Naomi Weisstein ’61 died on March 26, 2015 in New York City of complications from ovarian cancer and myalgic encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
From a boogie-playing monk who sang a solo “Song of the Effete Beat” in our class Junior Show to a renowned feminist writer, Naomi was likely to do the unexpected. She used her brilliant mind and multiple talents to challenge the sexism she encountered as a graduate student in psychology at Harvard, when she was applying for teaching positions, and even when she wanted to play in a rock band.
In 1961 a librarian told her that women could not enter Harvard’s Lamont Library on the grounds that they would “distract” the male scholars. Naomi and some female friends danced in leotards outside the library windows and played a clarinet and tambourines to show them what a real distraction was.
Her pioneering 1968 feminist essay “Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female” has been reprinted in over 50 publications. She was an early feminist stand-up comedian and organized the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band in 1970.
A 1979 Guggenheim Fellow in psychology, Naomi taught at the University of Chicago, Loyola University in Chicago, and the State University of New York at Buffalo until her early forties, when she was stricken with ME/CFS and became bedridden for the remaining 30 + years. Her husband, radical historian Jesse Lemisch, helped her fight insurance companies to retain coverage of the 24/7 home nursing care she needed for the rest of her life. Yet she continued to write creative articles in science and feminism from her bed.