Sara Ruddick, 1935-2011 [updated again]

Philosophers, feminists, and friends mourn the death of Sara (Sally) Ruddick on March 20, 2011.

The New York Times notice of her death includes the well-stated description of her philosophical work regarding mothering work which, “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.”

 According to SWIP-list contributor Joan Callahan, visitation will take place from 10 am – 11:30 am on Thursday, March 24, at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home, 199 Bleeker St. NY, NY 10012.  (Phone: (212) 674-8055)

Sally Ruddick’s influential work, especially in her book Maternal Thinking, contributed to a paradigm shift in philosophical approaches to mothering, advancing a view of mothering as active, ethical and engaged with the world, correcting long-standing conceptions of motherhood as passive, automatic and thoroughly private.  As she wrote,

I speak about a mother’s thought — the intellectual capacities she develops, the judgments she makes, the metaphysical attitudes she assumes, the values she affirms.  A mother engages in a discipline.  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.  …To describe the capacities, judgments, metaphysical attitudes, and values of maternal thought does not presume maternal achievement.  It is to describe a conception of achievement, the end to which maternal efforts are directed, conceptions and ends that are different from dominant public ones.

From the website of Feminist Philosophers: In Their Own Words, the digital film project which provide an invaluable archive of feminist philosophers, including Ruddick, who helped shape the field:  

Sara Ruddick taught philosophy at the New School of Social Research.  She is author or editor of a number of books including Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace.     Ruddick is most famous for her analysis of the practices of thinking and epistemological perspective that emerges from the care of children.  She argues that mothering is a conscious activity that calls for choices, daily decisions and a continuing, alert reflectiveness.

Sally’s loving and cheerful presence made philosophy a welcoming home for so many of us.  I use the word ‘home’ deliberately because Sally did, in an essay on evil and the September 11 attacks, which my own students will be reading today (source below):

To Weil’s evocation of the far-away world of “family” and “peace” I added “home.” For Iris Young and Nel Noddings, “home” is both a material dwelling place and a critical value (Young 1997; Noddings 2002). I take “home” to be one metaphor and symbol for values of “care.” Feminists have insisted on the dangers of a romantic, nostalgic ideal of “home.” For many people, poverty prevents and violence mocks the idea of a dwelling place. Where it can exist “home” often legitimates the exploitation of women whose work makes home possible, and subjects the most vulnerable inhabitants to assault, domination, and sexual abuse. At its domestic best, “home” is likely to exclude the “other/stranger” both in fact and in fantasy.  Home can be undeniably terrible, even distinctly evil. And (not “but”) home can also be “the site of the construction and reconstruction of one’s self” (Young 1997, 163), a place where pain is never regarded as deserved, (Noddings 2002, 147), where calls for help are answered by “I am here” (Noddings 2002; for example, page 129), individuals can feel safe and secure (Young, 1997, 161), people “hold each other in personhood” (Nelson 2002) and the stranger/other is greeted cautiously but with respect.

Thank you, Sally. Philosophers are richer for having shared professional and personal relationships with you.

Source: The Moral Horror of the September Attacks, Ruddick, Sara, Hypatia, Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 212-222

13 thoughts on “Sara Ruddick, 1935-2011 [updated again]

  1. Sad thanks for this very important and well stated post.

    I can only imagine how many lives her work has touched and how many steps toward social progress and individual insight/development she helped bring about.

    I remember engrossed in discussions years ago about whether and how the virtues, benefits, and subtleties/complexities of maternal thinking applied (or could apply) to men as well as women if/when there is more/real sexual equality (especially regarding child care, of course).

    Words fail me. My heart goes out to those in mourning who knew her and her work much more, while I also wish somehow to celebrate her life and work, perhaps at a later and more appropriate time.

  2. One of the most inspiring thinkers I have come across. Thank you Sally for your wonderful work! RIP.

  3. I was so inspired by Sally’s work. I remember searching for a dissertation topic while I was a graduate student at University of Cincinnati, and having Alison Jaggar hand me the page proofs of Maternal Thinking, which I devoured. He book became my focus. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a conference once and she graciously invited me to have lunch and ask her any questions I wanted about the book. She was so generous with her time and my questions. Her work has touched so many of us so deeply and we all owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the conversations she began. She will be deeply missed.

  4. Grateful, too, are those of us who never met her but felt she made a space for our inquiries, building the case for the importance of feminist philosophy.

    Readers who contacted us to ask the source of Sally’s essay on evil can now find that reference at the end of the blog post!

  5. Dr. E. Pearson

    Thanks for sharing this sad news. From reading Sara Ruddick’s work, I got to know her as an amazing woman. May her memory continues in the life of those she inspired; and may she rest in peace.

  6. I studied with Sally at the Freshman Year Program and the Seminar College (now Eugene Lang) in the 70s, and was inspired by her fearlessness and her great sense of humor. How can you not love a philosopher who says, “okay. . .Berkley aside, let’s talk about the REALLY real.” Thanks for your help, encouragement, and all the laughter, Sally.

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