Gruenberg, Sidonie Matzner

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GRUENBERG, Sidonie Matzner

Born 10 June 1881, Vienna, Austria; died 11 March 1974, New York, New York

Daughter of Idore and Augusta Bassechés Matzner; married Benjamin C. Gruenberg, 1903

The oldest of four girls and two boys, Sidonie Matzner Gruenberg was raised in a large family villa outside Vienna. In 1895, her father brought the family to New York, where they began a lifelong association with Felix Adler's Ethical Culture Society, a "religious society, imbued with the spirit of religion but without the dogmas."

After studying at the Ethical Culture schools, Gruenberg took graduate courses at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 1907 she began her association with the Federation of Child Study, a group of Ethical Culture women encouraged by Felix Adler to study new ideas in child development. In 1924, the federation expanded and became the Child Study Association of America; Gruenberg was named director, a post she held until her retirement in 1950. She taught parent education at Teachers College and New York University between 1928 and 1936.

In her first book, Your Child Today and Tomorrow (1913), Gruenberg exhibited her talent for synthesizing the best sources of child development information and translating them into language parents could understand and trust. The combination of conventional wisdom and a willingness to experiment with new ideas which characterizes this book is also representative of Gruenberg's style throughout her work. Sons and Daughters (1916), in a similar format, addressed itself to the training of older boys and girls. Here she drew from innovative psychological theories that isolated adolescence as a unique stage of development.

We, the Parents (1939), written in the shadow of World War II, won the Parents' Magazine award in 1940 as the outstandingpublication of that year. In addition to advice on child rearing, an important theme of this book and throughout her work is the ambivalence inherent in women on the subject of work vs. family. Gruenberg recognizes the complex needs of modern women and warns mothers to prepare for a number of life stages. "We have to choose not once, but many times and at each stage with the same degree of uncertainty." She felt women need no longer be martyrs to their families and suggested "marriage does not necessarily entail parenthood," but she also discussed a vast range of possibilities for working out a balance between parenting and personal growth.

Gruenberg and her daughter, Hilda Krech, continue examining the problem of women's choices in The Many Lives of Modern Women (1952). They confront the intellectual and physical isolation of modern housewives and the conflicts involved in being educated but unable to pursue a career. Gruenberg's own ambivalence is expressed in a picture of women both as victims of conflicting social expectations and yet personally responsible for finding their own "appropriate" solution.

Gruenberg and her biologist husband coauthored The Wonderful Story of How You Were Born (1952), a masterful book of sex education for children. It is told in story form with illustrations, explaining not only the entire reproduction process but also the unique complex of emotions parents feel toward the birth of their child. The book went through several printings; it was revised in 1970 and translated into several languages.

Her major editorial work, climaxing years of parent education work, is The Encyclopedia of Child Care and Guidance (1954). She was able to draw together in this 1,000-page compendium a massive quantity of facts and ideas on child rearing, by such experts as Margaret Mead and Benjamin Spock. Gruenberg also edited several anthologies of children's stories.

Gruenberg's writing represents a social history of the first half of the 20th century, in that it reflects the evolution of attitudes and conventions toward the child, the family, and women. Further, the whole of her work chronicles child development theories as they were interpreted and popularized in journals and magazines. Gruenberg had an intuitive ability to absorb changes and ideas and was skilled at communicating in clear, persuasive language, although she was less successful when attempting a personal or philosophical analysis. While some of her writing has become outdated, the children's anthologies, many of the child rearing topics, and her insights into family relations remain contemporary and instructive.

Other Works:

Our Children: A Handbook for Parents (edited by Gruenberg, with D. C. Fisher, 1932). Parents, Children, and Money (with B. C. Gruenberg, 1933). Parents' Questions (edited by Gruenberg, 1936; revised edition, 1947). The Use of Radio in Parent Education (1939). The Family in a World at War (edited by Gruenberg, 1942). Favorite Stories Old and New (edited by Gruenberg, 1942; revised edition, 1955). More Favorite Stories Old and New (edited by Gruenberg, 1948; revised 1960). Your Child and You (1950). Our Children Today: A Guide to Their Needs (edited by Gruenberg, with the CSAA, 1952). Children for the Childless (with B. C. Gruenberg, 1954). Let's Read a Story (edited by Gruenberg, 1957). Guiding Your Child from Five to Twelve (1958). Parent's Guide to Everyday Problems of Boys and Girls (1958). Let's Read More Stories (edited by Gruenberg, 1960). The Wonderful Story of You (with B. C. Gruenberg, 1960). Let's Hear a Story (edited by Gruenberg, 1961). Stories for Little Girls and Little Boys (edited by Gruenberg, 1961). All Kinds of Courage (edited by Gruenberg, 1962). Your Child and Money (Public Affairs Pamphlet #370, 1965).

The papers of Sidonie Matzner Gruenberg are at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division in Washington, D.C.


Wollons, R. L., "Educating Mothers: Sidonie Matzner Gruenberg and the Child Study Association of America, 1881-1929" (dissertation, 1983).

Reference works:

CA (1975). CB (May 1940).

Other references:

Child Study Magazine (Spring 1950, Fall 1956). NYT (9 June 1962, 13 March 1974).