Jean Baker Miller, noted feminist, psychoanalyst, social activist; 1927-2006
August 3, 2006
Jean Baker Miller, MD, noted feminist, psychoanalyst, and social activist died at her Brookline, Massachusetts home July 29, 2006 after a 13-year struggle with emphysema and post-polio effects. Her 1976 groundbreaking book, Toward a New Psychology of Women, traced the connection between women’s mental health and sociopolitical forces. Dr. Miller maintained that women’s desire to connect with others and their emotional accessibility were essential strengths, not weaknesses as they were traditionally regarded.
She was born September 29, 1927 in The Bronx, New York to Irene and Henry Baker. She contracted polio at l0 months of age and until the age of 10 underwent several operations that left her with an atrophied leg and limp. Her family was of very modest means and she attended New York City schools. She won a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College where near graduation she switched from a history to a pre-med major. She then had a scholarship at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, one of ten women in a class of l00, graduating in 1952. She was an intern and a first-year resident in internal medicine at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Switching to psychiatry, she was a resident at Bellevue Hospital, Jacobi Hospital, and the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. She held faculty positions at Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She was a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association; the American College of Psychiatrists; the American Orthopsychiatric Association; and the American Academy of Psychoanalysis.
Toward a New Psychology of Women, a bestseller and classic in the fields of psychology and women’s studies, was translated in over 20 languages and distributed around the world. Dr. Miller also co-authored The Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life and Women’s Growth in Connection; she edited Psychoanalysis and Women, and authored and contributed to numerous articles on depression, dreams, and the psychology of women.
“Toward a New Psychology of Women maps the interplay between empathy and politics masterfully and for the first time,” says Christina Robb, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the new book, This Changes Everything: The Relational Revolution in Psychology. “In it, Dr. Miller created the first democratic psychology – that is, the first psychology of people who at last can realistically hope and learn to work with and love their political equals all their lives.”
Dr. Miller’s writings and work led to her appointment as the first director of the Stone Center for Developmental Studies at Wellesley College in 1981 where she spearheaded collaborative work among scholars, researchers, and clinicians on the treatment and prevention of mental health problems in women.
Work at the Stone Center led to the subsequent establishment of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College in 1995. Dr. Miller served as director of the Institute until late 2005, where Relational-Cultural Theory – a new model of psychological development – was further elaborated and taught to practitioners, lay persons, and most recently, business professionals.
While most of the Institute’s seminars have been geared to training mental health professionals, the underlying message of Dr. Miller’s work calls for a basic shift in the way human relationships are organized. From emphasizing separateness, accruing power over others, and social stratification, nations and individuals need to emphasize mutual respect and the building of community. Her greatest hope was to effect change that would bring about real social justice.
Judith Jordan, director of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, reflects, “Alongside Jean, we worked to educate people that human development is about movement toward increasing mutuality and better connection, rather than growth toward separateness and independence. Her vision has altered our core understanding of both men and women; we all need connection. Building growth-fostering relationships leads not only to personal wellbeing but to social justice.”
Dr. Miller traveled the world educating people about this new paradigm. “Everywhere we went,” Dr. Jordan notes, “women would come to Jean after her conference and say these identical words, ‘Your book changed my life! Thank you!’ Jean, with characteristic humility, was always surprised.”
In addition to conducting seminars and workshops, the scholars at the Institute have continued to expand applications of Dr. Miller’s work and Relational-Cultural Theory to address a broad-range of psychological, social, and organizational issues through working papers. Recent publications co-authored by Dr. Miller include: Telling the Truth about Power (2003); How Change Happens: Controlling Images, Mutuality and Power (2002); and Racial Images and Relational Possibilities (2001).
“Jean Baker Miller was a cherished friend and colleague whose brilliance, gentle determination, and wide influence brought great honor to Wellesley College,” says Diana Chapman Walsh, president of Wellesley College. “It was fitting that the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute took root on the campus of a college dedicated to educating women to make a difference in the world. Jean’s groundbreaking work has made an enduring difference to generations of women and men, enabling us to understand power in connection with compassion and love.”
Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, notes, “Jean’s feminism was strong, compassionate, and unwavering, never militant but radical in its implications. Her work and her theory are not just for psychologists nor just for women, but for all people everywhere. The strength and clarity of her vision will continue to inspire our work here at the Centers as well as that of so many around the world who were touched by her life, her perspectives, and her practice.”
In her last public presentation at the Institute in a 2004 program called “Encouraging an Era of Connection,” Dr. Miller’s work focused on creating communities of courage and hope. “I think that the source of hope lies in believing that one has or can move toward a sense of connection,” she shared. Throughout her life, Dr. Miller was known for her humility. Resisting the notion of individual recognition, she recognized that her work grew in collaboration with others. Dr. Miller was the reluctant recipient of numerous awards and honors including, Woman of the Year in Health and Medicine from the National Organization of Women Massachusetts Chapter, 1982, and Massachusetts Psychological Association Allied Professional Award for Outstanding Contributions of the Advances of Psychology, 1982. She received honorary degrees from Brandeis University and Regis College. She was featured in Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating American’s Women Physicians, a traveling exhibit organized by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, 2003-2007.
Dr. Miller is survived by her husband of more than 50 years, S.M. (Mike) Miller of Brookline, two sons, Jonathan F. Miller of Sleepy Hollow, New York and Edward D. Miller of New York City and a grandson, Jacob (Jake) Miller. A memorial service will be held in the fall at Wellesley College. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute in Dr. Miller’s memory, and sent to: Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02481. Gifts may also be made online via: https://www.wellesley.edu/JBMTI_contribnew/contributions.html.