Diana Leonard, 1941-2010

December 16, 2010

A leading feminist activist, sociologist and educator has died.

Diana Leonard was born in Trinidad on 13 December 1941 but moved to England after the Second World War, where she was educated at Brighton and Hove High School. She then went on to Girton College, Cambridge to read natural sciences, specialising in archaeology and anthropology in her final year. After working as a science teacher and obtaining a PhD on the subject of courtship and weddings, Professor Leonard moved to London and became deeply involved in the women's movement.

In 1976, she was appointed as a lecturer at the Institute of Education, University of London. She was to remain there until she retired as professor of sociology of education and gender in 2007, although this included a spell on secondment to The Open University from 1980 to 1983, working on its first women's studies course.

A key figure in what has become known as "second-wave" feminism, Professor Leonard fought long and hard to establish feminist scholarship, practices and pedagogies within the academy. She pioneered the discipline of feminist sociology and, in 1974, helped organise the first British Sociological Association conference on what were then called "sexual divisions". She set up the Centre for Research on Education and Gender in 1984, which soon became a vibrant nexus of research on women's and girls' lives, gender, sexuality, violence against women and the different stages of education.

In her own research, Professor Leonard worked closely with her colleague and "soul sister" Christine Delphy. Together, they used French feminist theory to produce an eloquent materialist critique of the family, notably in their book Familiar Exploitation: New Analysis of Marriage in Contemporary Western Societies (1992).

Other important works by Professor Leonard include A Woman's Guide to Doctoral Studies (2001) and a prize-winning essay with Louise Morley, professor of education at the University of Sussex, and Miriam David, professor emerita of education at the IoE, on "Quality and Equality in British PhD Assessment" (2003). A conference celebrating her career, titled Changing Feminist Politics and Practice: Gender, Family and Education, was held in 2008.

"She was a cherished colleague, collaborator, mentor and friend, and an inspiration to her students," recalled Professor David. "Being supervised by her was always a richly rewarding experience - thought-provoking, challenging, stimulating and fun. Latterly, as her illness took hold, she was greedy for news and amusement and we all laughed a good deal."

Professor Leonard died of endometrial cancer on November 2010 and is survived by two daughters, a son and six grandchildren.


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