For five decades, American psychologist and media personality Joyce Brothers ’47 brought mental health issues into the public eye with charisma and lighthearted humor.
Popularly known as Dr. Joyce Brothers, she wrote syndicated advice columns, hosted radio and television programs, appeared in movies and even parodied her psychologist persona for shows such as “The Simpsons.”
On Sept. 22, Cornell University Library will present two events celebrating Brothers, who died in 2013:
- A talk by advice columnist Amy Dickinson, titled “Beating the System: The Many Lives of Dr. Joyce Brothers,” 4:30 to 6 p.m., in KG70, Klarman Hall.
- The opening reception of the exhibit “Dr. Joyce Brothers, Mother of Media Psychology,” 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery, Carl A. Kroch Library.
The talk focuses on Brothers’ pioneering work in popularizing psychotherapy and helping chart a path for women professionals in post-World War II America.
The exhibit features documents, photographs and artifacts from Brothers’ personal collection, which she started donating to the library in 1987.
Brothers’ student days at Cornell – where she double-majored in home economics and psychology at the College of Human Ecology – are well-represented in the exhibit, which includes an orientation term paper, registrar card, and graduation pictures. Brothers’ dissertation for her doctorate in psychology at Columbia University is also featured.
The bulk of the exhibit showcases Brothers’ work in print publishing, radio, television and film, including scripts and viewer letters for her first TV show in 1958 – with technology harkening back to Brothers’ 20th century heyday.
“A living room in the center of the gallery has an old television playing a loop of Dr. Joyce Brothers’ show,” said curator Fredrika Loew ’12, M.A. ’16. “There’s also a bunch of rotary phones, and, when you pick them up, you’ll hear clips of her audio answering somebody’s questions on air.”
To liven up the exhibit space, Loew is encouraging visitors to dress up in ’50s or ’60s attire.
“It’s supposed to be fun because that’s what Dr. Brothers was,” Loew said. “She was taking something serious like mental health and making it approachable in the comfort of your own living room.”
Loew, who is the Dr. Joyce Brothers project archivist, said she hopes the talk and exhibit will entice researchers to explore the psychologist’s expansive multimedia collection at the library.
“Hundreds of cubic feet of material cover 1955 to 2010, and pretty much anyone with an interest in media psychology, psychology in general, pop culture, women in media and other topics could come and use this collection,” she said.
“Dr. Joyce Brothers, Mother of Media Psychology” runs through Aug. 30, 2024. The exhibit was made possible through the generous support of the Stephen E. ’58 MBA ’59 and Evalyn Edwards ’60 Milman Exhibition Fund, with additional contributions from the Brothers family. Starting Sept. 22, an online version of the exhibit will also be available on the library’s online exhibit page.
Jose Beduya is staff writer, editor and social media coordinator for Cornell University Library.