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Barbara Strudler Wallston



Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Wisconsin, (1972)

MA, University of Wisconsin, (1970)

BSc, Cornell University, (1965)

Primary Affiliation(s):

George Peabody College for Teachers (later Vanderbilt University), (1972-1987)

Media Links:



Career Focus: Health psychology; health locus of control; dual career couples; minority issues; social justice; sexuality; gender; sex roles; feminist psychology


Barbara Strudler was raised in a household that defied traditional gender roles. Her mother was a powerful executive and her father took on a job as a mail carrier, which allowed him enough flexibility with his hours to spend more time taking care of his children. Her parents fostered her scientific abilities as a child and Strudler became a math scholar in high school and eventually a math major at Cornell University. Strudler also minored in psychology and it was in her psychology class that she met her future husband, Kenneth Wallston.


After graduating from Cornell in 1965, Barbara Strudler Wallston joined her husband at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he was completing his PhD. Dissatisfied with her career prospects in mathematics, Strudler Wallston entered a master’s program in counselling and guidance. She earned her degree in one year, and quickly found a job at the university as a financial aid counsellor. Even while working for the university, however, Strudler Wallston maintained her interest in psychology. She audited several courses and assisted her husband in his psychological research.


A short while after starting at the University of Connecticut, Kenneth Wallston was offered a position at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and so the couple packed up and moved west. Rather than look for another position in academic counselling, Strudler Wallston decided to go back to school full time and work on her MA and later PhD in psychology. She studied social and personality psychology and much of her work focused on sex roles. This research area, along with her involvement in a women’s support group in 1970, helped form her feminist identity and paved the way for years of feminist scholarship.


Before finishing her PhD, Kenneth Wallston was offered yet another position, this time at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing in Nashville, and so they moved again. While there, Strudler Wallston completed her dissertation and worked as project director for Kenneth’s research. His work at the time considered various factors influencing the amount of information patients were willing to disclose to nurses. Strudler Wallston’s involvement in this project got her interested in the psychology of health and health care, and inspired her collaboration with her husband on health locus of control. Their work in this area led to the development of the Health Locus of Control Scale, which evaluates an individual’s beliefs about the amount of control they have over their own health (internal locus) versus the amount they believe their health care practitioners have over their health (external locus).


Her time in Nashville proved to be a time of immense personal change. She became involved in a seven step program that helped inmates become working members of society following their release from prison. She was touched by the lives of these individuals, to the point where she visited the prison every week. It was also at this time that Strudler Wallston and her husband divorced. Despite their decision to end the marriage, their work relationship remained strong. The two went on to collaborate on countless research projects.


Strudler Wallston is described as having had boundless energy and dedication to her profession. She worked non-stop and even managed to fit in two visiting professorships while on sabbatical. She helped form the Association for Women in Psychology as well as APA’s Division 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), for which she served as president. Her work in health psychology also led to her involvement in the development of APA’s Division 38 (Division of Health Psychology). Though she was passionate about the areas in which her research focused, she understood the importance of sharing knowledge and theory and promoted interdisciplinary research. Strudler Wallston, while discussing Division 35, is quoted as saying:


We must divide our energies between strengthening a separate psychology of women and working for its integration. Our Division and Journal provide a power base from which to operate, but we must not let them become comfortable ghettos from which we never emerge nor second class dwellings, to be used only when there is nowhere to go (as cited in Russo, 1990, p 280).


The topics Strudler Wallston studied showed her breadth of knowledge when it came to psychology, with research in health, qualitative studies, minority issues, social justice and dual career couples. However, throughout her work Strudler Wallston maintained her feminist approach. Beginning in 1979, she, along with Rhoda Unger and Virginia O’Leary, took on the task of editing the newsletter for the Society for the Advancement of Social Psychology. In the two issues they edited, they focused on issues concerning gender roles. The newsletters were so popular that they decided to publish a book based on this work, entitled Women, Gender and Social Psychology (1985). That same year, Studler Wallston, Unger and O’Leary were awarded AWP’s Distinguished Publication Award.


After a short but illustrious career in academia and research, Strudler Wallston passed away in her early 40s in 1987. Colleagues, friends and students remember her fondly as someone who inspired creativity and motivated hard work. “To work as Barbara’s colleague was to find one’s own boundaries extended, one’s own possibilities expanded,” (Hoover-Dempsey, 1987).


by Meghan George (2012)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:
By Barbara Strudler Wallston

Calway-Fagen, N., Wallston, B.S, & Gabel, H. (1979). The relationship between attitudinal and behavioral measures of sex preference. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 4, 274-280.


Foster, M. A., Wallston, B. S., & Berger, M. (1980). Feminist orientation and job-seeking behavior among dual-career couples. Sex Roles, 6(1), 59-65.


Hoover-Dempsey, K., Plas, J. M., & Wallston, B. S. (1986). Tears and weeping among professional women: In search of new understanding. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 10(1), 19-34.


Wallston, B. S. (1976). The effects of sex-role ideology, self-esteem, and expected future interactions with an audience on male help seeking. Sex Roles, 2(4), 353-365.


Wallston, B. S. (1981). What are the questions in psychology of women? A feminist approach to research. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 597-617.


Wallston, B. S., & Wallston, K. A. (1978). Locus of control and health: A review of the literature. Health Education & Behavior, 6, 107-117. 

About Barbara Strudler Wallston

O'Leary, V. E. (1988). Barbara Strudler Wallston (1943–1987). American Psychologist, 43(10), 817-817.


Russo, N. F. (1990). Barbara Strudler Wallston: Pioneer of contemporary feminist psychology, 1943-1987. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14(2), 277-287. 

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