Gail Sheehy (SHEE-hee), born Gail Henion, is a journalist and nonfiction writer who specializes in psychological biographies and studies of life span and developmental psychology. Born to Harold Merritt and Lillian Rainey Henion, Sheehy grew up and attended high school in Mamaroneck, New York. A 1958 graduate of the University of Vermont, she pursued a dual major in English and home economics. After college, her first employment was as a consumer representative for the J. C. Penney Company. In 1960, she married Albert Francis Sheehy, and they moved to Rochester, New York, where he attended medical school and she became the fashion editor for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Their daughter, Maura, was born during this time; later the family moved to New York City. Gail and Albert Sheehy divorced in 1969.
In New York City, Sheehy began an active career writing, first for the women’s department of the Herald Tribune and a few years later as a freelancer and contributing editor for New York magazine, where she met her second husband, Clay Felker, founder and editor of the magazine. In 1969-1970, she attended Columbia University on a fellowship, studying with anthropologist Margaret Mead. Sheehy’s first book, Lovesounds, appeared in 1970. It was followed in 1971 with two more: Speed Is the Essence and Panthermania, a study of the rise of the Black Panthers movement in New Haven, Connecticut, which received mixed reviews. Some critics praised her powerful reporting, while others noted the book’s confusing organization and faddish rhetoric. Continuing her studies of provocative topics, Sheehy wrote Hustling in 1973, a book that had started as a series of exposés in New York magazine. The book was controversial and hard-hitting, exposing to society the pornography palaces and their owners on New York City’s Forty-second Street.
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