Ruth Lewis


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Ruth Maslow Lewis, 92, formerly of Urbana, Illinois, died on April 24, 2008, in Phoenix, Arizona.

She was the sister of the psychologist Abraham Maslow and the widow of the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, with whom she collaborated for over 30 years on anthropological research. For her contributions to her husband's best-known work "Five Families: The Children of Sanchez" (winner of the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews); "Pedro Martinez"; and "La Vida" (winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1967) she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters by the University of Illinois in 1988. She also co-authored, with Oscar Lewis and Susan M. Rigdon, a three-volume series, Living the Revolution: An Oral History of Contemporary Cuba, based on the Lewises' field research in Cuba in 1969-70.

Ruth Maslow was born in 1916 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, to immigrant parents from Kiev, Russia. She grew up in Brooklyn, one of seven children of Samuel Maslow and Rose Schilosky Maslow. She graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1933 with a major in Art, received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology in 1937 from Brooklyn College, and a Master's degree in 1938 from Columbia Teachers' College. She taught grade school, first in a public school in Harlem and then at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. In 1937 she married Oscar Lewis. She moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1948 when her husband joined the Sociology Department at the University of Illinois.

After their marriage Ruth accompanied her husband on his first field investigation to the Northern Piegan Brocket Reservation in Alberta, Canada. This was the beginning of a close and intense collaboration on research that took them to Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico and Cuba. She did psychological testing and interviewing, trained and supervised research assistants, prepared and edited manuscripts, wrote a field guide for taking family and life histories, and took part in constant discussions concerning every aspect of the work. Her most notable contribution to books published under her husband's name was the editing of interview transcriptions and day studies into works that read more like novels than social science reporting. Ruth served as Associate Director of the Puerto Rican field project (1963-69), and after her husband's death in 1970 succeeded him as Director of the Cuba Project.

Ruth loved art, film, science, and politics and was an avid reader, swimmer, and tennis player. She cherished her involvement in the Wednesday Night Anthropology Women's Club, founded in Urbana in 1974. Because of her ability to connect with people and her deep interest in their lives and problems she had a profound influence on a great many of those who knew her. Throughout her life she remained passionately engaged with ideas and with the world.

She is survived by her daughter Judith and son Gene, of Phoenix, Arizona, and by many nieces, nephews, and dear friends.

A memorial service was held in Phoenix on May 3. A private service will be held in New York City on June 29. Interment will be in the family plot in New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island. A memorial service for Urbana friends and colleagues will be announced in July. Memorial donations can be made to the Natural Medicine Center at Hadassah Medical Organization Research Centers ( or the micro-lending organization at