Prominent sociologist dies

By Jennifer McCabe

A pioneering sociology professor died after years of contributing her knowledge to both NIU and Rockford College.

Ruth Shonle Cavan died last Wednesday in Kishwaukee Community Hospital, just short of her 97th birthday.

The former NIU professor was best known for her 1928 book, “Suicide”, which was based on suicides in Chicago, and was reissued in 1965.

“It was considered the first great empirical work in this country on suicide,” said S. Frederick Seymour, long time colleague and retired NIU professor.

Cavan had 75 books and articles published throughout the United States and at least two of her books are used on college campuses nationwide.

Clinton Jesser, professor of sociology, said, “She was certainly a model woman to emulate. She had a good academic career.”

Cavan was born in Tuscola, IL., on Aug. 28, 1896. She earned a doctorate in English and economics in 1921, an M.A. in sociology in 1923 and a Ph. D. in sociology in 1926, all from the University of Chicago.

Cavan’s career began as assistant to the general secretary of the Religious Education Association and she then became the editor to the Journal of Religious Education.

She then became a researcher for the University of Chicago, Institute for Juvenile Research, Social Science Research Council, White House Conference on Child Health and Protection and a member of the staff of the American Council on Education’s American Youth Commission.

Cavan’s teaching career began in 1935 as a lecturer in sociology and instructor in adult education at Rockford College until 1937. She returned to Rockford College in 1947.

In 1964 she became a visiting professor of family relationships and sociology to Pennsylvania State University and NIU. She lectured primarily on cooperative and communal societies, and the role of women in DeKalb County history.

“In her generation, she was one of the two best known female sociologists in the U.S. She was very modest (although) she would say I was exaggerating,” Seymour said.

Jesser said, “She was a fine scholar, an appreciated teacher, a decent friend, fair-minded and fair to all people. She was a great model of how to age gracefully and keep right at it.”

Cavan is survived by her daughter, Lee Bruer of Sycamore, and her grandchildren, John David Bruer of DeKalb, and Katie and Stacey Golliner of St. Petersburg, FL.

The memorial service was held yesterday at the chapel at Oak Crest Retirement Center, where Cavan lived. There will be no visitation.

In lieu of flowers, family members asked donations be made in Cavan’s name to the foundation or charity of the person’s choice.