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Miriam Lewin



Training Location(s):

PhD, Harvard University, (1957)

BA, Swarthmore College, (1952)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Manhattanville College, (1970-1997)

Sarah Lawrence College, (1968-1970)

Educational Testing Service, (1966-1968)

Media Links:



Career Focus: Social psychology; feminist psychology; Gestalt psychology; purposive psychology; humanistic psychology.


Miriam Anne "Mimi" Lewin was born on April 22, 1931 in Berlin, Germany to Kurt Lewin and Gertrud Weiss. She was raised in a traditional Jewish family, along with younger brother Daniel and two half-siblings from her father’s previous marriage to Maria Landsberg. Her father was a major pioneer of social psychology, and his influence and legacy shaped her life and career in multiple ways.


As a graduate student at the University of Berlin, Kurt Lewin was involved with a group of graduate students that advocated for a less sexist and more democratic Germany. During World War I, Kurt Lewin received his PhD while enlisted in the Germany Army. After the war, he became an assistant professor at the University of Berlin. His presence attracted many doctoral students. In her father, Miriam observed a unique and more personal way of teaching and interacting with students that ran counter to the traditional German norms of enforcing rank and hierarchy.


In 1932, Kurt Lewin was invited to be a visiting professor at Stanford University in California. While he was at Stanford, Miriam Lewin and her mother traveled by boat to the Panama Canal to stay there for the duration of her father’s visit. When her mother found out she was expecting a second child, the family moved back to Germany. At this time, Hitler had become chancellor of Germany. Miriam’s father realized that he no longer wanted to live and teach there, as he foresaw the difficulties Jews would face under Hitler’s regime. Her mother agreed, and the family started making plans to emigrate to the United States. Her father took a teaching position at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he worked for two years. He then accepted a position at the University of Iowa. The Lewin family moved quite often after emigrating to the United States.


The family closely followed political news, and as a child, Miriam Lewin was very concerned about the war and other world events. Lewin’s grandmother and aunt were murdered in Nazi death camps. These atrocities influenced her father’s development of action research; he became interested in developing a format of scholarly research that both described and intervened in social problems. In 1945, he founded the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon after moving to MIT to establish the research center, Kurt Lewin died suddenly of a heart attack. Miriam was only sixteen years old.


Approximately 2 years after her father’s death, Lewin attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, earning her Bachelor’s degree in 1952. During her undergraduate studies, she was interested in behaviorism and social psychology. She was also a strong believer in Gestalt and purposive psychology, which was being researched by Wolfgang Kohler, Solomon Asch, and Henry Gleitman. After finishing her Bachelor’s degree, she pursued Masters and PhD degrees at Harvard University, where she specialized in social psychology. Lewin graduated from Harvard in 1957. In 1960, she became a lecturer at New York University, and then a research supervisor at the Educational Testing Service in New York City. Between 1970 and 1997, Lewin was a psychology professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. She frequently served as chair of the Department of Psychology. During this time, Lewin wrote many articles related to her father’s views on social psychology, and particularly on topics such as modern management theory and group membership. Lewin was married for a period to Dr. George Papanek and as such some publications and records reference her as ML Papanek or as Professor Miriam Papanek.


In 1979, she published her first book, Understanding Psychological Research. In it, she outlined issues in research design, drawing on examples from personality, social, and developmental psychology. The book was aimed at guiding students who were beginners to psychological research through their first original research projects.


Lewin also edited a book called In the Shadow of the Past: Psychology Portrays the Sexes, published in 1984. She wrote three chapters of the book: “The Victorians, the Psychologists, and Psychic Birth Control”, “’Rather Worse Than Folly?’ Psychology Measures Femininity and Masculinity, 1: From Terman and Miles to the Guildfords”, and “Psychology Measures Femininity and Masculinity, 2: From ‘13 Gay Men’ to the Instrumental-Expressive Distinction.” The first chapter addressed the development of psychology in the Victorian era from a social and intellectual perspective. The other two chapters concerned the male sex role identity paradigm, and the efforts that past psychologists had made to understand and measure femininity and masculinity.


Lewin argued that the constructs of masculinity and femininity were not well theorized and that psychologists therefore failed in their attempts at measuring these constructs. Specifically, she was a critic of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Masculine-Feminine scale (MMPI-MF) created by Hathaway and McKinley, in large part because it was criterion validated using a group of 13 gay men whose responses on a set of items variously assessing sexual orientation and gender identity were compared to the responses of 54 heterosexual male soldiers. According to Lewin, this was a problem in part because the researchers conflated sexual preference with gender, and because the femininity dimension of this widely used test was never validated on women. Ultimately, she proposed giving up the obsession with MF as sets of traits and interests and suggested instead that MF be conceptualized as "gender-relevant aspects of a person's self concept or self-image." This, she argued, would provide space for individual variation in the specific content of self-image as related to gender. Moreover, Lewin repeatedly challenged psychologists to broaden their research inclusion criteria to include a greater diversity of sexual orientations. She was committed to a variety of social and political causes which catalyzed much of her academic work.


Miriam Anne Lewin died on June 4th, 2014 of heart failure in Arlington, Massachusetts at the age of 83. She is now remembered for her contributions to feminist psychology, sex role research, and for disseminating her father’s contributions to social psychology.


by Harveen Dhatt (2019)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:

Selected Works By


Lewin, M. (1992). The impact of Kurt Lewin’s life on the place of social issues in his work. Journal of Social Issues, 48(2), 15-29.


Lewin, M. (1985). Unwanted intercourse: The difficulty of saying no. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 9(2), 184-192.


Lewin, M. (Ed.)(1984). In the shadow of the past: Psychology portrays the sexes. New York: Columbia University Press.


Lewin, M. (1973). How to shape the shapers. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 13(3), 55-58.


Lewin, M. (1979). Understanding psychological research: The student researcher's handbook. New York: Wiley.


Lewin, M. & Tragos, L.M. (1987). Has the feminist movement influenced adolescent sex role attitudes? A reassessment after a quarter century. Sex Roles, 16, 125-136.


Selected Works About


Marrow, A. J. (1977). The practical theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin. New York: Teachers College Press.


(2014, June 8). Dr. Miriam A. Lewin Obituary. The Boston Globe.

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