Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch another person. When this is done, I feel contact has been made. --Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir

(1916 - 1988)

Virginia Satir, born June 26, 1916 was a key figure in the area of Family Therapy. Satir was born to Oscar Alfred Reinnard Pagenkopf, the youngest sibling of thirteen and Minnie Happe Pagenkopf, one of seven children, on a farm in Neillsville, Wisconsin. Satir, even though thankful that she was able to learn the importance of honesty from her father resented him, because he was alcoholic (Suarez, 1999). According to Satir, her father drank because he felt cheated out a formal education and had to settle for being farmer. Satir's mother, Minnie, however was headstrong on importance of a formal education (Suarez, 1999).

Even though Satir's mother saw the importance of an education, she still married a man who was lower in socioeconomic. It seemed marrying poor men seemed was the norm for women in the family. Both of Satir's grandmothers, who were born in Germany around 1870 or 1875, were said to be from an affluent backgrounds, but they both married working class men.

Besides differences in socioeconomic status and educational backgrounds, there were also religious differences that caused a big functional problem for the family. At age five, Satir had an appendicitis that ruptured (Suarez, 1999). Minnie Pagenkopf, a Christian Scientist did not want to take her daughter to see a doctor, but with Satir's health failing Oscar Pagenkopf could not honor his wife's wishes anymore and finally took young Satir to the hospital where she stayed for several months (Suarez, 1999).

When Satir was old enough to attend school, Minnie Pagenkopf expressed a strong desire for the family to move to the city. Satir was enrolled into South Division High School in Milwaukee where she met geometry teacher Estelle Stone (Suarez, 1999). Satir became quite fond of Estelle who taught her that an event of favorable combinations of circumstances, or unfavorable ones could still result in the perfect opportunity to gain knowledge. She graduated from South Division High School in 1932 just before her sixteenth birthday (Suarez, 1999).

Satir's education did not just start in high school. It stated when she was three years old. At the age of three Satir taught herself to read the books in the school library. However impressive this may seem, see was still formally taught at a small school. To be more direct, it was a one-room school that housed eighteen students.

After graduating from South Division High School, Satir attended Milwaukee State Teachers College. She graduated third in her class in 1936 with a bachelor's degree in education. While a student at Milwaukee State Teachers College, Satir worked for the Abraham Lincoln House-a community center for African-American. This was a job she took with a great curiosity for working with people different from her. According to Laurel King (1990) Satir spoke of her experience as one that exposed the racial barriers that existed for that that knew nothing of because she was not exposed to then due to her location.

"I had not met any black people where I was. I didn't know them from anything. So, I said, I wanted to do that. I started out working there the second year I was in college and I stayed all the rest of the years. I did a dramatic group with young adolescents. Some of them were older than I was (Suarez, 1999, on-line)."

In pursuit of a graduate level education, Satir enrolled in Northwestern University, Chicago, in 1937, while a teaching in Williams Bay Wisconsin at a public school. While at Northwestern University, she met Gordon Russel-a young solider on leave, at a train station and later married him in December of 1941 only to divorce in 1949. A few months after the two met, Rogers went back into the war while Virginia underwent an "ectopic" pregnancy that resulted in her undergoing a hysterectomy procedure.

While Rogers was still at war, Satir completed her educational studies in 1943, receiving her mater's degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Services Administration. Her education at the University was not one of complete success. It seems that this young woman, who taught herself to read at the age of three, was now getting D's on her papers. Satir's reaction to her low grade was not that she was failing, but because the University did not like the fact that she was a married woman in their program. Women, never the less married women who wanted to continue there education was heavily shunned and not acceptable at that time. If you were a married woman you were expected to drop your own ambitions and basically enter into a life or servitude with ownership endowed to the husband.

Satir suspended her educational activities for a quarter of the school year, only to return to a placement at the Chicago Home for Girls. This was a placement by her graduate program that she thought was an awful reverence for antiquity. Remembering back to what was said to her by her high school geometry teacher, Satir was able to turn this opportunity into an exceptional experience. Although I mentioned earlier that she completed her program in 1943, she did not receive her degree until 1948 upon completion of her thesis.

