Alice H. Cook, Cornell professor who was among the first to study the plight of working women, is dead at 94
By Darryl Geddes
Alice Hanson Cook, a professor emeritus at the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations and one of the first scholars to study the plight of working women, died Feb. 7 at her home in Ithaca, N.Y. She died of complications from a stroke. She was 94.
Cook was one of the first scholars to write on and research issues related to working women, such as equal pay and comparable worth. Her academic studies in the early 1970s also touched on maternity leave and the various ways public policy could support working mothers.
In 1972 she proposed a Maternal Bill of Rights to compensate women for loss of employment opportunities and job development during their child-rearing years. In a monograph, published by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cook wrote: "Working mothers carry a double burden of home and child-care duties on the one hand and employment on the other. Immediate provision of child-care facilities and opportunities for part-time work would greatly ease these burdens, until society accommodates over the long run to new definitions of sex roles and equalization of parental responsibilities."
Cook's early career was as a social worker in Indianapolis and St. Louis. As an industrial secretary at the YWCA, in Chicago (1927-29) and then Philadelphia (1931-37), Cook saw the hardship endured by working women, especially those who had to support children at home. During this time, she also created and taught special summer schools for women workers at Bryn Mawr, Penn., and at various locations in the South.
Cook's work as a union educator and leader increased her awareness of women's workplace issues and provided her a position in which to study and seek remedies for their plight. She served as education director of the Textiles Workers Organizing Committee (1937-39) and then as assistant to the manager of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (1940-1943). Throughout the 1940s, Cook also taught labor education programs for the United Steelworkers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Enginemen and Fireman, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers.
After a brief stint (1950-1952) as chief of the adult education section of the U.S. Office of Cultural Affairs in Frankfort-am-Main, Germany, Cook joined Cornell University as a project director for a field study on increasing labor participating in community affairs. In 1954 she was named to the faculty.
Cook who was admired for her intellectual curiosity, accuracy and fairness, became a clear choice to serve as Cornell's first ombudsman, a position created in large part as a result of the campus uprisings of the 1960s. She was named to the post in 1969 and served until 1971. As ombudsman, Cook received grievances from anyone in the Cornell community -- students, faculty and administrators.
An ardent feminist, Cook took up the fight for women's rights on every front. She was a catalyst in opening a Cornell University faculty club to women.
After her retirement from Cornell in 1972 when she was named an emeritus professor, Cook spent the next 26 years until her death writing and studying about the world of the working women.
Her studies of women were not confined to the United States. She authored numerous papers addressing the issues of working women abroad. The Ford Foundation funded her 1978 study, The Working Mother: A Survey of Problems and Programs in Nine Countries (ILR Press, 1978), and the German Marshall Fund sponsored her 1975 study on trade unions and the working women in Germany, England, Belgium, Sweden and Austria.
During the 1980s and '90s her research addressed issues of comparable worth as in her chapter on "Comparable Worth: Recent Developments in Selected States" in Comparable Worth and Wage Discrimination: Technical Possibilities and Political Realities (Temple University Press, 1984); and "Pay Equity: Theory and Implementation" in Public Personnel Management: Current Concerns, Future Challenges (Longman, 1991). She also examined the workday life of dual-income couples in her chapter "Can Work Requirements Accommodate to the Needs of Dual-Earner Families?" in Dual-Earner Families: International Perspectives (Sage Publications, 1992).
"She was not only interested, but concerned in every aspect of the working women's life," said Jennie Farley, Cornell professor of industrial and labor relations. "From issues of compensation to child care to juggling work and home responsibilities, Alice studied it all and made it clear that these issues were universal in their importance and that they affected every women no matter where she lived and worked."
Cook was honored with the publication by ILR Press in 1985 of Women Workers in Fifteen Countries, a book of 15 essays by social scientists, economists and lawyers assessing the current situation of working women in the Soviet Union, China, Japan, Israel and other countries. Writing for The New York Times Book Review, Alice Kessler-Harris called the book "a fitting tribute" to Cook.
Cook was also the subject of a 1993 documentary, Never Done: The Working Life of Alice Cook, which reflected on her five careers, as social worker, labor organizer, labor educator, foreign service member and professor. The film was made by Marilyn Rivchin, a senior lecturer in filmmaking at Cornell.
She was a founding member in 1972 of an ad hoc group that later became the Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, which provides leadership and advocacy on women's issues at Cornell. She served as a lifetime member of the group, which annually presents the Cook Awards to persons who have contributed positively to the status of women on campus.
Cook's awards are numerous. She received the Governor's Empire State Women of the Year Award in 1984 and the Tompkins County (N.Y.) Human Rights Commission award for outstanding contributions to human rights, among others.
Shortly before her death, Cook completed her autobiography, A Lifetime in Labor, which will be published this spring by the Feminist Press of New York.
Born in Alexandria, Va., in 1903, Cook earned a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1924. She did graduate work at the University of Frankfort and Berlin University in Germany from 1928 to 1931.
She is survived by two sons Philip Cook of Buffalo, N.Y., and Thomas Bernstein of New York City; two brothers, Fred Hanson of Sun Lakes, Ariz., Evanston, Ill., and Cedar River, Mich., and Theodore Hanson of Honolulu; several grandchildren and a great grandchild.