In Memoriam: Carol Nagy, 72

The psychologist was the first female dean of the Division of Social Sciences and Communication in USC Dornsife and a strong advocate for gender equality.
ByAmbrosia Viramontes-Brody

Carol Nagy, the first female dean of the Division of Social Sciences and Communication in USC Dornsife and a major force in the creation of the university’s Gender Studies Program, has died. She was 72.

Nagy, formerly Carol Jacklin, died at her home in Julian, Calif., August 8 after a bout with cancer.

“As a scholar, Carol had a magnetism that drew other professionals to her for advice and unique insights,” wrote the Nagy and Caputo families. “She treated students as colleagues and infected them with her optimism and belief in their abilities to achieve. Carol was charismatic, magnetic, vibrant, and giving — with a joie de vivre often missing from academic life.

“She will live on through her work and in the generations of young women academics for whom she was an emotional wellspring, pragmatic life coach, and model scholar.”

The Chicago native arrived at USC Dornsife in 1983 as professor of psychology and head of the Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society (SWMS), since named the Gender Studies Program. In 1990, she chaired USC Dornsife’s Department of Psychology and in 1992, Nagy was appointed the first female dean of the Division of Social Sciences and Communication in USC Dornsife, a post she held until she left USC in 1995 for a deanship at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“Carol was a force — creating institutions, pushing for women’s rights, building a new field of feminist psychology — and always spreading warmth to those around her with her good humor and optimism,” said Michael Messner, professor of sociology and gender studies in USC Dornsife, who met Nagy upon his arrival as an assistant professor in USC Dornsife.

Messner recalled a conversation he had with Nagy in the mid-’80s, when USC was among the first institutions to offer courses examining the social and personal meanings of masculinity.

“In those days it was new and controversial that a few men were working as allies with feminist women, and many of us were wringing our hands over what to call ourselves,” Messner said. “When I asked Carol her opinion she grabbed me by the arm, looked me in the eye and said, ‘I want you to call yourself a feminist!’ ”

“I will never forget that,” he said.

Nagy’s avocation for gender equality was apparent in pursuits outside USC. While on leave to work with biologists researching endocrinology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., Nagy helped implement policy changes concerning fair treatment of female faculty and students.

As dean of William & Mary, Nagy instituted significant changes in the university’s recruitment of women and minorities and setting equal pay for them.

In addition, Nagy testified on behalf of women seeking admission to the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel in South Carolina. She testified for defendants in sex bias cases against large corporations. Some of these trials reached the United States Supreme Court.

Nagy earned her bachelor’s in psychology and master’s in experimental psychology from the University of Connecticut. She taught at San Jose City and West Valley colleges before receiving a Ph.D. in experimental child psychology from Brown University in 1972.

Upon graduation, she headed west to serve as a senior research associate in the psychology department at Stanford University. There, she collaborated with Eleanor Emmons Maccoby, then psychology department chair, in co-writing The Psychology of Sex Differences (Stanford University Press, 1974). Widely used in universities, the textbook provided the first extensive review of the literature comparing girls and boys. In 1974, Nagy helped establish what is now called the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Upon her retirement, Nagy moved to Julian, Calif., where she enjoyed gardening, hiking and co-writing a column called Mountain Greenery for local papers. Nagy also helped write a grant to build a new library in Julian.

“In life, Carol always knew what she wanted and moved unswervingly toward her goals,” the Nagy and Caputo families wrote. “Carol’s zest for life, energy, courage, warmth, exuberance, and loving generosity have touched and inspired many.”

In addition to her husband Richard Caputo, Nagy is survived by her daughter Beth Nagy, son-in-law Carl Nagy-Koechlin and grandsons Joshua Nagy and Julian Nagy of Boston, Mass.; son Phillip Jacklin of the Geneva, Switzerland region; stepchildren Jane Allen and son-in-law David Allen of Three Rivers, Calif; Nancy Coursen and son-in-law John Coursen of Centreville, Va.; and Scott Caputo, of Los Angeles, Calif. She is also survived by her sister Alice Fager and brother-in-law Howard Fager; her brother Albert Nagy and sister-in-law Kathy Nagy, a niece and nephews.

A memorial service will be announced.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Carol Nagy’s name may be made to the National Organization of Women (NOW), Feed America, American Friends Service Committee or Amnesty International.