Jean Baker Miller was born to a working-class family and grew up in New York City during the Depression. When she was less than a year old, she became ill with polio and had to wear leg braces until she was seven. Her determination was evident even at an early age; she soon became a fine swimmer. She was also inspired by two of the nurses who treated her, twin sisters who provided a glimpse of the wider world. Determined not to follow the example of women around her who were in terrible economic straits from a husband’s job loss or death, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and received a bachelor’s degree in 1948. She was then accepted at Columbia University’s medical school.
Upon obtaining her M.D. degree, she held psychiatric residencies and took training in psychoanalysis at the New York Medical College. From 1956 on, she conducted a private practice in psychiatry. Along with this central work, she taught at various times in medical centers in New York City, upstate New York, London, and Massachusetts.
At the time Miller started her career, the theories of Viennese therapist Sigmund Freud were the reigning paradigm in psychology and psychoanalysis. Freudian theory took the adult human male as the normative model of human behavior, labeling women’s greater concern with relationships than independence as dependent and immature. Miller’s work with women patients led to the conclusion that this model was seriously flawed: Women were regarded as incomplete and pathological for acting as caregivers and sustainers of human bonds, the very...
(The entire section is 642 words.)