Described by Sharon Wilsnack, an
international authority on alcohol
problems in women, as “truly the
"grandmother" of gender and alcohol
research,” Dr. Edith Gomberg came to
the University of Michigan almost 35
years ago , and over that time
held appointments in the Institute of
Gerontology, the Institute of Social
Research, the School of Social Work,
and most recently at the Addiction
Research Center/ Department of
Edith grew up in New York City,
graduating from Brooklyn College at
the age of 18; she did a M.A. in social
psychology at Columbia University and
then moved on to do her doctoral work
at Yale University. She entered the alcohol field at a time when it was just developing as an area of
scientific respectability; she knew E. M. Jellinek and was also a staff member at the Yale Center of Alcohol
Studies, at that time the only academic/research center on alcohol in the United States. Her initial ground
breaking work describing the characteristics of women alcoholics was carried out in the early 50s. She
moved from this to the more general topic of problem drinking among women, not a popular subject in
those years since women were thought not to suffer from such problems at all.. Edith took it upon herself
to ask questions, provide data, and inform the scientific and clinical communities about these issues, and
she remained a leader in research on women's drinking and alcoholism in women for the next 40 years.
Her continuing support and encouragement of women who entered the field, along with a vigorous
program of lecturing made her an icon to many who did not know her personally.
In the latter part of her career, Edith’s work broadened to focus on another neglected area, understanding
the problems of alcohol and prescription drug abuse among older people. She also began a program of
work to understand drinking behavior among African Americans and to describe the ways that the
treatment process needed to take account of cultural differences. In the late ‘80s, Gomberg was part of
the core faculty group involved in bringing the first national NIAAA Center on Alcohol and Aging to the
Michigan, and that center, the UM Alcohol Research Center (UMARC) is the forerunner of what is
today’s University of Michigan Addiction Research Center. During those years Edith also co-edited two of
the major works in that field (Alcohol and Aging, with Beresford; Oxford, 1995) and the NIAAA Research
Monograph on Alcohol Problems and Aging (with Zucker and Hegedus, 1998).
Edith remained a presence both nationally and internationally on the effects of alcohol on women and
alcohol and aging until her retirement, and she continued to write and correspond with others about their
work until the end of her life.
Those who worked with her will vividly remember Edith’s spark, her sense of humor, her broad span of
interests, her ability to “tell it like it is”, and her special knack to stay down-to-earth and connected with so
many people from diverse backgrounds.
by Robert A. Zucker, Ph.D.
University of Michigan Addiction Research Center
|Edith's study at home in Ann Arbor