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.

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