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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 527: T-219: CD-35: Phon-48: Vt-77

Papers of Sheila Tobias, 1947-2018


Writings, speeches, correspondence, compact discs, audiotapes, DVDs, phonograph records, videotapes, electronic records, and websites of Sheila Tobias, feminist, lecturer and writer on math and science education, especially anxiety in learning as it relates to male and female students.


  • Creation: 1947-2018


Language of Materials

Materials in English, Dutch, and German.


Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers of Sheila Tobias is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


10.63 linear feet ((25 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 3 folio+ folders, 2 oversize folders, 2 photograph folders, 1 audiocassette, 3 reel-to-reel tapes, 21 compact discs, 9 DVDs, 3 phonograph records, 10 videotapes, 6 archived web sites, and electronic records)
416.48 Megabytes (3 files)

The bulk of this collection relates to multiple aspects of Tobias's professional career, most notably her work on math anxiety and the reform of math and science education. Tobias's involvement in the feminist movement is also documented here; relatively little personal material is included. The collection consists of correspondence, abstracts and proposals for various projects, manuscripts of published and unpublished works, articles and speeches, reviews of Tobias's books, videotapes of lectures, audiotapes, compact discs, DVDs, phonograph records, and photographs. Some documents are in German or Dutch. The bulk of the folder headings were created by the processor; those created by Tobias appear in quotation marks. Additional material received (accession numbers 2005-M154, 2006-M67, 2006-M105A, 2007-M6, 2007-M31, 2007-M159, 2009-M24, 2009-M64, 2010-M128, 2011-M240, 2011-M76, 2012-M43, 2012-M78, 2013-M16, 2013-M222, 2014-M56, 2014-M181, 2015-M111, 2-15-M122, 2016-M147, and 2018-M45) were added to the collection in May 2018. These materials are housed in Series V (#16.1-23.14). Further material (accession number 2021-M52) was added to the collection in April 2021 and is housed in #24.1-24.7 and #E.6-E.7. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.

Electronic records were received on a compact disc and a thumbdrive, which were imaged using FTK Imager and Duke Data Accessioner and 2 documents were converted to PDF/A format. Also included are Tobias's web sites, which are being captured periodically as part of Schlesinger Library's web archiving program.

Series I, Biographical and personal, 1947-2010, undated (#1.1-1.15, E.1) consists of articles about Tobias and her career, as well as some personal documents kept by her.

Series II, Correspondence, 1970-2004 (#1.16-2.12), consists of personal correspondence with Carl Tomizuka, her father Paul Tobias, and other family members and friends, and correspondence pertaining to Tobias's professional activities. Topics include upcoming conferences and lectures, her books, and other projects with which she was involved. Also included are two letters relating to Tobias's donation of her papers and books to the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women. Some letters are in German, and some overlap occurs between personal and general correspondence.

Series III, Professional (#3.1-15.13, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1-OD.2, T-219.1 - T-219.2,Vt-77.1 - Vt-77.10), is divided into fourteen subseries, each focusing on a different aspect of Tobias's career. Each is arranged chronologically, except where noted.

Subseries A, Math anxiety, 1976-2004, undated (#3.1-4.4), consists of correspondence, articles by Tobias and others on the subject of math anxiety, reviews of Overcoming Math Anxiety, and talks which Tobias gave on this subject.

Subseries B, Peer perspectives, 1985-1996, undated (#4.5-4.18, Vt-77.1 - Vt-77.2), documents an experimental program Tobias developed in which non-science professors were taught science by their colleagues, and scientists attended poetry classes, with the goal of gaining insight into what makes science difficult for students in the humanities, and giving the professors a look at alternate methods of teaching. The subseries includes correspondence, reports on programs at various universities and colleges, and papers and articles on the project by Tobias and others. Commentary by the professors/students, in which they discuss their initial and final impressions of the classes, is also included.

