In memoriam: Lew Lipsitt—Founding Generation of ICIS

It is with great sorrow I inform you of the death of Dr. Lewis P. Lipsitt, a founding member of the International Congress for Infant Studies and a pioneer in the field of Infancy. Lewis Lipsitt died at on Thursday, September 30, 2021.
In the field of Infancy, Lewis (or “Lew” as he was widely known) authored seminal papers on infant sensation, perception, and learning, as well as on perinatal risk and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. He also conducted important longitudinal studies examining how early life experiences influenced later outcomes. Across his lifetime, he conducted a longitudinal research project, originally involving 4,000 births in Providence. The participants are now over 60 years old. The work was groundbreaking for the field examining effects of parental smoking on fetal and infant development and also tracking the progress of children with learning disabilities.

A developmental psychologist, Dr. Lipsitt received his B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1950, his M.S. in clinical and social psychology from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) in 1952, and his Ph.D. in child psychology from the University of Iowa (Iowa City) in 1957. He spent his career at Brown University starting in 1957 in the Department of Psychology. In 1967 he was the founding director of Brown University’s Child Study Center.

He received many accolades during his long and illustrious career. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of London’s Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, and a Cattell Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He received the Nicholas Hobbs Award for “science in the service of children” in 1990 from the American Psychological Association (APA), and won the 1994 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Lifetime Achievement Mentor Award for his work with minority persons and women in the pursuit of scientific careers. He was honored by New England Psychological Association, with the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award, and received the Musiker-Merenda award for mental health services to Rhode Island. He was a Fellow of the American Psychological Society (APS), for which he was a founding executive board member. In 1995 Dr. Lipsitt received a Professional Achievement Award from his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Chicago.

Later in his career, after his groundbreaking work on infant studies, he turned his attention to adolescent risk behaviors. Lipsitt was a visiting scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in 1986-87, studying psychopathological risk-taking. With Alvin Poussaint, M.D., Dr. Lipsitt co-directed the Lee Salk Center of KIDSPEACE, a national center for young people overcoming crises.

Dr. Lipsitt was a passionate science communicator. He pioneered ways of disseminating scientific findings about infants and children. As editor of the Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter for 15 years, his Newsbriefs appeared in the Sesame Street Parents Guide. He was a consultant to a WNET documentary TV series, and has served on advisory boards of BabyTalk and Child magazines.

Dr. Lipsitt also contributed to the field through his service to professional societies. Over his long career, he served as president of the Eastern Psychological Association, president of APA’s Division of Developmental Psychology, and also president of the Division of General Psychology, and was elected to the APA Council of Representatives for four terms. He also chaired APA’s board of scientific affairs, and was the APA executive director for science.

For those of us in the International Congress of Infant Studies (ICIS) society it is his role as a member of the founding generation of ICIS that must be highlighted as a major and enduring achievement. The founding generation of ICIS implemented the vision to advance science and support colleagueship in the interdisciplinary field of infant development. ICIS was the outgrowth of a small group of scientists studying infant learning and development who met monthly to share their work, and eventually organized an off-SRCD-year meeting attended by a larger group of researchers. Lipsitt organized the first formal meeting of the ICIS (as it was named), which was held in Providence Rhode Island in 1978. There Lew did a yoyo demonstration and provided a souvenir yoyos to conference goers. He was a yoyo expert and enjoyed sharing stunning tricks. Dr. Lipsitt also founded the society’s flagship journal Infant Behavior and Development (currently Infancy), and founded the Advances in Child Development and Behavior in 1963. He was passionate about the important role that scientists play in understanding Infancy in order to support long-term positive outcomes for children and families.

Dr. Lipsitt was exuberant and joyful about the privilege that it was to be an Infancy Researcher. All Infancy Scientists were touched by his leadership, commitment, and enthusiasm for the field. His joy, wonder, and curiosity about infants was contagious. He will truly be missed.


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