Leonore Davidoff (1932 -2014): In Memoriam



I was very saddened to hear of  the death of yet another friend: Leonore Davidoff who died on Sunday 19 October at the age of 82.

She was Emeritus Professor in the Department of Sociology and was internationally recognised for her pivotal role in developing the study of gender history

She was also a wonderful, caring and kind woman.

These last few months had been very difficult ones for her; but she brought unusual warmth, dignity and good cheer to them.


Leonore’s friend and colleague, Miriam Glucksmann, has written this obituary for the university web site.

With her permission I am re-blogging it here.



Leonore Davidoff

1932 -2014

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Professor Leonore Davidoff on 19th October at the age of 82. Leonore had a long and continuous association with the Sociology Department at Essex dating back to 1969 when she was first appointed as a Research Officer, right through to her recent Professor Emerita. In the years between she was a lecturer and senior lecturer in the Department and a Research Professor from 1990. Her contribution to the study and teaching of gender, women’s history, gender history and social history more generally is incalculable and deeply appreciated by generations of students from around the world, many of whom have become eminent scholars in their own right, inspired by her work.

Leonore was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, and originally studied music at Oberlin College (breaking with the family tradition of studying medicine) before switching to sociology. At 21 she left the United States to pursue graduate studies at the London School of Economics, writing her MA on `The Employment of Married Women’, a substantial 300 page dissertation by research. Her topic had not previously been studied, nor indeed been considered a serious field for research, but this prescient work broke new ground, signalling a first step in founding the new research field of women’s history.

At LSE also she met her husband, the sociologist David Lockwood (who died earlier this year), and moved with him first to Cambridge and then to Essex, while bringing up their three sons. Leonore was acutely aware of the marginalisation of ‘faculty wives’ at this time and the lack of seriousness accorded to the work of women academics, especially if they were wives or mothers. She greatly valued her membership, as Senior Fellow, of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge which had been expressly established by marginal women for mature women scholars who were otherwise ignored and isolated.

In Essex her research developed with a project on domestic service and household management in the 19th and 20th centuries. She went on to undertake a series of innovative studies on the relationships between public and private, servants and wives, lodgers, and business, work and family. These revealed the complex intertwining of kin, surrogate kin and business relationships in England from the late 18th century. During the 1970s she published The Best Circles: Society, Etiquette and the Season, as well as a series of influential articles including ‘Mastered for life: servant and wife in Victorian and Edwardian England’, ‘Domestic service and the working class life cycle’, ‘Landscape with figures: home and community in English society’ (with Jean L’Esperance and Howard Newby), ‘The rationalisation of housework’, ‘The Separation of Home and Work? Landladies and lodgers in 19th and 20th century’, ‘Class and gender in Victorian England’, ‘The role of gender in the first industrial nation: agriculture in England 1780-1850’. As the titles suggest, these groundbreaking articles highlighted and dissected differing aspects of the intertwining of family, home and work in a completely novel way. Many were republished in Worlds Between: Historical Perspectives on Gender and Class (1995).

During the 1980s, Leonore collaborated with Catherine Hall to produce their seminal Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 (1987), a book that has been recognised as transforming understanding of nineteenth century life. Based on detailed case studies of urban Birmingham and rural East Anglia, Leonore and Catherine chart the advance of capitalist enterprise in England at the end of the 18th century, and the emergence of its particular family form among the middle class that stressed separate spheres for men and women, demonstrating the centrality of the gendered division of labour within families for the development of capitalist enterprise. Now a classic, this book achieved worldwide acclaim.

From the 1970s Leonore combined her scholarly studies with support for women’s history and women historians. She was actively involved in the Feminist History Group based in London, and was co-founder of the Women’s Research and Resources Centre, later the Feminist Library. She devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to creating the international journal Gender and History and was its founding editor from 1987 until 1994, establishing it as the foremost and most successful journal in its field. At a 2004 event marking Leonore’s retirement from active involvement in the journal, speakers from around the world attested to her influence as researcher and author, teacher and mentor, and colleague, collaborator and friend.

Retirement did not, however, imply withdrawal from scholarly research. She dedicated almost a decade to the meticulous research and writing that culminated in her final book Thicker than Water: Siblings and their Relations, 1780-1920, published by Oxford late in 2012 just before her 80th birthday. This pioneering study is yet to receive its full recognition. Leonore demonstrates the significance of sibling relationships and their key role in the extensive family networks that provided the capital, personnel, skills and contracts crucial to the rapidly expanding commercial and professional enterprises of the era, and how these changed as families became smaller from the end of the 19th century. Through studies of particular families (including the Freuds, Gladstones, Wedgwoods and Darwins), she explored sibling intimacy and incest, and some famous brother-sister relationships.

Leonore and her work are held in the highest esteem around the world. She played a central role in establishing the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, an organisation including over 26 member countries. She was a regular speaker at the annual Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, and held visiting professorships and fellowships at Rutgers, Harvard, Madison and Melbourne amongst many other universities in North America and Australia, as well as in many continental European universities. In 2000 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Bergen for her path-breaking analyses and their international impact.

Despite her international reputation, Leonore was extremely modest, not one for self-promotion. She never forgot the obstacles encountered by women in the academy, and remained vigorous in their defence and generous in her support of younger colleagues. On hearing of her death tributes have flowed from all over the world from her former students and colleagues, many echoing the sentiment that ‘Leonore visited several times and had many, many friends. She was a great inspiration to us all, and she will be very sorely missed.’ This is also true of us here at Essex. Her legacy will live on and be taken up by others.

Miriam Glucksmann

21 October 2014

A private funeral service for family, close friends and neighbours will be held on Monday 3 November at 12.30 at Weeley Crematorium.

There will be a celebration of her life at Wivenhoe House, Essex University from 2.30-4.30


Leonore mIck


Lee at a Departmental Dinner in 1978/9


In her last months, Lee went regularly for walks in her beloved Wivenhoe. Here Ken and Lee sit on a bench by the river and look out.....

In her last months, Lee went regularly for walks in her beloved Wivenhoe. Here Ken and Lee sit on a bench by the river and look out…..

This has been a year of many deaths.


I am told it is part of growing older, part of the season’s of life, to find many friends are here no longer. There have been times when it seems life can never return to what it once was, as one by one friends move out of the everyday reach, to a new horizon.  But I am learning as more and more pass on that it is the memory that lingers on. It needs cultivating and pondering regularly.


I learnt this most of all from the poem by the 1960’s Liverpool poet Bryan Patten. Here are a few of his lines, suitably modified a little for the 21st century.

How long is a person’s life, finally?

Is it a thousand days, or only one?

One week, or a few centuries?

How long does a person’s death last?

And what do we mean when we say, “gone forever’?

We fret, and ask so many questions –

then when it comes to us the answer is so simple.

A person lives for as long as we carry them inside us,

for as long as we carry the harvest of their dreams,

for as long as we ourselves live, holding memories in common, a person lives.

How long does a person live after all? A person lives so many different lengths of time.

A while back  I also encountered this now widely known poem  through a choral work by Howard Goodall: Eternal Light. I have since learnt there are many versions of it musically (including a  folk rock one by Tom Read).

It was written by an American housewife in 1932.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!

Mary Frye (1932)


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