Subseries C, Research Corporation, 1986-1997, undated (#4.19-6.7), documents the research Tobias did for this organization and the development of the three books she wrote or co-wrote under its funding. Included is correspondence covering goals and objectives for each book, and monthly progress reports, which describe meetings with elementary and secondary science teachers and program coordinators, and with professors at several universities. The first folders deal with the project as a whole and are followed by a series of folders on each individual book.

Subseries D, Science Master's degree program, 1994-2002, undated (#6.8-6.11, F+D.1), concerns Tobias's work to develop a professional master's degree in science, intended to better equip graduates for work in fields outside academia, such as commerce or research management. Included are articles, a report on the employability of professional M.S. degree recipients, correspondence, meeting programs and presentations, and an interview with Tobias.

Subseries E, Teaching, 1985-2002, undated (#6.12-8.4), includes exams, a syllabus, and course readings for gender studies and education courses taught by Tobias at Claremont College and the University of California at San Diego. The subseries also includes writings on education reform and extensive material on her work in the Netherlands, where she served as a lecturer and consultant to revitalize science education and attract more women to science, and to span the gap between programs in the social and natural sciences. Included are articles, case studies, workshop materials, correspondence, and photocopied lecture transparencies. Some of these documents are in Dutch.

Subseries F, Testing project, 1990-1997, undated (#8.5-8.9), relates to The Hidden Curriculum: Faculty-Made Tests in Science, a book co-written by Tobias which examines experimental approaches to teaching, and the experiences of teachers who adopted these techniques. The subseries includes promotional items, proposals and abstracts, presentations by Tobias, and an article about the project.

Subseries G, Veteran Feminists of America, 1982-2005, undated (#8.10-9.8), consists largely of correspondence regarding planning events and designating honorees. Newsletters and event programs and brochures are also included, as are committee reports and minutes. The first folders contain correspondence, with an emphasis on event planning; these are followed by folders on specific issues or events.

Subseries H, Other feminist organizations, 1971-2002, undated (#9.9-10.4), includes meeting minutes, correspondence and other material related to the Clarion, a feminist newspaper with which Tobias was involved. Material from other organizations on whose boards Tobias served is also included.

Subseries I, Feminism book, 1992-1998 (#10.5-11.4, FD.1), documents the book eventually published as Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement. Included are outlines of earlier versions, chapter drafts, manuscript drafts with handwritten edits, and correspondence and comments on the various drafts, including the comments of a pre-publication review panel assembled by W.W. Norton & Company. Also included are advertisements for and reviews of the published book.

Subseries J, Vox Populi project, 1960-2000, undated (#11.5-11.8), concerns a proposed book on recreational singing in America and the published article which resulted from the project. Included are correspondence, photocopied programs from 1960s performances of the New York Choral Society, and the article on choral singing which Tobias ultimately co-wrote.

Subseries K, Articles and lectures, 1971-2005, undated (#11.9-14.3, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1-OD.2, Vt-77.3 - Vt-77.10), chronicles Tobias's numerous public speaking engagements, as well as articles she wrote or co-wrote. Included is Tobias's first article on math anxiety, articles on defense spending, math and science education reform, women's studies and the status of the women's movement. The subseries also includes the paper "What Really Happened to Rosie the Riveter?" and a subsequent essay titled "New Views of Rosie the Riveter," both co-written with Lisa Anderson. Several videotaped lectures can be found here, as are book reviews by Tobias, publicity materials concerning her lecture appearances and books, and articles about her lectures. Some overlap with other subseries exists. A few documents are in Dutch.

Subseries L, Conferences, 1992-1994 (#14.4-14.16), relates to conferences in the United States and overseas at which Tobias presented papers. Included are conference programs, some containing abstracts of lectures, and correspondence. Some items are in Dutch.

Subseries M, General professional, 1974-2003 (#14.17-15.7, T-219.1, T-219.2), relates to a number of Tobias's professional interests, including correspondence concerning Breaking the Science Barrier: How to Explore and Understand the Sciences, a book co-written by Tobias and Carl Tomizuka, a charter she wrote for women in astronomy, and audiotapes of an evaluation of an educational reform project at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a radio program on the 25th anniversary of the 1963 Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty and the role of the women who formed Women Strike for Peace.

