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Dr. Doris R. Entwisle, Hopkins sociology professor

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Dr. Doris R. Entwisle, a professor of sociology and engineering studies at the Johns Hopkins University for nearly half a century and a pioneer in the field of the sociology of education, died Tuesday of cancer at her Towson home. She was 89.

"Doris exemplified dignity and was extremely personal. She was a very warm person but did not wear that on her sleeve," said Dr. Karl L. Alexander, who collaborated with Dr. Entwisle on the Beginning School Study, which examined the personal and educational development of about 800 city first-graders over 25 years.

"She always set high standards when it came to her professional posture. Doris was always a role model for our faculty and students," said Dr. Alexander, chairman of the Hopkins sociology department.

The daughter of Charles E. Roberts, a Westinghouse Electric Corp. engineer, and Helen MacMenigall Roberts, a homemaker, the former Doris Helen Roberts was born in Wilbraham, Mass., and raised in Springfield, Mass., where she graduated in 1940 from Springfield High School.

She was 16 when she began her college studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in 1945. A year later, she earned a master's degree from Brown University.

After marrying George Entwisle in 1946, the couple settled in Boston, where she worked while her husband completed his medical education.

During this time, she worked closely with Dr. Charles Frederick Mosteller, a statistician and founding chairman of Harvard University's statistics department who was the father of applying statistics in analyzing a wide variety of subjects.

In 1956, Dr. Entwisle and her husband moved to Baltimore. In 1960, she earned her doctorate in social psychology from Johns Hopkins. She also did post-doctoral work as a fellow of the Social Science Research Council.

Dr. Entwisle joined Hopkins in 1964 as a professor of social relations and electrical engineering. Her work centered on development of courses related to socialization, especially of language.

She also did work on sociological influences that affect development of language and the impact on the study of reading problems.

In addition to her work at Hopkins, she was named editor in 1975 of Sociology of Education, a publication of the American Sociological Association.

In 1976, she was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, which supported her research in the sociology of human development.

Dr. Entwisle received a $80,000 grant in 1979 from the National Institute of Child Health and Development that allowed her to study the social and psychological effects of births by cesarean section.

Dr. Entwisle concluded in a preliminary study, she told The Baltimore Sun in 1979, that "in the first six weeks after delivery, mothers [who delivered by cesarean section] showed more depression and infants cried more than those who delivered normally."

"When she was named editor of Sociology of Education, she asked me to be her deputy editor, and that's when we formed a bond of sorts," recalled Dr. Alexander. "When her editorship ended in 1979, we started discussing a collaborative project, and that was the beginning of the Beginning School Study, which was about how children adjusted to learning."

In 1982, Drs. Entwisle and Alexander launched their long-range study of 790 first-graders who were randomly selected from 20 Baltimore public schools.

They observed and studied the students' personal as well as educational development, and they arrived at several remarkable conclusions.

Of the original 790 students, nearly 40 percent at some point during their academic careers had been held back, usually during their early years. They also concluded that almost 50 percent stayed in city public schools while there were 100 dropouts.

"We were interested in early childhood development with the launching of their schooling," said Dr. Alexander. "We were also interested in the consequences of the first grade which spilled over into the second."

Drs. Entwisle and Alexander continued to track their students long after they were out of school.

"They were spread out over time and we were still talking to them when they were in their late 20s. We watched them grow up," he said. "A number of things surfaced, such as the powerful influence and value of family experience in people's lives, which carried over into their adult experiences."

They also discovered that the more advantages a student had, the better they did in high school, college and in finding a job, and that the inverse occurred when a person had fewer advantages.

"We learned that lower strata students didn't do as well," said Dr. Alexander. "It was originally going to be just a three-year project, but it got a head of steam and only ended in 2006. That was nearly 25 years."

Their BSS research has been preserved at Harvard University.

Dr. Entwisle retired as a professor in 1998 but retained an office at Hopkins, where she went three days a week.

Dr. Entwisle was the author of a dozen books and more than 100 articles in sociology, social psychology and computer science for scholarly and professional journals.

Just weeks before her death, Drs. Entwisle and Alexander completed their new book, "The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood," which was based on their Beginning School Study.

Dr. Entwisle, a longtime Ruxton resident, moved to Towson in 2000.

For more than half a century, Dr. Entwisle enjoyed vacationing at her parents' motel on Harvey Lake in Northwood, N.H., where she learned to water ski at 50 and windsurf a decade later. She was also a founder of the Harvey Lake Association.

She was an inveterate theater and opera attendee, and also liked to paint and play bridge.

Her first husband, Dr. Entwisle, died in 1990. She was married for nine years to Donald Roberts, who died in 2002.

She was a member for 56 years and sang in the choir of Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave., where a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday.

Surviving are a son, G. Henry "Hank" Entwisle of Ruxton; two daughters, Barbara D. Entwisle Bollen of Chapel Hill, N.C., and B.J. Entwisle of Canterbury, N.H.; a sister, Jean Roberts Hunter of Concord, N.H.; and five grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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