Dr. Beatrix Ann Hamburg

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Dr. Beatrix Ann Hamburg (McCleary)

Also Known As: "Betty"
Birthplace: Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, United States
Death: April 15, 2018 (94)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Minor Francis McCleary and Beatrix Ann McCleary
Wife of Private
Mother of Dr. Margaret Ann Hamburg and Private
Half sister of Marguerita McCleary and Minor Francis McCleary

Occupation: Child development researcher
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Dr. Beatrix Ann Hamburg

Beatrix Hamburg, who after breaking racial barriers at two major colleges became an important researcher in child development and psychology, working on subjects like school violence and peer counseling for students, died on April 15 in Washington. She was 94.

Her son-in-law, Peter Brown, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Hamburg was the first self-identifying black woman to graduate from Vassar College, in 1944, and in 1948 she became the first black woman to graduate from the Yale Medical School.

Her lengthy professional résumé included professorships at Stanford’s School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Along with her husband, David Hamburg, she was a DeWitt Wallace Distinguished Scholar at Weill Cornell Medical College, also in New York.

Dr. Hamburg’s research focused on young people and the importance of examining their needs and psychological development in the modern age. This was particularly evident in “Learning to Live Together: Preventing Hatred and Violence in Child and Adolescent Development,” a 2004 book written with her husband.

Here they examined two often dueling human instincts — to be wary of unknown forces and to cooperate in order to survive. And they warned against education that warped formative minds, whether overtly, as in Nazi Germany, or more subtly, as when an us-against-them mentality is cultivated based on nationalistic, racial or other group divisions.

“As we have seen in many places over many generations, it is possible to shape youngsters in hateful ways, prepared for large-scale killing even at the expense of their own lives,” they wrote. “Education for hatred is a harsh reality of history, amplified now by immensely enhanced capacities for destruction. Surely there is no attractive future for humanity in this direction — indeed, perhaps no future at all.”

Beatrix Ann McCleary was born on Oct. 19, 1923, in Jacksonville, Fla. Her father, Minor, was a doctor who died when she was a toddler.

Her mother, the former Beatrix Ann Downs, took her to New York, where Beatrix’s grandparents lived, and reared her with a strong emphasis on education.

At Vassar she met Eleanor Roosevelt. “So that was another activist lady, in addition to my mother, who was very important in my life,” she said.

That paid off when Vassar, playing catch-up to some other prestigious colleges, became determined to shake its all-white label (although a black student who identified as white had graduated there in 1897).

“I was informed by a Methodist minister that at Vassar they wanted to find a black student,” Dr. Hamburg said in a 2011 video interview, “and he was going to suggest me. So I was in essence recruited to go there.”

The college did not assign her a roommate at first, she recalled years later, “because they didn’t know how I would work out.” But she found ready acceptance at Raymond House, her residence hall on the campus, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., although her Vassar years were not without awkwardness.

“I represented the Negro Problem — in capitals — and the Raymond students were interested in that problem and in seeing that Vassar solved it successfully,” she told The Vassar Quarterly in 1946. “That I should be thought of, at least at first, as the representative of a problem race rather than as an individual was natural; it was also sometimes difficult.

“The most amusing of these difficulties was that everyone assumed I was an authority on all things Negro,” she continued. “I was bombarded with questions about the Negro theater, Negro political problems and opinions, African lore, Negro music, and so on indefinitely. I answered all the questions I knew anything about and some I didn’t. But it’s an odd thing about my education in a predominantly white college that it made me learn more about Negroes than I knew when I came.”

While at Vassar she met Eleanor Roosevelt, who was on the college’s board of directors when Dr. Hamburg was a student representative to the board.

“She was a big role model for me,” Dr. Hamburg said. “So that was another activist lady, in addition to my mother, who was very important in my life.”

If adjusting to being black on a white campus was a theme of her Vassar years, at Yale Medical School there was a different obstacle.

“It wasn’t a very big deal to be an African American at Yale, but it was much more of a challenge to be a woman there,” she said in another video interview. “I didn’t notice this at Vassar because it was all women, but in medical school, a woman, when a question was tossed out, would answer it, and it would be as if talking into the wind — hadn’t happened. Later on a man would say the same thing — the same thing! — and they’d say, God, John, that was so fabulous.”

At Yale, she met David Hamburg, a fellow medical student. They married in 1951. He survives her, along with a son, Eric, a filmmaker; and a daughter, Margaret Hamburg, who was Food and Drug Administration commissioner under President Barack Obama.

Beatrix Hamburg’s research dealt with a wide range of issues, including diabetes in children and teenage pregnancy. All of her work demonstrated an appreciation for the stresses of being a child in a complex modern world. A 1972 paper written with Barbara B. Varenhorst reported the results of an experimental peer-counseling program that trained high school and junior high school students to help other students.

“Peer counselors were not conceived of merely as academic tutors,” the authors wrote, “but viewed as assistants in solving personal problems; teaching social skills; giving information about jobs, volunteer opportunities, and mental health resources in the community; acting as models; developing friendships; acting as a bridge to the adult world for disaffected students; and finally, over a period of time, serving as agents of change where the school atmosphere is characterized by coldness and indifference.”

That same understanding of the difficulties young people face was evident in “Violence in American Schools,” a 1998 compilation she edited with Delbert S. Elliott and Kirk R. Williams. It argued that ending shootings and other forms of school violence required a coordinated effort involving not just schools, but also families and the community at large.

The year after that book came out, the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred. In an interview with The Boston Globe that year, Dr. Hamburg talked about what parents could do to keep their children from turning to violence.

“They should recognize they’re smaller players in the lives of their kids than they ever have been, with the impact of peers, TV and the internet,” she said. “But it’s very important to be warm, to be attentive, to listen, to teach them respect, and to deal with them in a mode — when kids get angry and yell — that exemplifies conflict resolution at home.”

“Avoid allowing them to become tyrants in the home,” she added. “Hang in there. And recognize you can’t do it all.”

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Dr. Beatrix Ann Hamburg's Timeline

October 19, 1923
Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, United States
July 12, 1955
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States
April 15, 2018
Age 94
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States