Subseries N, Awards and honors, 1987-2002 (#15.8-15.13), includes honorary degrees and other recognitions Tobias received for her work in the reform of science and mathematics education, in the feminist movement, and for her efforts to explain military issues to the public.

Series IV, Photographs, undated (#PD.1-PD.2), consists primarily of images of Tobias. Some photographs of friends and associates are included, as are participants in a Peer Perspectives exercise. The series also includes photographs of Tobias with school classmates.

Series V. Addenda, 1965-2018 (#16.1-26.10, F+D.3, T-219.3 - T-219.4, CD-35.1 - CD-35.21, Phon-48.1 - Phon-48.3, DVD-104.1 - DVD-104.9, E.2-E.7), consists of interview transcripts, correspondence, articles by and about Tobias, conference materials, audiotapes, DVDs, compacts discs, and phonograph records received by the Schlesinger Library between November 2005 and April 2021. The bulk of the series documents Tobias's life and work over that time period, including her continuing work on the PSM (Professional Science Master's degree) program, the project she developed on engineer-enhanced liberal education, and her involvement with Veteran Feminists of America. Some documents related to Tobias's earlier activities are also included, such as her extensive correspondence with her longtime literary agent Gloria Stern and her letters to Claudia Carlin, a friend since the mid-1960s. Items of note include transcripts of the 1969 conference on women which Tobias organized at Cornell University; material regarding the related conference on Vietnam held at Cornell in 2014 and Wesleyan University's conference on co-education; Tobias's writings regarding Harvard University president Lawrence Summers's comments on women's science and math aptitude; interviews and oral histories of Tobias (both transcripts and compact discs); and recordings of feminist music. The arrangement of the series mirrors the arrangement of the existing collection as closely as possible. Audiovisual material is arranged by format and thereunder chronologically. Additional material (accession number 2021-M52) was added to the series in April 2021 and is housed in #24.1-24.7 and #E.6-E.7. Material received with accession 2022-M27 was added to this series in September 2022 and is housed in #25.1-26.10. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.


Sheila Tobias was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1935, the oldest of three daughters of Paul and Rose (Steinberger) Tobias. She received a BA in history and literature from Radcliffe College in 1957, and an MA and M. Phil. in history from Columbia University in 1961 and 1974, respectively. (She also received a number of honorary degrees.) After working as a journalist and publicist in West Germany, and as a television journalist in the United States and Great Britain, Tobias began working in academia, first as a lecturer at the City College of New York. From 1967 to 1970 she served as assistant to Cornell University's Vice President for Academic Affairs and in 1969 organized a feminist conference at Cornell; this conference raised questions concerning the exclusion of material on women from traditional academic programming and led to the development of Cornell's Female Studies (later Women's Studies) program.

In 1970 she became associate provost at Wesleyan University, with responsibilities including helping the university implement its new coeducational policy, academic policy, affirmative action, and women's studies. During this time, she became aware of students' fears of mathematics, and began her work on math anxiety, arguing that math avoidance results from lack of confidence rather than lack of ability. She also co-founded a "math clinic" to help students overcome their anxiety; additional clinics were developed at other universities. In 1978 she wrote Overcoming Math Anxiety, in which she addressed gender attitudes towards math, such as the belief that boys are more skilled at math than girls, and offered techniques for understanding and enjoying math. Other books built on this, as Tobias studied the ways in which math and science are taught and learned, and why the subjects are feared and avoided. In 1994 a new edition of Overcoming Math Anxiety was published, updated to include research showing the lack of actual knowledge of sex differences in brain organization and function. Tobias wrote two additional books on math anxiety: Succeed with Math: Every Student's Guide to Conquering Math Anxiety (1987) and (with Walter Piercey) Banishing Math Anxiety (2012).

