A retired University Social Psychology professor, whose impact on the Michigan community and the Women’s Rights Movement is found not only in the books she published but from the words of her colleagues, died June 15 from congestive heart failure.
Elizabeth “Libby” Douvan was an activist in every sense of the word, friends said. At the forefront of the Women’s Rights movement, she advanced the opinion, controversial even to many hardened feminists, that women’s social liberation should not interfere with family dynamic.
“She was committed to women’s rights, but that did not make her hate males,” said former University Prof. Joseph Veroff, a long-time colleague who co-authored three books with Douvan.
With Libby, “it wasn’t about competing,” added Sonya Delgado, a friend and former student of Douvan. “It was about educating women.”
When it came to education, Douvan meant business. She was the only female founding member of the Institute for Social Research in 1948, a professor at the University for more than 50 years, a member of the Society of Fellows and a founder of the women’s studies program at the University.
Douvan also ran a program at the Fielding Graduate Institute, where black and white women shared their experiences to come to a mutual understanding about their gender.
“She wasn’t the kind of teacher that had an agenda,” Veroff said. “People felt as if she cared when she talked to them.”
In Dr. Douvan’s early career as an intellectual, she worked with others to study the ways in which boys’ and girls’ notions of themselves differed at various ages, thereby creating a framework where she could study adolescent growth. She published her findings in a 1966 book titled “The Adolescent Experience.” She also went on to study the psychology of women, the way they felt about their position in the social order and the way that made them feel about themselves, Veroff said.
In her later work, Douvan, with psychology Prof. Martin Gold, came to develop an idea of social psychology as a practice that should encompass aspects of anthropology, sociology and personality theory. “Most social psychology concentrates on the individual’s idea of him or her self in society. She and Gold resisted that. They were interested in the real relationship between people and society,” Veroff said.
Friends said they had no doubt Douvan loved the University. She was a tireless educator, approving a student’s dissertation one week before she passed away. She was a director of the Residential College.
Throughout her life, Douvan was an open-minded intellectual that never tired in her pursuit of the betterment of society, friends said.
“I argued with her once in public,” Delgado remembered. “I later apologized, and she held my hand and said: ‘I can learn from you, Dear.’ … When she said that, that was her essence.”