Rest in Power: Ruth B. Mandel—Holocaust Survivor and Distinguished Feminist Activist

This post originally appeared on the Center for American Women and Politics. It has been republished with permission.

Rest in Power: Ruth B. Mandel—Holocaust Survivor and Distinguished Feminist Activist
Ruth B. Mandel led Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics from 1995 until last year. (Eagleton Institute of Politics)

Professor Ruth B. Mandel, who escaped the Holocaust with her family and devoted her life to promoting democracy and civic engagement, died on Saturday, April 11. Her death at age 81 was caused by ovarian cancer.

Ruth was the driving force behind the creation of the Center for American Women and Politics from its founding in 1971. At a time when no one thought there was a subject to study, Ruth was in the vanguard of those creating the subject.

At the time of her death, Mandel was Board of Governors Professor of Politics at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and a Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. She stepped down in August, 2019 as director of Eagleton after 24 years of distinguished leadership; before that, from 1971-1984, she was a founder and director of CAWP.

A Personal History Marked by the Holocaust

Mandel was born in Vienna, Austria. Her parents, Mechel and Lea Blumenstock, fled Nazi Germany with their infant daughter in 1939 on the SS St. Louis, which left from Germany carrying more than 900 Jews away from Nazi terror.

Rest in Power: Ruth B. Mandel—Holocaust Survivor and Distinguished Feminist Activist
Ruth B. Mandel aboard the St. Louis as a child with Jewish refugees sailing from Europe to Cuba in 1939. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Denied entry to both Cuba and the United States, the St. Louis returned its passengers back to Europe months before the onset of World War II. Many were eventually murdered in Holocaust death camps, but Mandel’s family was among those fortunate enough to be accepted into England. The family moved to the U.S. in 1947.

Ruth attended Brooklyn College, earning a B.A. in English, and earned her Ph.D. in English and American Literature in 1969 from the University of Connecticut. Before coming to Rutgers in 1971, she taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Rider College.

A New Center, A New Subject for Study

When Mandel joined CAWP at its founding in 1971, some observers thought it was a pointless exercise. Women’s minimal presence in public office suggested to some that the subject was hardly a phenomenon worthy of study. That tiny handful of women could not possibly have a distinctive or meaningful role. And the nascent women’s movement was just beginning to consider politics as a sphere for expanding women’s presence and impact.

Since that time, CAWP has been a nonpartisan voice central to creating awareness and understanding of women’s political participation, as well as in expanding that participation. The Center’s programs have both defined and enlarged the study and advancement of women in American politics. Each aspect of CAWP’s work informs and enriches the rest.

At CAWP, Mandel built a national center with multi-faceted research/education/public service and information programs about women’s political participation, helping to define and expand the field. The Center is widely recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation. Mandel authored numerous publications about women’s changing political roles, including In the Running: The New Woman Candidate, the first book-length account of women’s experiences as candidates for political office.

Rest in Power: Ruth B. Mandel—Holocaust Survivor and Distinguished Feminist Activist
In the Running: The New Woman Candidate. 1981. (Amazon)

A Lasting Eagleton Legacy: Growing an Institution, Building Communities

Appointed Eagleton’s director in 1995, Mandel focused for nearly a quarter century on shaping a distinctive, pathbreaking institution, widely known and respected as the Rutgers “Place for Politics.” She nurtured existing strengths in an Institute established in 1956 and expanded Eagleton’s work into new arenas under the broad mandate of Florence Peshine Eagleton, whose founding bequest called for “the development of and education for responsible leadership in civic and governmental affairs and the solution of their political problems.”

Among Mandel’s signature achievements as director of Eagleton:

Developing an outstanding faculty and staff community, bringing together educators, scholars and practitioners who explore both perennial and underexamined themes in American politics and government, including:

  • Women’s political participation
  • Youth political participation
  • Governors and state executives
  • Immigration and democracy
  • Science and politics
  • Civil discourse and public service
  • Ethics.