Beginning in 1978, she worked as an educational consultant, serving as project director on math anxiety-related projects for the Institute for the Study of Anxiety in Learning, and engaging in a research and writing assignment for the Research Corporation. This project resulted in four books aimed at advancing education and research in the physical sciences: They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier, Revitalizing Undergraduate Science: Why Some Things Work and Most Don't, Rethinking Science as a Career: Perceptions and Realities in the Physical Sciences, and Science Teaching as a Profession. Why It Isn't. What It Could Be. Tobias also developed a program called Peer Perspectives, in which professors in fields other than math and science were taught these subjects by their colleagues and then provided feedback both on lecture style and on the concepts being presented. Other projects include long term work for the Sloan Foundation in the development of a professional science master's degree, intended to prepare students for careers outside academia, and a long term association with the Universities of Leiden and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In 2014, Tobias began developing a project (ultimately funded by the Teagle Foundation) aimed at providing engineering education for non-engineers. The project, Engineering Enhanced Liberal Education, involved Tobias identifying several successful instances in which courses about engineering were geared towards non-majors. She then sought to publicize these courses by writing "case studies" describing the courses development, with the ultimate goal of inspiring further instruction in this field.

In addition to demystifying math and science, Tobias has written extensively on issues such as military spending and weaponry, and has long been an active feminist. She was involved with Veteran Feminists of America, serving as executive vice president, and wrote a book about the feminist movement entitled Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement. She taught courses on gender studies and was active in local and national politics. In 2010, she was appointed to the Pima County/Tucson Women's Commission, where she served until 2015, acting as assistant treasurer and secretary for a portion of her tenure on the commission.

In 1970, Tobias married Carlos Stern; they divorced in 1982. She was married to physicist Carl Tomizuka, with whom she wrote Breaking the Science Barrier: How to Explore and Understand the Sciences, from 1987 until his death in 2017. Tobias died July 6, 2021, in Tucson, Arizona.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1947-2010, undated (#1.1-1.15, E.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1970-2004 (#1.16-2.12)
  3. Series III. Professional (#3.1-15.13, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1-OD.2, T-219.1 - T-219.2, Vt-77.1 - Vt-77.10)
  4. Series IV. Photographs undated, (#PD.1-PD.2)
  5. Series V. Addenda, 1965-2018 (#16.1-24.7, F+D.3, T-219.3 - T-219.4, CD-35.1 - CD-35.21, Phon-48.1 - Phon-48.3, DVD-104.1 - DVD-104.9, E.2-E.7)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 84-M144, 88-M195, 93-M51, 95-M32, 96-M184, 97-M121, 97-M126, 98-M1, 2000-M11, 2001-M97, 2002-M42, 2002-M132, 2003-M111, 2004-M2, 2005-M62, 2005-M81. Accession numbers: 2005-M154, 2006-M67, 2006-M105A, 2007-M6, 2007-M31, 2007-M159, 2009-M24, 2009-M64, 2010-M128, 2011-M240, 2011-M76, 2012-M43, 2012-M78, 2013-M16, 2013-M222, 2014-M56, 2014-M181, 2015-M111, 2015-M122, 2016-M147, and 2018-M45 were added in May 2018. Accession number 2021-M52 was added in April 2021. Accession number 2022-M27 was added in September 2022.

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Sheila Tobias between August 1984 and February 2022.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see the Papers of Louise W. Knight, 1973-1998 (2010-M171).

Separated Materials

Donor: Sheila Tobias

Accession number: 2007-M159

Processed by: Susan Earle

The following item has been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library Periodicals section:

  1. Viva, August 1978

Processing Information

Processed: July 2005

By: Susan Earle

Updated and additional material added: May 2018 and April 2021

By: Susan Earle with the assistance of Ashley Thomas

Updated and additional materail added: September 2022

By: Johanna Carll



Tobias, Sheila. Papers of Sheila Tobias, 1947-2018: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gifts from the Carl & Lily Pforzheimer Fund, Pforzheimer Fund for the Schlesinger Library, Sybil Shainwald Fund at the Schlesinger Library, Edward, Frances and Shirley B. Daniels Fund and by the Ware Acquisitions Fund at the Schlesinger Library, the Archival Processing Fund, and the Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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