Inspiring Austrian Women: Marie Jahoda

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2016, we would like to introduce you to Austrian women who have impressed and inspired us. Today, Zhuo Wang writes about Marie Jahoda.

Marie Jahoda - Archiv, Uni Graz
Foto: Archiv / Uni Graz

 

Born in 1907, Marie Jahoda joined social democratic youth organisations at an early age. Backed by her liberal parents, she turned away from her Jewish faith and embraced the ideas of Austromarxism. Bold and passionate, she declared her ambition to become “socialist education minister” and went on to study psychology besides her training as a teacher. Her political stance never ceased to inspire her research: Together with Hans Zeisel and her then-husband Paul F. Lazarsfeld, she published the now-classic study Marienthal: The sociography of an unemployed community (1933/1972), which gained her international recognition that eventually saved her life.

After the prohibition of the Austrian social democratic party by the Austro-Fascist regime in 1934, she was imprisoned for her underground activism for the Revolutionäre Sozialisten (revolutionary socialists) in 1936. Following an international outcry, Jahoda was able to flee to the UK just a year before Austria’s annexion by Nazi-Germany in 1938, where she lived among coal miners in southern Wales – a community she also examined for her research.

Marie Jahoda - Lotte Bailyn
Foto: Lotte Bailyn

 

For me, this is probably the most inspiring aspect of Marie Jahoda’s work: Her political aspirations are reflected throughout in her research. She is well-known for her contributions to the study of race, nationalism and anti-semitism in relation to mental health, as well as her pioneering work in positive psychology that challenged medical conceptions of mental illness. Most notably, she is remembered for her extensive body of research on the impacts of poverty and unemployment on well-being. However, she also pursued other interests and proved her intellectual versatility with her works on limits to economic growth, or technology and the future.

Marie Jahoda Quote
Current concepts of positive mental health (p. 15), Marie Jahoda, 1958

 

The greatest impression she left on me was perhaps her life itself: Marie Jahoda managed to accomplish a myriad of achievements by sturdily standing up for her beliefs and her non-conformist attitudes. A single mother, researcher, teacher and activist in the 1930s, she proceeded to support the Austrian social democratic exile organisation in the UK as well as the British Ministry of Information and the Foreign Office during World War II. During her time in the US, where she re-united with daughter Lotte Bailyn after their separation caused by Marie’s imprisonment, she was the first author of seminal work Research methods in social relations, with special reference to prejudice (1951). She played a founding role in the establishment of social science education at Brunel College (Brunel University) and founded the first university department of social psychology at Sussex University.

Marie Jahoda - Barbara Gindl - APA Archiv - picturedesk.com
Foto: Barbara Gindl / APA Archiv / picturedesk.com

 

Marie Jahoda was awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1972), elected Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1992) and received several honors by the Republic of Austria. She passed away in April 2001 in Sussex, England.

Zhuo Wang is the ACF London’s current Visual Arts Project and Communications Intern. She has a degree in Psychology from the University of Salzburg and studies towards a counselling psychology qualification at City University London. She has a background and interest in film and music.

Further reading:

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