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 Joan Doris Goldhamer
Written by Peter Simonson and Lauren Archer

Joan Doris was born on November 6, 1922 in New York City to an upwardly mobile Jewish family. She spent the early years of her life on 160th Street near Broadway in Washington Heights before the family rode economic success to a more desirable neighborhood on 83rd and West End Avenue. Her father worked for the Eugene Katz Advertising Agency, and her extended family were teachers in the New York education system. As a child, she would go down to the agency on Sundays with her father, where she was turned loose in a room filled with old newspapers. Doris would read the old comics in the papers, and the smell of “dead newspapers” has stuck with her ever since.

For elementary school, she attended a small progressive private school on Riverside Drive, where she learned French and developed a lifelong love of foreign languages. She attended Julia Richman High School (named for the first woman district superintendent of schools in the City of New York), and took part in a college preparatory program, graduating in 1939. She went for one year to New York’s Hunter College, before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she studied in an independent, tutor-based program and learned Russian through a wartime immersion program. During her summers in New York, she would work for the Katz Agency, doing interviewing and coding. She graduated from Michigan in June of 1943 and moved back to New York, able to understand the Russian conversations she heard regularly among refugee Jews on the Fifth Avenue bus on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

In September of that year, she ventured up to Columbia to knock on the door of Robert S. Lynd, professor of sociology and co-author, with his wife Helen, of the famous Middletown studies. Instead of Lynd, she ran into a young Robert K. Merton, who was then getting going on a study of the 18-hour radio war bond drive of the popular entertainer and celebrity Kate Smith, and hired Doris to help with it. The project would grow into a classic book, Mass Persuasion, and Merton would call Doris the best qualitative interviewer in the group. The Smith study utilized depth interviews with individual listeners, some of which lasted three hours or more. At the time this type of interviewing was a relatively new method, which drew from both psychotherapy and the social sciences, and made use of open-ended questions and follow-ups which probed the meanings Smith had for her listeners. Doris rode buses and subways around New York, interviewed women in working-class apartments and middle-class houses, and opened a space for them to speak about the deep reactions they had to Smith’s bond drive.

Doris took graduate courses in sociology at Columbia, which she remembers with little fondness. “Columbia was horrible…[W]e went on strike even because the professors paid no attention—no mind to the graduate students….never a kind word—it was rough…. I suppose that there are people who had wonderful experiences at Columbia; I just hated it, and most of my friends did, too.” Her testimony reminds us that Columbia’s sociology program was an unhappy place for many graduate students in the 1940s and ‘50s. Doris remained at the Bureau into the late 1940s, where she worked on a variety of projects, including one that applied the still-new method of content analysis in order to analyze stereotypes in short stories of popular magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. Another was a fascinating but never-published study of more than 20,000 letters mailed to General Dwight Eisenhower during the run-up to the 1948 presidential election. Doris discovered the letters and, enlisting Merton and Leila Sussmann, applied methods women at the Bureau had developed for analyzing mass mail. Five decades later, she would publish an article that explained the birth and suppression of the study (Goldhamer, 1997).

When the men returned from World War II and flooded Columbia and other universities, work at the Bureau dried up for women like Goldhamer. She moved on to Elmo Wilson and Elmo Roper’s International Public Opinion, where she joined a research staff that included Bureau alumnae Helen Dinerman and Thelma Anderson (the latter with whom she shared an office on the 81st floor of the Empire State Building). Later known as International Research Associates, Wilson and Roper’s organization analyzed surveys administered overseas, often funded by the U.S. government. The position had Goldhamer reading and coding questionnaires in foreign languages, which exercised a talent and love, and informed her about life beyond New York City.

From there she moved to McCann Erickson, the trendsetting advertising firm whose research department was headed by Herta Herzog, one of the moving forces in the original Office of Radio Research and the leading female scholar at the Bureau in the 1940s. McCann’s Marion Harper had longstanding relations with Lazarsfeld’s group, and Herzog hired a number of former Bureau researchers into the agency. Some were men, but many were women; a female strand of Columbia’s influence network extended into New York marketing, advertising, and public opinion research organizations.

At American Sociological Society (ASS) meetings in Chicago, Doris met Herbert Goldhamer (1907-1977) a brilliant Toronto-born University of Chicago sociologist who had studied and taught there since the late 1930s. They were married in 1959 and moved to Southern California, where Herb had been recruited by the RAND Corporation, the influential and later controversial Santa Monica-based think tank for military (especially air-based) and international political issues. Joan helped Herbert on some of his projects, though many were classified, and he couldn’t speak about them with his wife. She attended RAND seminars, edited other people’s writings (something she excelled at), and was eventually enlisted to conduct non-classified interviews for RAND projects. She began an oral history project about the founding of RAND, which was cut off by the organization after she had conducted a number of interviews she recorded on reel-to-reel tape. (Her tapes are still in the RAND archives and in fact provided part of the base for a new popular history of the corporation, Alex Abella’s Soldiers of Reason.) Joan Goldhamer currently resides in Marin County, outside San Francisco.
Publications and Significant Work in Communications Research:

Interviewer for Kate Smith war bond study (1943-1944), later published as Robert K. Merton, with Marjorie Fiske and Alberta Curtis, Mass Persuasion: The Social Psychology of a War Bond Drive (New York: Harper Brothers, 1946; republished with a new Introduction by Peter Simonson, New York: Howard Fertig Publishers, 2004).

Research Associate for Eisenhower Mail Study (1948-1949), analyzing the more than 20,000 letters written General Eisenhower in 1947-48, urging him to run for president (he would wait until 1952). Core research team: Robert K. Merton, Joan Doris Goldhamer, and Leila A. Sussmann

Joan D. Goldhamer, “General Eisenhower in Academe: A Clash of Perspectives and a Study Suppressed,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 33 (Summer 1997), 241-259.