With education out of the way, Rogers returned from the war and to the realization that the time spent apart was too significant for them to have a "normal healthy" marriage. It was because of this reason why the couple divorced after eight years of marriage.

After her divorce from Rogers in 1949, Satir met and married her second husband Norman Satir, in 1951. This marriage was also to end after a short time. She was divorced for the second time in 1957. During the time of her marriage with Norman Satir, she adopted two children, Mary and Ruth. Although the two children were adopted as adults, Satir worked with the two women during her graduate studies at the University of Chicago and her placement at the Chicago Home for Girls. It has been stipulated that Satir adopted the two, Mary and Ruth, for three possible reasons. The reasons being that the adoptions could have been because she could not have children of her own-a result of her hysterectomy, to save her marriage or just simply because of her humane quality of understanding the suffering of others-Mary and Ruth, and she wanted to do something about it. One may wonder how a Family Therapist, could not manage to save her own marriage or work through her own family problem. Satir sums up her divorces:

"I have often thought had there been somebody like me around, something might have been able to be done. I also think I don't see how I could have done what I've done in the world had I been married. And when I decided-because I've been on the verge of marriage many times-I said no, because if I wanted to roam the globe like I did, it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be fair to me, it wouldn't be fair to the people. At the point, I really feel it was a kind of destiny because I've been able to get to places. There are some people in the world who have other jobs to do. (Blitzer 39; Suarez, 1999, on-line).

With marriage no loner a concern Satir turned to practice and established herself as a social worker. She met Dr. Calmest Gyros in 1955 at the Illinois Psychiatric Institute. The two of them adopted and started to spread the idea of therapy not only focusing of the individual but his or her family as well (Suarez, 1999). Satir saw the individual as elements, so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts (Satir, 1967). In other words, to properly identify a problem, an ecosystemic approach may be best, because the approach does not exclude analysis of the family but include it in the process.

After moving to California, Satir met Don Jackson and Jules Riskin. Together they founded the Mental Health Research Institute (MHRI) in Menlo Park. Under Satir's direction, the MHRI started the first formal family therapy training program after receiving grant money in 1962 (Suarez, 1999). Two years later, Satir visited the Esalen Institute of Big Sur, California. There she became the first Director of Training, which required her to oversee the Human Potential Development Program. Satir first went to the institute because of her interest in learning the working experience afforded by the institute (e.g. meditation and bodywork-the application of physical therapy methods such as massage, yoga, exercise, and relaxation techniques for the purpose of promoting physical and emotional well-being). She was also well established as an international trainer and consultant to schools and agencies (Suarez, 1999).

It was also in the year of 1964 that Satir published her first book, "Conjoint Family Therapy;" however, she did not publish again until 1972 "The New Peoplemaking" (Suarez, 1999). She also wrote books such as "Your Many Faces," "The Third Birth: Becoming Your Own Decisionmaker," and "Self Esteem." Through her books came extreme notoriety and the distinguished Service Award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy as well an honorary doctorates degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1973 (Suarez, 1999).

Satir also founded several networking program, the International Human Learning Resources Network (IHLRN)-originally established as the Beautiful People in 1970. In 1977 she founded The Advanta Network, renamed Advanta, The Virginia Satir Network. Both these networking organizations were developed for the objective purpose of "reaching out to individuals, families, and other mental health workers (Suarez, 1999).

Other accomplishments by Satir include, an invitation from the Council of Elders-"a selected group of world citizens who meet with Nobel Laureates for World Peace (Suarez, 1999, on-line)." She also accepted a position on the Steering Committee of the International Family Therapy Association as well as an appointment to the National Council for Self-Esteem as a member of the Advisory Board. The University of Chicago School of Social Services also publicly recognized her for her humane services by awarding her a gold medal (Suarez, 1999).

