Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Remembering Doctor Jane Knitzer

Dr. Jane Knitzer

Throughout her remarkable life and its many diverse experiences and achievements, Dr. Jane Knitzer embodied one consistent theme: that every child and every family is sacred, and that it is every person’s duty to reach out to the most marginalized and vulnerable among us. Her life’s work reflects these values at every stage.

Dr. Knitzer graduated with honors from Wellesley College, where she majored in psychology, in 1963. She later earned an MEd and an EdD from Harvard University, where she was most interested in the intersection between education, health, development, and children’s ability to thrive. From there, she received a prestigious National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellowship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and went on to produce two of her most groundbreaking works. Unclaimed Children: The Failure of Public Responsibility to Children and Adolescents in Need of Mental Health Services, and At the Schoolhouse Door: An Examination of Programs and Policies for Children with Behavioral and Emotional Problems were hailed as landmark publications that transformed the collective understanding of the unmet needs of marginalized children and adolescents.

Faculty positions at Cornell University, New York University, and Bank Street College of Education add another layer to the rich narrative of Dr. Knitzer’s work and life, and she contributed countless hours as a leader and mentor in multiple professional and academic associations and committees: she was a president of the American Association of Orthopsychiatry and of Division 37, Child, Youth, and Family Services of the American Psychological Association, a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Crossing the Chasm: Adaptation to Mental Health and Addictive Disorders and most recently on the Committee on Depression, Parenting Practices and the Healthy Development of Children, a member of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, and, in 2007, was named to the New York State Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board by Governor Spitzer.

But more than a remarkable list of academic and professional achievements, Dr. Knitzer was known for her deep emotional and personal connection to the people she hoped to help. Peers, colleagues, family members, and friends all remember her talent for finding the stories behind the data, and helping to elevate the moving day-to-day struggles of marginalized children and families from the shadows to the spotlight. It was this special ability that made Dr. Knitzer so very capable of inciting change. Among policymakers, national and state leaders, academics, and her own family and loved ones, Dr. Knitzer was known as a true leader in her own right, one whose deep sense of moral and ethical commitment to helping the individuals whose lives and challenges she researched would touch countless people during her life and for many years after she was gone.

As we all absorb the passing of Dr. Knitzer, there is a sense of great loss: some have lost a colleague, some a mentor. Some have lost a fellow researcher and academic, some a mother, a wife, a best friend. But at NCCP, we wish to celebrate the remarkable legacy of Dr. Knitzer’s life by contemplating her many wonderful accomplishments, and the enormous positive impact of her life’s work for some of the most marginalized and disenfranchised members of our society.

Dr. Knitzer was a role model and a leader, a singularly talented researcher, and above all a wonderful person. Following Dr. Knitzer’s tradition of service and social responsibility, we have established the Jane Knitzer Memorial Directorship in Early Childhood. We invite supporters to join us in celebrating Dr. Knitzer’s legacy with gifts that will help it to grow, by supporting ongoing research and exploration of the issues she cared about most.