NEW YORK — Mariam Chamberlain, who played a pivotal role in establishing women’s studies in the college curriculum and financing research about the inequities women faced in the workplace and other realms of society, died Tuesday in Manhattan. She was a native of Chelsea, Mass.
Her death, at 94, was confirmed by the National Council for Research on Women, a nonprofit organization of university-based research centers that she founded in 1981 and served for many years as president.
Though she considered herself more of a researcher than an activist — she had a doctorate in economics from Harvard — Dr. Chamberlain came to be known in the women’s movement as ‘‘the fairy godmother of women’s studies.’’
She earned the sobriquet as a program director for the Ford Foundation from 1971 to 1981, granting about $5 million in seed money to a few dozen groundbreaking academic studies, sociological projects, and statistical surveys that laid the groundwork for women’s studies departments and public policy research programs across the country.
Dr. Chamberlain’s contribution to the women’s movement was incalculable, said Heidi Hartmann, the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington group specializing in public policy issues. ‘‘It’s hard to imagine how bad things were when she came on the scene,’’ she said. ‘‘Women’s suffrage was not taught in most American history classes.’’ Female writers were footnotes to the literary canon as taught in most colleges, she added.
“She made a huge impact with small but strategic grants,’’ Hartmann said.
In 1975, Dr. Chamberlain approved a grant for a Princeton University study, for example, that analyzed introductory courses in English, history, sociology, and psychology at 172 US colleges. The study found that women’s history and literature were virtually ignored. It warned that without changes, ‘‘most undergraduate men and many undergraduate women would continue to leave college without considering the role of women in history, the implications of sex discrimination in the labor market, or the influence of sex stereotyping on their daily lives.’’
The Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington, founded in 1972 with another of her grants, was among the first to study domestic violence, pay inequities, and discrimination in loan policies.
In 1967, after Dr. Chamberlain was named director of the Ford Foundation’s higher-education program, she began looking for ways to address what she called ‘‘the limits that society places on the aspirations of women.’’
Dr. Chamberlain held teaching positions at Connecticut College, the School of General Studies at Columbia University, and at Hunter College.