Adeline “Addie” Levine, noted scholar of Love Canal, a founder of the field of environmental sociology, dies at 89

Release Date: March 4, 2015

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Head shot of Adeline Levine, longtime UB faculty member.

Adeline Levine, longtime University at Buffalo faculty member and a champion of public education, environmental health, and the rights of women and the elderly. Credit: Joanna Weinberg

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo Professor Emeritus Adeline “Addie” Gordon Levine, an expert on community responses to environmental disasters and one of the founders of the field of environmental sociology, died of cancer Feb. 26 in her Buffalo home. She was 89.

Levine was a member of the UB sociology faculty from 1968 until her retirement in 1990 and remained a champion of public education, environmental health, and the rights of women and the elderly until the end of her life.

The importance of her 1982 publication “Love Canal: Science, Politics and People” was recognized in the journal Science, and for more than 30 years it has remained central to the understanding and empowerment of communities confronted with man-made disasters.

Levine co-founded the Pro-Choice Network of Western New York to assist women harassed when seeking legal abortions in Buffalo medical clinics. The network obtained a federal court injunction to prevent illegal conduct near abortion clinics in the Buffalo area, an injunction that in 1997 was largely upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a result of her pioneering efforts in environmental science, Levine was invited to a dozen countries to consult and present her findings, among them India, China, Thailand, Switzerland, Germany and Brazil. Her work has been cited by hundreds of researchers, and her students and followers continue to contribute to our understanding and alleviating the consequences of these disasters.

“Addie spent her life creating communities of thought and laughter — pursuing ‘ideal aims,’ a term coined by Stanley Coit, an early advocate for immigration and child welfare reform,” said her husband, Murray Levine, also an emeritus faculty member at UB. “Coit’s full quote says that when we join together in suffering, it is terrible, but ‘those who have laughed and thought together and joined in ideal aims can so enter into one another’s sorrows as to steal much of its bitterness away.’”  

Levine co-authored with her husband the 1992 book “Helping Children: A Social History” (Oxford University Press), and she published widely in psychology and sociology journals. She also co-authored many scholarly articles with her husband.

Levine was born in 1925, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, and grew up in the small town of Geneva, New York, where she learned firsthand how working-class families with little education coped with parenting and sustaining their families during the Great Depression and World War II.

She attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges for a year, studied nursing at the Edward J. Meyer Memorial Hospital in Buffalo — now the Erie County Medical Center — and became a registered nurse in 1948. While working in a tuberculosis/neuropsychiatry ward at the Veterans Hospital in Montrose, New York, she met her husband of more than 62 years.

When her youngest son turned 5, Levine entered Beaver College — now Arcadia University — in Glenside, Pennsylvania. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1962, but not before the mother of two, then in her mid-30s, declined to dance around a Maypole as handmaiden to the May Queen.

When her husband joined the faculty at Yale University in 1963, Levine began studies in the Yale sociology department, from which she received a PhD in 1968. Her dissertation anticipated the emphasis on gender research that emerged in the following decade. It was a comparative study of women preparing to enter “men’s” and “women’s” professions in the 1960s — that is, law and medicine versus nursing and education — and how the women planned to integrate their family and professional responsibilities.

Levine joined the faculty of the UB Department of Sociology in 1968 and served as department chair for four years.

In 1978, she took her graduate seminar to Niagara Falls to investigate the emerging crisis in the Love Canal neighborhood, famously built on top of a toxic dump site. Her research there contributed to our understanding of how an environmental catastrophe affects families and communities, and how communities can mobilize to cope with the crisis by gaining political support and changing public policy.

She contributed her research papers, which are still is used by scholars all over the world, to the large UB Love Canal Collection in the University Archives. In recognition of her contribution to this field, Arcadia University awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1989.

After retiring from UB in 1990, Levine continued to write about contemporary social issues, worked with the Pro-Choice Network and was a library volunteer at Buffalo Public International School 45, which educates children from more than 70 countries who speak more than 30 languages. To assist teachers in that school, she established a way for donors to Buffalo’s Community Foundation to direct their funds to teachers in support of their educational programs.  

In recent years Addie and Murray Levine published a regular column in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Titled “Reflections from the Ninth Decade,” they used the forum to argue strongly for support of teachers, universal public education and the elderly. She also published essays in The Buffalo News in which she reflected on events in her life.

In addition to her husband, Levine is survived by two sons, Zachary of Rockville, Maryland, and David of Berkeley, California; three grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and four step-great-grandchildren.

A memorial is planned for the spring.

For further information from the family, please contact David Levine at: 510-517-4013.

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