Women Who Shaped ISR

March 1, 2024

ANN ARBOR — March is Women’s History month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, we are highlighting some of the women who have shaped ISR and the field of social research.

Please join us as we remember these incredible women.

Irene Hess


Hess received a degree in mathematics from Indiana University in 1931 and taught math at a high school in Central City, Kentucky until 1942. Hess learned of a new field of statistics from an article in the Reader’s Digest. Attracted to the idea, she studied statistics during the summer at the U-M. Shortly after the United States entered World War II in December 1941, she joined the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, then, the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1954, she joined the ISR Survey Research Center as assistant director of the Sampling Section, then later became director. She taught the application of probability theory to the design of survey samples. Though she retired in 1981, she continued to work at ISR until the age of 97. 

Eva Mueller


Born in 1920, Mueller said she was influenced by the Great Depression in making her career choice. “It impressed me that what the world needed was to rescue its economies,” she said. Though delayed by World War II, she finished her Ph.D. in economics at Harvard in 1951, then joined the staff of the Survey Research Center shortly after. In 1957, she joined the faculty of the Department of Economics, where she became a full professor in 1964. In 1970, she became a research scientist at the Population Studies Center. Throughout her career,  Mueller made important contributions in several areas of economic research, including the analysis of consumer behavior, economic development, and economic demography. In addition to her contributions as a researcher, she played an important role in building the economic demography training program run jointly by the Population Studies Center and the Department of Economics.

Eleanor Singer


Born in Austria in 1930, Singer and her family fled to New York to escape the rise of the Nazi Party in Europe. She graduated with a degree in English from Queens College in 1951 and a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia in 1966. An editor of Public Opinion Quarterly for a decade, singer was considered a meticulous writer, which reflected her research interests. All of her research, whether at Columbia, Chicago or the U.S. Census Bureau, concerned the validity of measurements. Singer was said to be a generous mentor and was the first woman to serve as the associate director of the SRC. She received the AAPOR lifetime achievement award and the ASA Monroe G. Sirken Award in Interdisciplinary Survey Methods Research.

Rosemary Sarri


An influential researcher whose career spanned five decades, Rosemary Sarri worked tirelessly to reform and improve social welfare programs around the world. Arriving at the University of Michigan in 1959, Sarri published widely on public policy topics concerning families, children, women, and justice systems in the United States and many other countries, including Russia, Australia, and South Korea. Sarri also advocated for women in academia generally and the social sciences specifically, launching the Sarri Family Fellowship for Research on Educational Attainment of Children in Low-Income Families in 2015 to support these efforts. Today, Sarri’s fellowship continues to provide for low-income students in post-secondary or higher education, as does the Rosemary Sarri Endowed Scholarship, which was established upon her retirement from the University of Michigan.

Barb Opal


Barb Opal worked at the University of MIchigan for 50 years, and much of that time was spent at the Institute for Social Research’s Center for Political Studies. There, she worked with every director of CPS dating back to Warren Miller, who founded the center in 1970. Throughout her time at ISR, Opal worked to help others accomplish their goals and maximize the impact of their research. She assisted the faculty and staff with many tasks and was a reliable resource for international visitors traveling to U-M, guiding them across campus and throughout the Ann Arbor Community.


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