Phyllis Chesler, a powerful voice in the feminist movement since the second wave of feminism of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, is an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at City University of New York’s College of Staten Island. She is a founder of the National Women’s Health Network and a groundbreaking activist on women’s mental health issues. The daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Chesler was the first one in her family to attend college. Her mother, Lillian, who had been the first in her family to go to high school, was a traditional housewife who took Phyllis to ballet, drama, piano, Hebrew, and painting lessons. Her relationship with her father, Leon Chesler, a Polish Jewish immigrant who drove a truck, was warmly intimate.
Her girlhood in the 1950’s was typical of the era; there was no sex education, and no adult relative ever discussed normal bodily changes. Like most other girls of her generation, she wore girdles and crinolines and endured early curfews and no dates. What saved Chesler and offered a certain amount of freedom was books. She haunted the public library, and the more she read, the more eager she was for the world beyond her childhood reality. She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and language at Bard College in 1963 and a doctorate in psychology at the New School for Social Research in 1969.
Following her formal education, Chesler continued her research and clinical work at many facilities, including New York Medical Hospital, New School for Social Research, Yeshiva University, and Metropolitan Hospital. Much of this experience led to her influential book Women and Madness,...
(The entire section is 692 words.)