Renowned sociologist, communication theorist Gladys Engel Lang passes away at age 96
Gladys Engel Lang, professor emerita of sociology, political science, and communication at the University of Washington, passed away on March 23, 2016 at age 96. She was one of the most accomplished women sociologists and communication theorists of her generation. Her and her husband’s research has engaged many contemporary problems in communication including the effect of televised politics on the formation of public opinion.
Lang began her career as a graduate student researcher for the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead. During World War II, she worked as a research analyst for the Office of War Information in Washington and then for the Office of Strategic Services in Italy, followed by a postwar stint for the Central Intelligence Agency in China. In 1949, she left the government to earn a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago – where she met fellow sociology student Kurt Lang, who became her husband and research companion.
The husband-wife team started its academic journey together by winning an open competition in 1951 for the best research on the effects of radio and television on American life – the first such prize ever awarded by the American Sociological Association. They collaborated on a number of intellectual projects since publishing their award-winning formative essay about MacArthur Day in Chicago in 1953, and conducted several renowned studies of media influences – some of which were summarized in books like “Politics and Television” (1968) and “The Battle for Public Opinion” (1983). The Lang’s were a fixture at the meetings of the American Association for Public Opinion (AAPOR), and in 1989, were honored with the AAPOR Award, the association’s highest award for lifetime achievement.
Patricia Moy, editor of Public Opinion Quarterly and the Christy Cressey Professor of Communication, said of Lang, “Her work spoke to many corners of our interdisciplinary field. It highlighted the benefits of using multiple methodologies, and showed exactly how media coverage could impact not only individuals and social systems, but also news practices and policy-making.”
Beginning in the 1970s, Lang became interested in the building and survival of women’s reputations versus men’s, and launched a decades-long study of male and female printmakers from the 1880s until World War II, resulting in the acclaimed “Etched in Memory” (1990). Meanwhile, she and Kurt assembled an extensive print collection, especially of lesser-known and often overlooked “lady-etchers,” along with their male counterparts, and of husband-and-wife artist couples. In 2001, Seattle’s Frye Art Museum displayed a selection of 100 works in an exhibition, “Women Printmakers from the Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection.” In 2014, the Smith College Museum of Art acquired the Langs’ entire collection for its permanent holdings.
Lang, who was born and reared in Atlantic City, New Jersey, earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan after she and her older sister (the first of their family to graduate from high school) won a local scholarship that allowed them to attend college. She continued on to earn her master’s degree in sociology at the UW and after nearly 30 years teaching in New York, Lang returned to Seattle in 1984, retiring from teaching in 1990. She stayed in Seattle until June 2014, when she and her husband moved to Massachusetts to be closer to their children.