Building specialized research programs and centers at Eagleton, where faculty and staff collaborate and connect, both within Rutgers and in the wider world of scholars and practitioners. In addition to expanding and enhancing Eagleton’s pioneering Center for American Women and Politics and Center for Public Interest Polling, Mandel established innovative programs including:

  • Center for Youth Political Participation
  • Center on the American Governor
  • Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience
  • Eagleton Science and Politics Initiative, including the Eagleton Science and Politics Fellowship
  • Program on Immigration and Democracy

Restructuring and expanding Eagleton’s education programs, allowing students from every Rutgers campus to benefit from unique offerings on the undergraduate and graduate levels that blend classroom learning with direct experience in politics and government. A hallmark of Eagleton’s student programs under Mandel’s directorship was frequent contact with political practitioners in formal and informal settings. Mandel expanded the existing Eagleton Fellowship Program to serve graduate students from any field and established new fellowships with placements in the New Jersey legislature and in New Jersey state government. Undergraduates are served through the three-semester Eagleton Undergraduate Associates Program, which blends classroom and internship experiences, as well as the Rutgers-Eagleton Washington Internship Award Program created by Mandel.

Connecting with and serving the wider New Jersey community through public-facing programs open to all. Among these are:

  • Signature speaker series that have brought some of the nation’s most insightful and powerful political practitioners, as well as scholars, journalists, and activists, to the Rutgers Campus. Many of these guests have appeared under the auspices of endowed programs nurtured by Mandel, including the Clifford Case Professorship of Public Affairs, the Arthur J. Holland Program on Ethics in Government, the Albert W. Lewitt Endowed Lecture, the Louis Gambaccini Civic Engagement Series, and the Senator Wynona Lipman Chair in Women’s Political Leadership.
  • Regular events such as the popular Morning After programs, where experts dissect the previous day’s election results.
  • Ready to Run® New Jersey, CAWP’s acclaimed campaign training, now the model and flagship for almost two dozen partner programs.

Encouraging and formalizing an active Eagleton alumni committee and community that reinforces bonds among graduate and undergraduate alumni and links past and current Eagleton students.

Prioritizing development to ensure the Institute’s future stability. Mandel built a professionally staffed development program to support and expand ongoing programs and initiatives through foundation and government grants and contracts and individual donors. She guided celebrations of the Institute’s 50th and 60th anniversaries, cultivated major gifts that resulted in named funds and programs, and developed a broad base of alumni support.

Modernizing communications, including establishing and maintaining Eagleton’s online presence at A new website for the Institute was designed and built in 2019. Eagleton connects with its many communities and constituencies through the website, social media and an expansive database that allows for effective electronic outreach.

Preserving, repairing and caring for Wood Lawn, the 19th-century landmark mansion and carriage house that have housed the Eagleton Institute since its founding.

Beyond Eagleton and CAWP

Throughout her career at Rutgers, Mandel was active in service to the University. She worked closely with Dr. Mary S. Hartman to found the Institute for Women’s Leadership and was a founding member of the board of that consortium of women’s programs at Rutgers. She was among the founders of the national Public Leadership Education Network, welcoming Douglass College as one of its early members. She worked with faculty members who created the Women and Politics Program within the Department of Political Science, the first program of its kind. She chaired or served on numerous search committees, including a presidential search. 

Mandel taught at various times in both the Department of English and the Department of Political Science at Rutgers. She also led Byrne seminars for first-year students in recent years on a variety of political topics. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service by Chatham College and an honorary Doctor of Public Administration by Georgian Court University.

Mandel’s work at the Institute was informed by her own government service as an appointee to both federal and state bodies. She was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and reappointed and designated vice chair of the board by President Bill Clinton; her service to the museum extended from 1991-2005. She was the founding chairperson of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. More recently, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy appointed her to the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

Dr. Mandel is survived by her daughter, Dr. Maud Mandel, president of Williams College, her son-in law Steve Simon and grandchildren Lev and Ava, as well as by her husband, Jeff Lucker, a history teacher at Princeton High School, and her ex-husband and dear friend, Barrett Mandel of New York City.

Finally, we wanted to share a wonderful conversation between Ruth and Ida Schmertz, the co-founding director of CAWP, about CAWP’s early years:

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Debbie Walsh is director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.