Obituaries

Dr. Kathleen Mogul, pioneering psychiatrist in women’s mental health, dies at 89

Kathleen Mogul.
Handout
Kathleen Mogul.

A groundbreaking psychiatrist in a field overwhelmingly dominated by men, Dr. Kathleen Mogul spent most of her career focusing on women’s mental health and the way female physicians could better help those patients.

Upon finishing her studies at Harvard Medical School in 1952 — just three years after the first graduating class that included women — she devoted much of her early years to studies, articles, and presentations about the role of gender in psychiatry, an area not commonly explored at the time, and much less by a woman.

“What is true for men is surely also true for women, and as imperative household functions have diminished and women have fewer children and live longer, it is particularly women in midlife who frequently have need for the psychological as well as the social and economic opportunities offered through work,” Dr. Mogul wrote in an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1979.

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“In helping women in midlife with concerns and problems around work,” she continued, “at times all that is needed is clarification of factors and recognition that the problems are not neurotic and that the woman can manage them without psychotherapy.”

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A past president of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, Dr. Mogul died from congestive heart failure Aug. 13 in her Newton home, where she had lived for 60 years. She was 89.

Dr. Mogul was a champion of women’s issues and ethics, said Dr. Lawrence Hartmann, who met her about 50 years ago and had served with her on several boards. Those meetings changed “from being a board of cigar-smoking 60-year-old white males to being a board of people with a few different backgrounds and a few women,” he said.

“She knew that part of her role there was to represent social issues honestly, and she did that forcefully and with intelligence,” Hartmann added.

Dr. Mogul had an intellectual firepower that made her a fount of opinions and ideas, whether she was in her office or in her kitchen. Though she established her professional reputation by focusing on women and children when few in her profession did so, friends and family also remember her as a zealous cook and a curious explorer. Challenging the status quo in all parts of her life, she brought forward new ideas and unhesitatingly presented her strong opinions, even in seemingly small matters, such as her distaste for using margarine.

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“She struggled with being a very successful professional, but in the 1960s, the notions of what a good mother and woman were were very traditional and conventional,” said her daughter, Judy of New York City. “She did more to be both an atypical woman of the time and also a highly typical mother.”

Kathleen Mero was born in Berlin, the only child of Pista Mero and the former Ilona Weiss. Although her parents were Hungarian, her grandfather held a US diplomatic appointment that made her mother an American citizen, which ultimately allowed Dr. Mogul to enter the United States as the dependent of a citizen.

Her family left Berlin in 1938, moving first to Budapest, where her father died from pneumonia. She and her mother moved to Belgrade and were living there when the city was bombed in 1941. They were rescued by her uncle’s friend, who drove into the city, crammed six people into his small car, and took everyone out to the country until the bombing was over.

From Belgrade, they traveled to Istanbul, then to Baghdad, and onward to Syria and what was then Bombay. They finally arrived in New York City by ship in January 1942.

Dr. Mogul went to school in Wheaton, Ill., where her mother’s younger brother lived, and finished high school in New York City, her daughter said. She went to Barnard College on a full scholarship and received a bachelor’s degree in 1948. After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Mogul completed her internship at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and her residency at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.

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While in medical school, she met Dr. Louis Mogul in an anatomy lab, where they spent the year studying together and dissecting corpses. They married during their residencies.

She was “hyper-efficient,” he said, adding that she knitted as a way to concentrate during lectures and meetings. “She learned very quickly. She was very bright — much brighter than I am.”

Dr. Mogul and her husband had three children and were married for 64 years.

Away from work, Dr. Mogul loved food and nature. She picked wild mushrooms, could identify thousands of plants and birds, and wanted her children to have the same appreciation for the natural world.

She also enjoyed learning languages and did so easily. English was her fourth language; she spoke German, Hungarian, and French fluently. She became conversant in Italian and Serbian as well.

“She wanted us to be independent,” said her daughter, who added that “it was important to my mother that we be exposed to different cultures – to art and literature from other cultures.”

Dr. Mogul worked in private practice for 42 years, retiring from clinical practice in 1999. Over the course of her career, she taught at Harvard Medical School, the Simmons College School of Social Work, and Tufts University School of Medicine. She also was appointed to several positions at hospitals and clinics in Greater Boston.

“The best part was that she was very sharp, very practical – no bologna,” said Dr. Mary Badaracco, who met Dr. Mogul in 1975 while interviewing for a training program at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.

Dr. Mogul was really loved and “was very proud of women being in medicine and wanted to attract, recruit other women who were strong and confident,” Badaracco added.

An expert in her field, Dr. Mogul held several positions on boards and professional associations, in addition to serving as president of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society in the 1990s.

“She helped people think about what patients needed,” Badaracco said. “She was not patient with applying cookie-cutter approaches to patients.”

A service has been held for Dr. Mogul, who in addition to her husband and daughter leaves two sons, Jeffrey of Menlo Park, Calif., and Jonathan of Miami; and six grandchildren.

Dr. Mogul felt a strong responsibility to others in each of the positions she held, and in particular to stand up for differing opinions to ensure that the voices of underrepresented groups were heard, her family and colleagues said.

While serving as an area trustee of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Mogul wrote that as a woman, “I have no choice but to see issues with a female eye, and I do feel a particular personal commitment to consider issues on behalf of women colleagues and female patients.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com.