Ruth C. Wylie, 83, chairwoman of college psychology department

October 24, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Ruth C. Wylie, the retired chairwoman of the Goucher College psychology department who wrote about self-image and was a champion of women's education, died of pneumonia Tuesday at Broadmead Retirement Community in Cockeysville, where she had lived for five years. The former Towson resident was 83.

Born in Beaver Falls, Pa., she earned a psychology degree at her hometown school, Geneva College, where her parents taught psychology. She earned a master's degree and doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Wylie taught at Stephens College in Missouri, Connecticut College for Women and Sarah Lawrence College in New York state before joining Goucher's faculty in 1962. She retired in 1982, serving two periods as chairwoman of the psychology department.

Colleagues said she was an authority on what is called "the self-concept" -- whether people see themselves as generous, friendly, shy, important or worthy of love, among other concepts.

"She had a reputation as being difficult but fair, scrupulously honest and possessing an unimpeachable integrity," said Sally N. Wall, a College of Notre Dame of Maryland professor of psychology and former student of Dr. Wylie. "Once she had thought something through and taken a position, that was where she would stand. She never took the easy way."

Dr. Wylie's fiance, Ray Shotsinger, also of Beaver Falls, was killed returning from a bombing run over Europe in World War II, and for many years after that she devoted much of her time caring for her mother and aunts.

"When I asked her what she was most proud of in her life, she said taking care of her family," Dr. Wall said. "She was a feminist who strongly believed in women's education. She was very encouraging of her students to go on and learn."

Dr. Wylie received numerous grants and honors, including a National Science Foundation Science Faculty Fellowship in 1961 and the Goucher College Board of Trustees prize for research excellence in 1982.

"She was a woman of great precision," said former Goucher College President Rhoda Dorsey. "She was precise in her thought and in her language. She also reshaped the curriculum in her department and made sure her students had valuable research experience."

In 1989, she was named a fellow of the American Psychological Society for "distinguished contributions to psychological science." She also a fellow of the American Psychological Association.

In 1992, Dr. Wylie participated in a study designed to preserve the experiences and contributions of women in psychology who were born between 1900 and 1925, conducted by the APA's Women's Heritage Project.

She was the author of three books, including The Self-Concept (University of Nebraska Press, 1961), considered a classic work in theory and research on that topic.

Her articles have appeared in numerous periodicals, including the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Personality, Journal of Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology and Psychological Reports.

After her retirement, Goucher's psychology department established an annual Ruth C. Wylie Psychology Prize, awarded to the outstanding psychology major.

She volunteered at a National Institutes of Health lab in Bethesda after she retired.

In addition to her academic activities, Dr. Wylie was a supporter of environmental causes and was active in community service. She was a board member of Common Cause/Maryland in the mid-1990s. As a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, she lobbied Maryland's former U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias on matters relating to nuclear weapons and the "star wars" defense program.

She belonged to the Maryland Environmental Matters Committee and worked to establish the Towson Nature Preserve on Providence Road. She also traveled and enjoyed the company of her two cats, Amy and Charles David.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

Survivors include a nephew, David Wilson of Toronto, and a niece, Suzanne Brady of Wellingborough, England.

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