pacifici on contested meanings of memorials, Lamont on symbolic
boundaries and status, Friedland on religious ideology and kinship, and Kunda on
corporate cultures. (

Other than this information, there is not much that can be found in regards to specific courses that she teaches or has taught in the past.

Information from:

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein (e-mail)

Community Action

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein’s career has a great deal of political activism. As Judith Lorber wrote, “scholarship and political activism were to become the two prongs of her professional career” ( Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, as was mentioned previously, was involved with the formation of the National Organization for Women in New York City. She is also an active member of many women’s groups, like the Professional Women’s Caucus and Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). Cynthia also “rode the bus to Albany with Friedan, Kate Millet, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and Flo Kennedy to picket the state legislature” (Epstein 356). One of her greatest contributions to activism would be her participation in hearings on gender discrimination. She testified at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, or the EEOC, which was newly formed. The EEOC was establishing guidelines that would interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

After providing testimony for the EEOC, her activism became intermittent because it soon became clear that her “larger contribution would be on the scholarly side” (Epstein 356). However, she has not totally abandoned activism. Instead she has had many interchanges between her scholarly work and her activist work. She keeps track of what is going on in regards to women’s position and from this foundation, her sociological work has transitioned into social-policy directives.

As an expert witness, she testified in Mallette et al v. Jones et al in 1995 and 1996. This case was the plaintiff’s challenge to the Citadel and she argued for the inclusion of women in the Citadel, which is an elite military school. She was also an expert witness in Amy Cherry v. Coudert Bros. In this case, Amy Cherry sued the Coudert Bros. law firm where she was a practicing attorney because prior to having a child, she was on track to become partner, but three months after she had a baby, she was fired. Other cases she served as an expert witness for where Monica Davis v. Metropolitan Life (Leavy, Rosensweig, and Hyman, New York) from 1995-1996 as well as in the Ontario Human Rights Commission in Ontario, Canada from 1990-1992.

On top of this, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein has also been a consultant to both the White House under two different administrations and at the National Academy of Sciences on the Committee on Women’s Employment. She was a consultant for American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and General Motors. At AT&T she conducted research on “the workplace culture at AT&T and its impact on attempts to change gender and racial occupational segregation” (

When I asked Dr. Epstein about her current activism, she stated that “My activism consists of signing petitions for what I think are important causes although I have been active within ASA in putting forth several resolutions for the ASA Council having to do with women's performance in the sciences; and the rights of sociologists in other countries. I am also a member of ‘Sociologists Without Borders’”.

Information from:

"Personal Reflections with a Sociological Eye" by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein in Authors of Their Lives edited by Bennett M. Berger. 1990. Los Angeles: University of California Press, Ltd.



Currently, Dr. Epstein is studying factors that influence lawyers’ choice to go into public interest careers. On top of this, she is continuing her work on issues of Time and Work, with a specific focus on time “as a mechanism of social control in limiting alterations in gender and race boundaries” ( Below is a list of her most recent publications, her principal research, and her major works. Following these listings are reviews of some of Dr. Epstein’s work.

Most recent publications:

Fighting for Time: Shifting Boundaries of Work and Social Life. (edited with Arne Kalleberg) N.Y. Russell Sage Foundation. 2004

“Great Divides: The Cultural, Cognitive and Social Bases of the Global Subordination of Women. 2007. American Sociological Review. February (forthcoming)

“Asking Questions: Preserving Irony.” 2005. in Richard Couto. Ed. Courses in Courage. Antioch College and the Social Sciences. Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation. 67-78.