In June of 1988, while attending the Avanta Annual Meeting, Satir experienced stomach pains, which was a continuation of her illness experienced in May of that same year and in the same area of the body. It was not until July, while back in Crested Butte, Colorado working as Director of Training for the Institutional Satir Summer Institute/Process Community Module I & II that her stomach pains grew almost unbearable (Suarez, 1999). At this point Satir was hospitalized at Grand Junction Hospital with a diagnosis of pancreatic tumor (Suarez, 1999). The doctors at Grand Junction Hospital counseled her on the possibilities of the tumor being cancerous and that she needed immediate treatment; however, it was not until she was admitted at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, that the doctors claims were conformed-the tumor in her pancreas was indeed cancerous and her liver was also infected (Suarez, 1999).

The treatment options "included chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but theses were considered merely palliative. She chose instead to undertake a nutritional approach with healing at home (The Satir Model 328; Suarez, 1999, On-line)." Satir's nutritional approach consisted of a cleansing diet with vitamins and mineral. This lasted until some time in late August when she started to experience nausea and some discomfort (Suarez, 1999).

Satir was now confined to her home, sick, quiet, restful and surrounded by family and friends (Suarez, 1999). For those who could with her in her home, Satir wrote these words of comfort to them:

"To all my friends, colleagues and family: I send you love. Please support me in my passage to a new life. I have no other way to thank you than this. You have all played a significant part in my development of loving. As a result, my life has been rich and full, so I leave feeling very grateful (Satir; Suarez, 1999,On-line).

A note came back from her family on September 9, 1988, which read:

"To our beloved Ginny, We are gathered together in Flood Park as close to your home as we can get. It is a beautiful afternoon with the birds singing through the trees and your favorite black squirrels running across the lawn. Each of us has voiced our fond memories of things that you have enlightened us with during the past. Some of the memories brought laughter and others a deep heartfelt appreciation for what you have given to us. Your deep concern for all mankind will be shared by your family as well as others. Certainly our individual experiences with you have been different; but they have shared a common thread of love and joy. We wish you peace and much contentment in your transition to a greater work. All of us in your immediate family will always remember your warm touch and your nurturing love and that wonderful smile. Our love and joy to you forever (Suarez, 1999, On-line)".

Virginia Satir died the next day on September 10, 1988 at the age of seventy-two. Her last request was that she be cremated (Suarez, 1999). She was in fact cremated and her remains taken to Mount Crested Butte, Colorado to her previously bought cemetery plot (Suarez, 1999). Virginia Satir's remains are now resting in the Mounts of Crested Butte where her grave is kept and cared for by Allen Cox (Suarez, 1999).

Satir's life work enabled her to become a key figure in the development of family therapy. Her true practice began in 1951, a few years before she established a training program for psychiatric residents at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute. In chapter one of her book "Conjoint Family Therapy," she answered the question as to "Why Family Therapy...because it deal[s] with family pain (Satir, 1967, p. 1)."

According to Satir (1967), when one person in the family shows some form of symptoms, it will effect as well as affect all the members of that family-they all feel his or her pain and it be comes a type of symptom sharing. Studies have shown that families behave as units. For instance, Jackson (1954) was the one who first introduced the term "family homeostasis"-the family acting overtly or covertly to achieve a balanced relationship, to refer to the behavior (Satir, 1967). Satir (1967) stated that even though there are treatment approaches out there that may call themselves "family therapy, because they are oriented principally to the family members as is individuals and not as a unit as well as individually, makes it family therapy of a different caliber.

"A growing body of clinical observation has pointed to the conclusion that the family therapy must be oriented to the family as a whole (Satir, 1967, p. 3)." It was also her assumption that once therapist(s) start to look at the family as a unit then aspects of family life that produces unwanted symptom would be revealed. Even though her approach went against the most accepted forms of family therapy of the time, he assumptions and approach proved correct and would lead to her being a pioneer in the field.


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