Memories & Tributes

I invite Sally’s friends and admirers to add memories and tributes here.

View Obituary – A Mother’s Thought, published in Radical Philosphy 167 (May/June 2011)

View Tributes from the Judson Memorial on October 29, 2011 here (click on hyperlinked names).

View the Memorial Booklet, with includes Judson Memorial remarks as well as additional tributes from family & friends, which were not given during the service on October 29th, 2011.


New York Times, March 22, 2011

Sara Ruddick Dies at 76; Pondered the Nature of Mothering


Sara Ruddick, whose 1989 book, “Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace,” laid the groundwork for a feminist approach to understanding and analyzing the practices and intellectual disciplines involved in rearing children, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 76.

The cause was complications of pulmonary fibrosis, her husband, William Ruddick, said.

Ms. Ruddick, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies for nearly 40 years at the New School for Social Research, developed an approach to child-rearing that shifted the focus away from motherhood as a social institution or biological imperative and toward the day-to-day activities of raising and educating a child. This work, she argued, shaped the parent as much as the child, giving rise to specific cognitive capacities and values — qualities of intellect and soul. Doing shapes thinking, in other words.

“A mother engages in a discipline,” she wrote. “That is, she asks certain questions rather than others; she establishes criteria for the truth, adequacy and relevance of proposed answers; and she cares about the findings she makes and can act on.”

Provocatively, she refused to define mothering as a specifically female activity. It was, she insisted, sex-neutral.

“Anyone who commits her or himself to responding to children’s demands, and makes the work of response a considerable part of her or his life, is a mother,” she wrote in the preface to the 1995 edition of the book.

From these premises she developed the argument that mothers, by virtue of their maternal work, cannot countenance violence, whether in social settings like the playground or the workplace, or as an instrument of state policy. They are, by life experience, trained to resist militarism and war.

The book encouraged a new way of looking at mothers, children and parental practices. Writing in Women’s Studies Quarterly in 2009, the feminist scholar Andrea O’Reilly paired it with Adrienne Rich’s “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution” (1976) as “the most significant work in maternal scholarship and the new field of motherhood studies.”

Sara Elizabeth Loop was born on Feb. 17, 1935, in Toledo, Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Vassar in 1957 and a doctorate from Harvard in 1964.

At the New School, her work took on a feminist and political cast, strongly influenced by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Marxist pragmatist Jürgen Habermas, the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, and Virginia Woolf, whose works she taught. In 1977, with Pamela Daniels, she edited “Working It Out,” a collection of essays by professional women describing the social and psychological difficulties they encountered in trying to make work a central part of their lives.

In 1984 two of Ms. Ruddick’s essays, on maternal thinking and its political implications with regard to violence and militarism, were published in “Mothering: Essays in Maternal Theory,” a collection edited by Joyce Trebilcot. They formed the basis for “Maternal Thinking,” which was republished in 1995 with a preface by Ms. Ruddick in which she revisited and elaborated on some of the arguments set forth in the first edition.

She was the editor, with Julia E. Hanigsberg, of “Mother Troubles: Rethinking Contemporary Maternal Dilemmas” (1999).

In addition to her husband, she is survived by their two children, Hal, of Berkeley, Calif., and Elizabeth, of London; a brother, Christopher, of Naples, Fla.; a sister, Barbara Owen, of Scarborough, Me.; and four grandchildren.


11 responses to “Memories & Tributes

  1. Joan Callahan

    (Regarding Holly Near’s They are Falling All Around Me)
    This song captures so much of my feelings about Sally’s life example and her enduring place in my being that I suspect it will have that resonance for others, too.

  2. Sara meant so much to so many. A person of enormous integrity and enormous intellect she was also so kind and so generous. Sara will be missed but lives on in many ways and I for one am thankful for her gifts to all who were open to the strong, imaginative and welcoming shifts she effected in the lives and minds of so many.