“Border Crossings: The Constraints of Time Norms in Transgressions of Gender and Professional Roles.” 2004, In C.F. Epstein and Arne Kalleberg, eds. Fighting for Time: Shifting Boundaries of Work and Social Life. N.Y.: Russell Sage.
“Decoding Dichotomies, Pushing the Boundaries: A Lifetime of Research on Women in the Professions.” 2003. (in Barry Glassner and Rosanna Herz, eds. Our Studies,Ourselves. Oxford University Press.
“Wives and Husbands Working Together: Law Partners and Marital Partners.” 2002 in Marilyn Yalom and Laura L. Carstensen, eds. Inside the American Couple: New Thinking/ New Challenges. Berkeley: University of California Press.136-148.

“Stricture and Structure: The Social and Cultural Context of Pro Bono Work in Wall Street Firms.” 2002. Fordham Law Review. LXX:5. April. 1689-1698.

*Recent Publications from

Principal Research:

“The Impact of Law School on Legal Careers in the Public Interest. (Grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies.$438,000) 2000-2004.

“Legal Services for the Poor: Changing Concepts, Changing Environment: A Study of the Legal Aid Society of New York.PSC-Cuny Grant. 1999-2000.

"Workplace Alternatives: A Study of Flexible and Part-time Work in the Legal Profession" Grant from the Alfred Sloan Foundation, 1995-97

The Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession, Grant from The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 1992-5

Women in Law: Ten Years Later, Grant from PSC-CUNY, 1989-92

Culture of the Workplace, grant from The Russell Sage Foundation, 1982-1988; 1988- 1991.

Gender and Institutions, grant from The Russell Sage Foundation, 1982‑1990

Changing Role of Women in Music, Research Foundation of the City University of New York, 1982‑84

Women lawyers and the Changing Context of the Legal Profession, Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1977‑78

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grant, 1976‑77 National Institute of Mental Health Spencer Foundation Rockefeller Foundation

Women in Decision‑making Positions in Cross‑national Perspectives, Ford Foundation grant, 1975‑77 Research Foundation of the City of New York grant, 1975‑76

Changing Economic and Social Roles of Women, Institute of Life Insurance grant, 1974

Project Director, Study of Black Women in Elite Occupations, U.S. Department of Labor Manpower Administration grant

Research Foundation of the City of New York grant, 1969‑74

Senior Research Associate, Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University, "Women in Professions, and in the Legal Profession," Institute of Life Insurance grant,

The Graduate Faculties of Columbia University grant, National Institutes of Health grant, Manpower Administration, U.S. Department of Labor grant, 1965-1968

*Principal Research from Dr. Epstein’s C.V.

Major Works:

Woman's Place: Options and Limits in Professional Careers, University of California Press, 1970.

The Other Half: Roads to Women's Equality, Prentice-Hall, 1971. (Editor with William J. Goode)

Access to Power: Cross National Studies of Women and Elites, Allen & Unwin, 1981. (Editor with Rose Laub Coser)

Women in Law, Basic Books, 1981.
Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order, Russell Sage Foundation, 1988.

Women in Law, University of Illinois Press, 2nd ed., 1993.

*Major Works from Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002.

Review of Dr. Epstein’s Work:
1. Woman's Place: Options and Limits in Professional Careers (1970)

“It has been charged that American society pays a high price for ‘keeping women down,’ yet it cannot be shown that a conspiracy or a grand design exists to keep them down. More important, there seems to be little awareness that they are not permitted to rise in society as individuals. Why women typically do not fulfill their promise--especially when that promise has been made explicit by liberal tradition and education-- remains a question unanswered and rarely even asked” (Epstein 1970: 2)

In Woman’s Place: Options and Limits in Professional Careers, Dr. Epstein argues that “despite the struggle for equal participation with men in all social and economic spheres, most American women have not adequately exploited their rights and talents” ( Dr. Epstein begins this argument through a survey on the cultural themes and values that directly affect the decisions women make in regards to their careers. Dr. Epstein specifically focuses upon the process of socialization because this process is how individuals come to their own identity and develop a sense of personal limits and options. Dr. Epstein then identifies six major categories of role conflict, “each deriving from the ambiguities and contradictions associated with being both a female and a professional” ( Dr. Epstein then explores both the paths and the obstacles in reconciling the six major categories of role conflict. Dr. Epstein lastly explores different professions, such as law and medicine, and examines these professions “in terms of how women's participation is shaped by structural factors, behavioral norms, and tendencies toward change in each field” ( One reviewer on Woman’s Place: Options and Limits in Professional Careers states that “a little torn between objectivity and subjectivity, she is often repetitious, and does not always manage to evade those strident overtones Trollope referred to long ago. It is a pity that those who will read this book probably understand already, and that those who don’t probably will not read it” (Firth 1970: 739).

