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Lisa Trei, News Service (650) 725-0224; e-mail:

Alberta Siegel, child development expert and first tenured female medical faculty member, dead at 70

Alberta Engvall Siegel, professor emerita of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and an expert in child development, died Nov. 3 of cancer at her home in Menlo Park. She was 70.

A service for Siegel will be held in Memorial Church on Nov. 27 at 3 p.m.

Siegel was known for her early research on the effect of televised violence on children. From 1969 to 1971, she was a member of the U.S. Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, which looked at the phenomenon on a nationwide level for the first time. Throughout her life, Siegel continued to serve on committees of both local and national organizations concerning child development. She was a past president of a division of the American Psychology Association, an honorary life member of the Society for Research on Child Development and former editor of its quarterly journal.

"[Siegel] was a national resource on child development issues," said Yale University professor of child psychiatry Fred Volkmar, a former student of Siegel's and a respected expert on autism.

Psychology Professor Mark Lepper of Stanford recalled Siegel's wide-ranging command of her field. "You could ask for her advice on any kind of issue," he said. "She was extraordinarily wise about all sorts of things. Alberta had connections with people in all fields and she enjoyed bringing people together."

For example, Siegel was a consultant to Head Start, the child development program for low-income children and their families launched in 1965. Policy makers also sought her advice on changes in child custody laws. "The old-fashioned model always gave custody to the mother," Lepper said. "[Her involvement] helped lead to the development of joint custody."

Siegel earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in psychology from Stanford in the early 1950s. In 1963, she joined the university's medical school faculty in the Department of Psychiatry, becoming its first tenured female professor in 1969. Siegel also held courtesy appointments in the Department of Psychology and the School of Education.

According to Lepper, Siegel worked with medical students who planned to specialize in pediatrics and child development. "Her focus was teaching medical students about life," recalled her sister, Betty Newcomb. "She was a humanist in the medical school."

In 1961, Siegel was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences when her husband, Sidney, a prominent social psychologist and alumnus who had been a fellow in 1957, died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Siegel, who was on sabbatical from Pennsylvania State University, remained at the center until 1963. She did not remarry.

At Stanford, Siegel served on dozens of committees including those concerning reaccreditation of the medical school, the school's faculty affirmative action committee and grievance review panel. She was chair of the director's advisory committee at Bing Nursery School, former president of the Stanford Historical Society and the Faculty Club, and a longtime member of Stanford Associates.

Outside Stanford, she served on the board of directors of Great Western Financial Corp., now part of Washington Mutual, and on the board of the Menninger Clinic, a national psychiatric treatment center in Topeka, Kan.

"Whatever she did, she did with complete integrity," said Jeanne Lepper, director of Bing Nursery School. "It was her broad insight and perspective on university matters as well as her practical information that made her so valuable."

Siegel was born and raised in Pasadena. Her sister, Newcomb, said she was a high school debating champion and had her own radio show when she was 15 years old. In high school, Siegel was elected governor of Girl's State for California. In Sacramento, she met Lois Meek Stoltz, an early child development expert, who encouraged Siegel to attend Stanford and later became her mentor.

Newcomb remembers Siegel as a nurturing older sister. During the blackouts in World War II, a very young Newcomb recalls her family telling her, "Don't be silly," when she expressed her fear of the dark. "Alberta brought me a flashlight," she said. "She knew just what I needed."

Many people considered Siegel their best friend, Jeanne Lepper said. "She had a wonderful sense of humor. Her understanding of children and parents on all levels made her so valuable. She really understood human nature."

Volkmar said Siegel taught him to listen carefully to children. "She was polite with everybody and was very respectful to kids," he said.

Siegel is survived by her son, Jay, an alumnus; her daughter-in-law, Linda Carr, and granddaughter, Sydney Siegel, of Menlo Park; and her sisters Newcomb of Irvine, Ruth Anne Barton of Santa Monica and Portia Oldmen of Newport Beach.

Two scholarships for graduate psychology students have been established in the names of Siegel and her husband. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the American Friends Service Committee or Planned Parenthood.


By Lisa Trei

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