Campus News

Memorial Information: Matilda White Riley

Story posted November 22, 2004

Renowned sociologist Matilda White Riley H'72, Daniel B. Fayerweather Professor of Political Economy and Sociology Emerita, died Sunday, November 14, at her Brunswick home at the age of 93.

Memorial service plans are not known at this time.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Matilda and John Riley Fund for Sociology and Anthropology, Bowdoin College, 4100 College Station, Brunswick, ME 04011.

Click here to read the obituary in the Brunswick Times Record.

A pioneer in the field of social gerontology, Dr. Matilda White Riley was the first woman to be named a full professor at Bowdoin College. She taught at Bowdoin from 1973 to 1981, and afterward remained an active part-time professor emerita. She established and directed the College's joint department of sociology and anthropology, now housed in the building at 7 Bath Road, named and dedicated in her honor in May 1996.

At the Riley House dedication, Bowdoin's then-President Robert Edwards remarked, "Dr. Riley was an early role model for a Bowdoin College just beginning coeducation in the early 1970s. Her research on the changing roles of women and the possibilities of combining family life with careers and work outside the home foreshadowed the dramatic change that was to come to Bowdoin and to all of American society. But it wasn't just her work that generated fascination and excitement among those first women at Bowdoin, for Dr. Riley was a living example - a model for her students."

Karyn Loscocco '78, a former student of Dr. Riley's and now a sociologist at SUNY-Albany, said at the dedication, "How lucky I was to be taken under the wing of such a successful woman! ... At the time that Matilda came to Bowdoin, aging was seen as a biological process that was inevitable and irreversible, and the prevailing image of being old was to be frail and dependent. Matilda disagreed and began to dismantle the stereotype. She challenged scientists, policy makers, and students alike to think of aging as a sociological and psychological as well as a biological process - this was unheard of at that time - and she argued that the realities of aging were far more positive than the prevailing stereotype would have us believe. Matilda was fond of saying, 'people don't grow up and grow old in laboratories - they grow up and grow old in changing societies.'"

Dr. Riley worked and published extensively in research methodology, communications research, socialization and intergenerational relationships, and the sociology of age and the life course. Her publications include the landmark three-volume work "Aging and Society," co-authored with her late husband Jack Riley '30, H'72, also a distinguished sociologist; the two-volume "Sociological Research"; the two-volume "Social Change and the Life Course"; "AIDS in an Aging Society" (co-editor); and "The Quality of Aging: Strategies for Interventions" (co-editor with Jack Riley).

In recent years Dr. Riley was the senior social scientist at the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, and associate director of NIA for Behavioral and Social Research. In 1994, she was elected to the National Academy of Science, one of the highest honors granted to an American scientist.

A native of Boston, Dr. Riley moved to Brunswick as a child to live with her grandmother. She graduated from Brunswick High School, where she met future husband Jack, then went on to study at Simmons College, Radcliffe College (where she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees, and was awarded an honorary doctorate), and the University of Vienna. She taught at Rutgers University (1950-73) before coming to Bowdoin.

Dr. Riley has left an enduring legacy at Bowdoin. In addition to Riley House, her name is found on an undergraduate prize, as well as the Matilda and John Riley Fund for Sociology and Anthropology, which promotes "the education of students in sociology and anthropology through engagement in the research of faculty, in their own independent research, and in the professional worlds of the two disciplines." She will also forever be remembered by students and colleagues as a superb, enthusiastic, and generous teacher and researcher.

Survivors include a daughter, Lucy Ellen Sallick of Westport, Conn.; a son, John W. Riley III of Everett, Wash.; eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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