Dr. Ruth B. Mandel, a tireless advocate for women’s rights, died on April 11 at the age of 81 due to ovarian cancer.
Mandel was born in Vienna, Austria, to Mechel and Lea Blumenstock. Her parents fled with her when she was nine months old from Nazi Germany, setting sail on the SS St. Louis from Hamburg to Cuba in May 1939. They and the others on the ship were forced to return to Europe. Mandel’s family was accepted into England and moved to the United States in 1947.
Mandel’s experience as a survivor of the Holocaust informed the rest of her life, as she said in an interview in 2015: “My interest in politics didn’t come out of a political party. It came much more out of a family background of escaping from the Holocaust and thinking that unless we had good government and good democracy and the world got to be a better place none of us would make it through.”
She earned a B.A. in English from Brooklyn College in 1960 and a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from the University of Connecticut in 1969. She taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Rider College before going to Rutgers University in 1971 with her then-husband, Barrett Mandel.
She joined the Eagleton Institute of Politics first as a volunteer for the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), then as a director of the CAWP, then as a director of Eagleton itself. At the time of her joining, the CAWP was studying the developing field of women in politics. With Mandel’s leadership, it became “the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation.” Mandel herself was a respected source of wisdom about the topic, authoring the first comprehensive book about the experiences of women in politics at the time, “In the Running: The New Woman Candidate.” At the time of her death, she was a professor of politics and senior scholar at the CAWP, having stepped down in August 2019 from her role as director of Eagleton.
She was active in the Rutgers community, founding the Institute for Women’s Leadership, working with faculty members to create the Women and Politics Program within the Department of Political Science and chairing or serving on numerous search committees. She also taught in both the Department of English and Department of Political Science at various times during her long tenure at the University. She was awarded honorary doctorates by Chatham College and Georgian Court University.
Her life of service extended beyond academia and Rutgers, as she was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and later reappointed and made deputy chair by President Bill Clinton. She was a member of the governing body for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. from 1991 to 2005. She was also appointed to the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
“I do not know for sure that we learn from the past. I have my doubts that recalling evil can make people good. But at least we have to try. As an act of faith, we have to try,” she said.
Dr. Ruth B. Mandel is survived by her husband of 29 years, Jeff Lucker; her ex-husband and close friend, Barrett Mandel; her daughter, Maud Mandel; and two grandchildren.
Sources: CAWP 04/20/20; CAWP 08/12/15; Washington Post 04/17/20