By Sue Headlee

Remarks at Cynthia’s Memorial

October 26, 2013

Cynthia was known to her family and friends for the amazing force of character. She had a passion for social justice.  She told me once that her mother, Eleanor Kellogg Chase, was a Christian Socialist. Here are three examples of Cynthia’s quest for social equity:

1.       In the 1950s when she worked for the Marshall Plan in Paris she collected wage data from the capitals of Western Europe.  The question she researched was “did the Marshall Plan raise the standard of living of the workers?”

2.       As a development economist she wrote two books with Irma Adelman entitled: Society, Politics, and Economic Development (1967) and Economic Growth and Social Equity in Developing Countries (1973).  They believed that economic performance could not be explained without analysing political and social forces.  To explain poverty and inequality, it was necessary to study institutions that structured the distribution of income and wealth.

3.         In 1994, she was elected president of the Economic History Association. For her presidential address, she asked “What kind of capitalist institutions favor a widespread distribution of the benefits of capitalism?”

Cynthia was a passionate teacher. As her student in fall 1976, I found her enthusiastic and intellectually excited by economic theory and finding empirical evidence to test those theories.  Sometimes she would take our breath away.  In her classes, she required her students each week to create causal diagrams on issues of that week’s topic.  She was always searching for causal relations.

Cynthia was a creative intellectual.  For her and Irma’s third book Comparative Patterns of Economic Development 1850-1914 (1988), they applied their innovative quantitative technique to economic history of the world. As her research assistant, I was fascinated by the measurement of social and political institutions.  I helped her organize country data in order to rank them on such variables as “agreeableness of agricultural institutions” to agricultural development.  She believed that agricultural development promoted a wide distribution of the benefits of growth.  She had a powerful and critical intellect.

She supervised a large number of dissertations, including my own.  She demanded hard work and set high standards. As my dissertation advisor, she helped me construct my own measures of the agricultural institutions to apply to the family farm system of the Old Northwest in the 1850s where there was a widespread distribution of the gains of development. She taught me to do theoretically-informed empirical research.

She became my friend.  She loved my husband, Jeff Reiman, professor of moral philosophy at American University. She would take us out to dinner in her customized Checker car and debate moral issues with us. She was always stimulating and enjoyable. I am grateful for being guided and befriended by such a brilliant and creative person.


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