Lyn K Carlsmith
Oct. 7, 1932-Sept. 1, 2011
Portola Valley, California
Submitted by Chris Carlsmith
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Social psychologist Lyn K. Carlsmith of Ladera passed away peacefully and surrounded by family at Stanford Hospital on 1 September 2011.
Born Karolyn Gai Kuckenberg in Portland, Oregon, in 1932, she was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in Social Relations (Psychology) at Harvard University.
A devoted mother who chose to postpone her scholarly ambitions in order to raise three children, she later became a Senior Lecturer at Stanford. She was married to fellow psychologist and Stanford professor J. Merrill Carlsmith until his death in 1984; then for nearly twenty-five years she was the steadfast companion of social psychologist Gardner Lindzey, Director emeritus of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
A resident of Ladera for more than forty-five years, she loved her community and served on the LCA Board of Directors as well as volunteering at Ladera School.
A native Oregonian, Lyn enrolled at Stanford in the fall of 1950, intending to pursue a career in International Relations. Her interest in international affairs was sparked by an extended tour of Europe and the Middle East with her family just after World War II, at the age of sixteen, and by the posting of her older sister Kay Kuckenberg to Cairo with the Foreign Service.
Lyn joined the Stanford Dollies her freshman year and participated in numerous student activities with her younger sister Joan Kuckenberg. During her senior year she met fellow student Merrill Carlsmith, whom she would later marry.
Upon graduating from Stanford in 1954, Lyn enrolled in the Psychology graduate program there. Among her professors was Pauline (Pat) Sears, who would later become her aunt by marriage. She studied under Eleanor Maccoby, but after completing her M.A. degree Lyn chose to leave Stanford for the East Coast.
Lyn worked for two years as a copy-editor in New York City, living independently in a Manhattan brownstone and absorbing all that the big city had to offer. In the fall of 1958 she rejoined Merrill Carlsmith and the two of them enrolled as graduate students at Harvard. Lyn pursued her interest in child development while Merrill continued his research on the theory of cognitive dissonance. At Harvard Lyn was close to professors John and Bea Whiting. During her time in Cambridge she also visited the Carlsmith family camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, NH, and came to love its rustic simplicity.
Having earned her doctorate from Harvard in the spring of 1963, she and Merrill were married in her hometown of Portland in St. Mary?s Cathedral. They moved to New Haven, CT, where Merrill taught as an Assistant Professor of Psychology while Lyn published part of her thesis, ?Effect of Early Father Absence on Scholastic Aptitude? as an extended article in a professional journal.
Their first child, Christopher, was born in New Haven; in the summer of 1964 the young family moved to California to join one of the most vibrant and prestigious Psychology departments in the country. Their daughter Kim and their son Kevin were born in subsequent years at Stanford Hospital.
Lyn loved the outdoors. She and her family frequently camped in the Sierra Mountains and at Yosemite National Park. She loved to walk in the woods and in local parks, a habit that she continued throughout her adult life. The Portola Valley house in which she lived for more than forty years featured a beautiful garden and spectacular views of the Stanford foothills.
Every year the family would caravan up to Oregon to visit with maternal grandparents and cousins in Portland, and at the beach house in Gearhart, as well as travel to New Hampshire for additional camping, canoeing, and swimming with relatives of Merrill.
Although she was an excellent scholar, Lyn decided early on that her primary calling in life was to be a mother. She participated actively at Ladera School, La Entrada School, and Charles Armstrong School when her kids were enrolled there. She loved being at home when her children returned from school with art projects, captured bugs, and other souvenirs of school life.
Even today, her house remains full of wood sculpture, mosaics, line drawings, and other creative work done by her children, and by Lyn herself. She encouraged her children to be intellectually curious, and was rewarded with two sons who followed her into the professoriate. She was particularly supportive of her daughter Kim, who suffered from severe dyslexia; Lyn never doubted that her daughter would learn to read and write as well as attend college. Doubtless this interest in children was linked to her previous research on the effect of absent fathers upon young children. When Lyn returned to teach half-time at Stanford University, she often used examples from her children?s lives to illustrate theories of socialization and cognitive development. Such examples made her classes popular with students, albeit terribly embarrassing for her children when those students would be invited over for dinner.
As a Stanford lecturer, Lyn specialized in organizing internships so that students could participate in community-based organizations. Long before the idea of ?service? had taken root in university culture, Lyn gently pushed her students and colleagues to recognize the importance of giving back to those who were less fortunate. She worked particularly closely with an organization called Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) in the 1970s and 1980s, an interest paralleled by her husband?s advocacy as co-Director of the Stanford Center for the Study of Youth.
Lyn believed strongly in a field study approach to learning about problems of children, adolescents, and certain clinical populations. She engaged in other professional activities as well, such as authoring the instructor?s manual for the 1971 edition of an introductory psychology textbook by Dick Atkinson and Ernst Hilgard, and serving as a silent editor for Merrill Carlsmith?s popular textbook on Social Psychology.
Lyn?s life was beset with significant challenges that complemented her academic and personal success. Her sister Kay died of alcoholism in the late 1970s, and her husband Merrill died of cancer in 1984. Her long-time companion Gardner Lindzey also died of cancer in 2008, while her brother-in-law Ken Green died of a brain tumor in 2008, and her beloved sister Joan Lewis Green both passed away unexpectedly in 2009.
She assisted her father during his battle with Alzheimer?s, and then a few years later supported her mother during the onset of Parkinson?s disease. In recent years Lyn?s own health deteriorated.
Despite these difficulties, she remained a person full of courage and grace, with a steadfast focus on her children and grandchildren. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her, and the world is a better place for her having been in it.
Cards and letters to the family may be sent to the Carlsmith family, 31 Berenda Way, Portola Valley, CA 94028.
A memorial reception will be held at the Stanford University Faculty Club.
In lieu of flowers, donations are invited to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), 75 Alta Road, Stanford, CA. 94305. www.casbs.org. (650) 736-0100.