Claire Zimmerman ’50, professor of psychology, died on March 17, after a prolonged illness. She joined the Wellesley faculty as an instructor in 1953, the year before she received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe College. She taught at the College for 57 years and served as dean of the class of 1966.
Claire’s introductory psychology course was wildly popular with generations of Wellesley students. Her syllabus, which included Goodbye, Columbus and Franny and Zooey, introduced students to psychology in a way that made the subject personal for them. An avid reader of the New York Times and the New Yorker, Claire often assigned readings from the press and popular media as a way of linking psychological concepts to social, cultural, and political events in the world. Her students were steeped in Freud, Piaget, and Skinner, towering figures in early 20th-century psychology.
Claire’s signature conservative attire—starched white blouse, mid-calf skirt, cardigan sweater—belied a wonderful sense of humor and an ease with topics ranging from the arcane to the racy. Whether in front of a class of 20 or 200, Claire commanded the room. Precise, articulate, and deliberate in delivery, she captivated her audience. Claire was awarded the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize in 1983. Her citation noted her “extraordinary pedagogical energy and inventiveness” and her “uncanny ability to ‘read’ [her students] as the individuals they are.”
During her sabbatical leave from 1962–63, Claire served as a consultant in social psychology to the U.S. Agency for International Development. In writing about her sabbatical experience, Claire noted that it enabled her to incorporate a wide range of cross-cultural studies into her teaching of social psychology: “Experimental social psychologists tend to be culture-bound and to generalize too readily from American college students to all mankind. Last year I had my first chance since graduate school to explore thoroughly the anthropological and sociological writings—some of them as yet unpublished—on social interaction and social influence in groups that ranged all the way from the Peruvian Andes to Burma.”
Claire was married to Owen S. (“Pete”) Stratton, professor of political science at Wellesley, who died in 1995. After her retirement from Wellesley in 2010, Claire lived at North Hill, a retirement community, in Needham, Mass. Until the end of her life, she enjoyed her daily New York Times and a fine glass of Sancerre with dinner.
By Margaret Keane, professor of psychology