Shirley Zimmerman, FSoS professor emeritus, remembered as fierce family advocate

The Family Social Science and Social Work communities mourn the passing of Shirley Zimmerman, School of Social Work alumna and a professor emeritus in Family Social Science, on March 31, 2020. She was 95 years old. Her career spanned the front lines of social work to teaching and research in family and policy development at the University of Minnesota.

Born in 1925, She earned her bachelor of arts degree at the University of Minnesota in 1947, married Pete Zimmerman and raised four children. She returned to the University of Minnesota and received a Master’s in Social Work in 1967 and a Ph.D. in Social Work with emphasis on social policy and organization theory in 1977.

She served as a caseworker in Hennepin County’s AFDC program, social planner for St. Paul’s Health and Welfare Planning Council, and as a consultant to statewide organizations for the Minnesota Department of Public Welfare’s Child Welfare Division.

Zimmerman joined the University of Minnesota in 1970 as a social welfare researcher and lecturer in Continuing Education in Social Work. Following appointments as assistant director, instructor and assistant professor in CESW, Zimmerman joined the Family Social Science faculty in 1982 and retired as professor emeritus in 2000.

Zimmerman’s research agenda encompassed how state policies affected individual and family well-being. She wrote four books on family policy theory, authored numerous journal articles, gave many presentations at local, state national conferences, and was principal investigator on research projects that explored the link between state expenditures and policies in health, education and public welfare and family well-being. 

“I credit Shirley for instilling in me and colleagues across the U.S. a sense of how important it is for family scholars to engage in the policy process,” says Catherine Solheim, Family Social Science professor and director of Graduate Studies who received her doctorate at the U of M in 1990. “As a doctoral student in Family Social Science, I saw Shirley model this through her research and teaching on family policy as well as her tenacious political engagement where she elevated a family perspective in policy debates.”

 “She was a good soul,” said Paul Rosenblatt, Family Social Science professor emeritus. “ Shirley was a fierce advocate in her teaching, research, and textbook writing for evidence- and theory-based analysis of family policy.  She showed very persuasively that political choices and political culture make a very big difference in the well-being of individuals and families.  She also argued very persuasively that family policy deserves a central place in the curriculum, outreach, and research of academic departments like ours that teach about, study, and try to help families.”

She served on numerous academic committees for both graduate and undergraduate education at the U of M and served as vice-president and on committees for the National Council on Family Relations.  In the community, she served as chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Family and Children and was a member of a task force on family and children’s mental health convened by Hennepin County Community Services, among many others.  She was honored as the Helen LaBaron Hilton Chair in Family Policy, College of Family and Consumer Science, Iowa State University, during the 1998-1999 academic year.

Following her retirement, the Department of Family Social Science established the Shirley Zimmerman Fund to support doctoral dissertation, faculty research, colloquium, symposium or conferences regarding family policy. Funeral service arrangements can be found in her obituary at the Star Tribune.