  3. The Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy ( marked the loss of Sara Ruddick with a Special Panel Session at our October 2011 conference at University of Victoria:

    In Memory of Sara Ruddick
    Chair: Anna Mudde, University of Regina
    1. Children’s Caregivers: Ruddick’s Maternal Thinkers and the Complexities of Paid Care, Amy Mullin, University of Toronto Mississauga
    2. Academic Mothers & Politics of Resistance, Sylvia Burrow, Cape Breton University
    3. Sara Ruddick and Evils, Kathryn Norlock, Trent University

    It is our honor to draw on her work as we philosophize. She continues to help me think.

  4. Alison Bailey

    I thought the world of Sally. My advisor in graduate school handed me a copy of the page proofs for Maternal Thinking in 1988, and I ended up writing my entire dissertation on the book. I can remember summoning up the courage to email Sally and share with her my thoughts on the book and was so inspired and thrilled at her replies. She was generous, kind, engaging and answered my questions and comments patiently and lovingly. I’ll never forget
    her kindness, thoroughness, and the way she carefully listened to me and engaged with my ideas. This exchange provided me with a model of doing philosophy that has stayed with me for a long time. I return again and again to her work of inspiration. I am deeply grateful for her legacy and compassion.

  5. Amy Mullin

    Sara Ruddick’s work on maternal thinking has been incredibly important to me and continues to inspire my own work. Her careful philosophical attention to issues about mothering, parenting, and caregiving has helped to shape both my interest in these topics and the ways in which I engage with them. She is deeply missed.

    Amy Mullin

  6. Deborah Hertz

    Sara Ruddick played a very important role in my life at two different junctures, and I feel immensely lucky to have met her and become her friend.

    In the spring semester of 1968, I was 20, a sophomore at New York University. I enrolled in a Philosophy class called Understanding and Insight. The wonderful Professor, William Ruddick, was altogether pleasant and fascinating, even though I never really thought I understood what he was saying. One day, when we were tackling Ludwig Wittgenstein, he brought in his wife Sara. She was one of the first female PhDs I had ever seen or listened to. She was a little easier to understand. I remember returning that day to my friend’s apartment and declaring that I was going to be a professor. She was the immediate inspiration.

    In 1976, I was a graduate student in German history, writing my dissertation. My companion Martin Bunzl had just become an assistant professor of Philosophy at Rutgers, and met Bill at a conference. Soon we were sitting over a meal at the Bleecker Street apartment, trading stories about NYU, women in the academy, the labor movement, the New Left, radical feminism, Virginia Woolf, parenting, and beyond. Bill even found my paper written 8 years before in a stack in his office!!!! We became admirers and friends of the Ruddicks and their terrific kids. All I ever wanted in my own life was encapsulated in their busy, productive, caring, social, committed lives.

    One day a decade or so later I called Sally to consult about some very personal issues connected to becoming a parent. She was phenomenal, she was down-to-earth, she was consoling. That single phone call helped so much. That was her second legacy to me, just as important as the first.

    Sara Ruddick had a quiet contained passion that was so notable. She showed us that one could really be a writer, a professor, a wife and a mother, and do justice to all of those contradictory, conflicting, polar ways of being in the world. Sara Ruddick’s entire life illustrated to those of us who knew her that yes, these roles in life could thrive in one person, one woman. She had an enormous impact in my life and I feel so lucky to have wandered into her orbit.

  7. I never had the chance to know Sara (Sally) personally. But the legacy of her work has been enormously influential for me as someone who practices, studies, and writes on issues of mothering. In addition to my gratitude for her thoughtful and insightful reflections on maternal thinking, I and many others who now do research on mothering, have Sara to thank for opening up this field of study as a now reputable scholarly endeavor. Without her pioneering efforts, our own philosophical work would not have been possible.