Information from:
Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs. 1970. Woman's Place: Options and Limits in Professional Careers. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Firth, Rosemary. 1970. “Reviewed Work(s): Woman’s Place: Options and Limits in Professional Careers by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein. Man, New Series 5:4 Pp. 738-739. Available: JStor. Retrieved: February 15, 2007

“In the past, many employers did not want women in their offices – period. Women made them uncomfortable, some employers felt that women lawyers would cost them clients and money…Law firms also thought women would not be competent to handle the rough and tumble of negotiation or to participate in the ‘old boy’ camaraderie between lawyer and client” (Epstein 1993: 105).

According to Jane Leserman of Simmons College, “Over a decade of data collection provides the foundation for Epstein’s thorough and informative study documenting changes in the experience of women lawyaers from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s” (Leserman 1982: 622). Dr. Epstein conducted extensive interviews of women lawyers throughout the 1960s and 1970s in an attempt to provide a detailed description of women lawyers’ experience in the legal profession. In Women in Law, Dr. Epstein documents how between 1965 and 1980, the number of women attending law school increased from 4 percent to 33 percent. On top of this, Dr. Epstein also explores the change of women’s experience in law school, as well as “in practices with the government, small private companies, large corporate firms, and the judiciary” (Leserman 1982: 622). Throughout this book, Dr. Epstein acknowledges that “sex discrimination in law today, as in other professions, remains, although at a more covert and subtle level, making it more difficult to pin down and eliminate” (Leserman 1982: 622). One of Leserman’s biggest concerns with Dr. Epstein’s work is the de-emphasis on her methodology. According to Leserman, “Epstein explains her methodology at the end of her book in an appendix, as if it were a footnote rather than the foundation for her conclusions” (Leserman 1982: 623). Furthermore, Dr. Epstein also de-emphasizes the fact that many women choose to go into public interest law. Leserman argues that “Epstein seems to applaud some women’s ambition and interest in money and their distaste for legal aid work for indigents, since these concerns mirror those of their male counterparts, but her concern for sexual equality seems to blind her to the possibility that women may have an important role in bringing some social conscience to law” (Leserman 1982: 623). According to Betty Friedan, Dr. Epstein’s work is "An insightful and provocative study of the paradoxes women face as they live the realities beyond the new mystique of a high-powered career” ( The Los Angeles Times also commented on Women in Law stating that this is "an important work, not just because of what is revealed about women in law but also because of what is revealed about men who have long dominated the legal professions” (

Information from:

Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs. 1993. Women in Law: Second Edition. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Leserman, Jane. 1982. “Reviewed Work(s): Women in Law, by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein.” Social Forces 61:2 Pp. 622-624. Available: JStor. Retrieved: February 15, 2007.

3. Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender and the Social Order (1988)

“Research on gender over the past fifteen years has been oriented toward rectifying the exclusion or misrepresentation of women as subjects in previous research. Much past research that claimed to be valid for all people was conceived and executed from an androcentric perspective and must therefore be reconsidered. Sociology, like political science, economics, philosophy, and psychology, has been blind or biased in its vision of women for decades. The roles of women were neglected or misrepresented in all these disciplines” (Epstein 1988: 1).

In Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender and the Social Order Dr. Epstein provides an overview of American scholarship pertaining to sex and gender up through 1985. Dr. Epstein organizes this analysis through nine different chapters that are on everyday life, politics, family, economic life, social control, gender and the social structure, sociobiology, socio-psychological theories on gender, and finally, research methods. According to Sara Delamont from the University of Wales College of Cardiff, “there are no chapters on health or education, and sexuality is not treated as problematic. The lack of discussion on three topics where feminist perspectives have been particularly vibrant is odd” (Delamont 1991: 154). Throughout this book, Dr. Epstein argues that there is both “horizontal and vertical segregation by sex in the labor market, and suggests that sociologists have offered three main types of explanation for this: socialization, human capital and social structural” (Delamont 1991: 154). Through her exploration on these topics, Dr. Epstein then concludes that “the sexual segregation of the labor market is due to public policy, family pressures, employer discrimination and women’s choices, but that the period since 1965 has seen women moving into traditionally male domains. Once women are allowed to demonstrate competence she claims, they will become acceptable” (Delamont 1991: 154). Sara Delamont is particularly critical of this work by stating that “Epstein has not moved theoretically since she published A Woman’s Place in 1970, and so the main value of this book is its empirical coverage, not its insight or challenge to the taken-for-granted” (Delamont 1991: 155).

Information from:

Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs. 1988. Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender and the Social Order. Connecticut: The Russell Sage Foundation

Delamont, Sara. 1991. “Reviewed Work(s): Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender and the Social Order by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein.” The British Journal of Sociology 42:1 Pp. 154-155. Available: JStor. Retrieved: February 15, 2007.


Cynthia Fuchs Epstein just finished serving as the President of the America Sociological Association. She served as President from 2005-2006. She has also received numerous prestigious awards throughout her career.

Of particular note, Dr. Epstein received the Jessie Bernard Award in 2003. This award is given by the American Sociological Association to those who have expanded the horizons of sociology “to encompass fully the role of women in society” through their scholarly work ( This award can be given to both men and women and the recipient does not need to be a sociologist. In order to receive this award, a member of the American Sociological Association must submit a nomination and from there, a selection committee, comprised of nine ASA members review the nominations and from this, the Committee selects the recipient of the award with advice and approval from the ASA Council. The Award Committee characterized Dr. Epstein as “a careful and eloquent sociologist, a tireless advocate for women’s equality, and a generous colleague and mentor” (

Dr. Epstein has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fellow-Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences; Resident Fellow, The Russell Sage Foundation; Distinguished Scholarship Award for the Study of Gender (ASA); Phi Beta Kappa Lectureship; Mellow Lectureship, and the Merit Award of the ESS. Dr. Epstein is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and has been so since 1990.She also received the first Sex and Gender Section Award for "distinguished contribution to gender scholarship" (

When I asked Dr. Epstein what she considered her greatest accomplishments to be, she stated that she considers her greatest accomplishment to be “explaining the social and cultural basis for the subjugation of women. My Presidential Address to the ASA (published in ASR this February) suggests that gender be included in all sociological analyses and also that the subjugation of women underlies the basis for most social structures in the world and therefore is very hard to change”.

Information from:

Interesting Facts

When Dr. Epstein was four, she was traumatized by a mock initiation into Neptune’s Kingdom on crossing the equator. She was traveling to Argentina with her family because he father had a branch of his business in Argentina.

As a child, Dr. Epstein had more dreams of living, rather than dreams of intellectual achievement. She imagined “she could marry some articulate and poetic rich man and maintain a salon to which [she] would invite the brilliant minds of the era, providing good food and a good ear” (Epstein 1990: 352). At other times she would fantasize about being Wonder Woman or an abandoned princess who had been left at the doorstep of her parents, who were unappreciative. Her mother actually caught on to this fantasy and began calling her Cinderella, taunting her with this name for many years.

Information from "Personal Reflections with a Sociological Eye" by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein in Authors of Their Lives edited by Bennett M. Berger. 1990. Los Angeles: University of California Press, Ltd.