Eleanor Bernert Sheldon, sociologist and leading figure in the establishment of the field of social indicators, who served as the first woman president of the Social Science Research Council (1972–1979), passed away on May 8 at the age of 101.
Sheldon first joined the Council as a staff member from 1950 to 1951, after earning her PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago. She went on to work as a researcher at Columbia University, the United Nations, and the University of California, Los Angeles, and served as executive associate of the Russell Sage Foundation from 1961 until 1972. She was coeditor, with Wilbert E. Moore, of Indicators of Social Change–Concepts and Measurements (1968), which was foundational to the social indicators movement—the scholarly movement to develop statistical measurements to evaluate quality of life and human well-being over time.
Under Sheldon’s leadership, the Council undertook a broad range of innovative projects on topics including area studies, human development, research methodology, and law and social science. Two programs established during her tenure, Television and Social Behavior (1973-79) and Mass Communications and Political Behavior (1974-80), examined how media technology affected politics and society, presaging the Council’s current portfolio of work on this issue in the digital age.
As part of Council efforts to deepen scholarly exchange, she also played a key role in the SSRC Committee on Scholarly Communication with China, devoted to promoting collaboration and dialogue among US and Chinese researchers after decades of virtually no direct contact. Most notably, Sheldon oversaw the creation of the SSRC Center for Coordination of Research on Social Indicators in Washington, DC. In the decade that followed, the Council worked with researchers and government agencies to lay a scientific foundation for research on social indicators and to bring this research to policy-makers.
She was a fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. After her tenure at the SSRC concluded, Sheldon served as the first woman member on the boards of several major corporations, including the Mobil Corporation, Citicorp and Citibank, Heinz, and Equitable Life.
A pathbreaking social scientist and leader, Sheldon’s legacy at the Council—fostering international collaboration, understanding the impact of technology on society, bridging research and policy, measuring and advancing human well-being—lives on in our work today. We are deeply grateful for her vision and leadership.
May 10, 2021