  8. Sally also created the course titled FEMINIST INQUIRY at Lang College, and in later years I — and a series of others — taught it. I loved her bringing out the idea of feminism as an inquiry in her title, especially since that was and is my approach to feminism and to feminist studies, and firmly asserted feminism/feminist studies was a serious area of study, not dogmatism, and not identity politics. In 1989, Sally astonished me and generously gave me her course FEMINIST CRITIQUES OF ‘REASON’ to teach in my own way, and I taught it many times during my 20 years teaching at Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts (I taught at The New School 26 years, starting in 1982, until my seniority/job security rights were violated by the School’s union-busting, ageism, anti-feminism, etc.). Each time I taught FEMINIST CRITIQUES OF ‘REASON’, I changed and developed it, but also each time I taught it, I included Sally’s book Maternal Thinking in the course. Sally used to tell me that she had a policy not to teach her own writing. I know she was grateful that I taught her book. Students invariably loved and were deeply impressed by Maternal Thinking, unlike any other way I have seen students be impressed by a book in my 42+ years teaching. They eagerly struggled through the ways that book teaches feminist critiques in philosophy and particularly of the idea of reason as it had been treated traditionally in philosophy, and they were swept away by what that book taught them about the labor of maternal work, the thinking labor of it, and often they bought that book for their mothers, were in awe of mothers and of Sally — and of course they always wanted to know more about the Sara Ruddick they admired so much. Sometimes I gave Sally copies of papers students wrote about Maternal Thinking, and Sally appeared to appreciate that and to take interest in student responses to her book over the years. Sally brought me to Lang College in 1988, from another division in The New School, the Department of Liberal Studies at Parsons The New School of Design, where, since 1982, I was teaching philosophy and feminist & critical race studies. Though initially I was hired there to teach philosophy (“Western philosophy,” I was told to teach), eventually I was asked to create some electives and though my teaching always meshed feminist & critical race studies into each course, I then created courses at Parsons Liberal Studies The New School dedicated to feminist & critical race studies. She brought me to Lang to teach in the concentration she created there and that she titled GENDER & KNOWLEDGE. I always loved Sally’s titles. That one was perfect — again, feminism as an inquiry. In the early 1980s at The New School, before I began teaching also at Lang College, I had been told by administrators that I was not permitted to use the word “feminism” or any variation of it, in any course title. So, the titles I invented for my two initial courses in feminist studies and critical races studies at The New School were: Philosophy of the Sexes & Racism; and Sexuality, Race & Representation. I believe Sally may have been the first professor to use the word “feminism” in any course titles at The New School. Sally’s contributions are essential to the history of feminist and critical race studies at The New School. I feel she has not gotten the credit or recognition she deserves for that aspect of her contributions.

  9. thank’s for this blog.

  10. Sarah Shah

    The gravity of my thoughts cannot easily translate to words when I think of Sally. There are few people who had as great an impact on my life as she. We met in 2002, when I was 14, a freshman in high school. I was her personal assistant. Beyond being my employer, however, she was also a strong mentor who helped pave the path throughout my years in high school and beyond. She taught me a great deal about academic scholarship and even helped improve my research skills.

    While working for Sally was the most stimulating job opportunity I’ve had yet, it is not what I remember her for most. Shortly after my entrance to college, our relationship changed from professional to personal, as I stopped working for her but we continued to meet on occasion to enjoy conversation and a meal. Aside from the memorable talks we would have in person, she also continued guiding me through email correspondences. Although our exchanges tended toward academic discourse, she always had a way of adding her personal touch to lighten the mood. In one of her messages, in response to my commenting on the weather, she said: “We are here in Bellport but I don’t quite see the beautiful weather you talk about. Maybe that was meant to be a joke. I often don’t get jokes!”

    Such was the way Sally would cheer up others even in bleak circumstances. I will forever remember her warm smile, her reflective expressions, and her ability to be simultaneously open minded and inquisitive while imparting valuable information during our tea time talks. I aspire to be the woman she was, full of compassion, justice, and desire for goodness for all. May she forever live in our hearts, as I know anyone who has crossed paths with her will never forget her brilliance.

  11. I’ve recently begun a blog and the first post is a small tribute to Sally and her groundbreaking, essential book, Working It Out –

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