Celebrating Black History Month: Spotlight on Dr. Harriette Pipes McAdoo

February 22, 2021
| Amanda Clincy Coleman and Kim Clum
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We are happy to celebrate Black History month and recognize the contributions of countless Black scholars who have shaped the social sciences -- and research and evaluation at the Administration for Children and Families.

In honor of Black History month, we wanted to highlight the contributions of a particular scholar, Dr. Harriette Pipes McAdoo (1940-2009) who was a prolific researcher, university administrator, and mentor and who is most famously associated with the seminal anthology Black Families Visit disclaimer page (2006, 4th edition) which she created and edited. In addition to her academic work, Dr. McAdoo sat on many national committees and acted as National Advisor to President Carter for the White House Conference on Families.

Black Families, a major contribution to the fields of sociology and psychology, is widely credited with advancing the turn towards a strengths-based understanding of Black Americans’ family life.[1] The title of her most famous work was deliberate, emphasizing the heterogeneity of the Black family experience.[2] Rather than see Black families as a monolith, her research continuously highlighted how varied Black families are in relation to social class, family history, and immigrant status. And rather than beginning from the deficit-oriented assumptions of many of her colleagues, Pipes McAdoo’s research explored the myriad strengths of Black families, including distinctly strong connections to extended family and church-based communities. Dr. Pipes McAdoo’s research also highlighted ways in which the experiences of Black families tended to be a bellwether for experiences that all American families would increasingly face, such as the challenges of balancing full-time paid work with full-time caregiving and the growing rates of co-parenting. Dr. Pipes McAdoo argued for a dynamic understanding of families and family life, situating that understanding within the larger economic, demographic, and social conditions affecting families and family life. It was important, in Dr. Pipes McAdoo’s perspective, to constantly update research questions and research theories to account for the changing empirical realities and contexts affecting families. In Black Families and other works, Dr. Pipes McAdoo sought to fundamentally challenge the deficit-based understandings of Black families that had been pervasive in academic and practitioner literature on Black families. And while elevating the diversity of Black families and their experiences, she also deeply explored Black families’ widely shared experience of being subject to racism and stereotypes and the toll that took on children’s and family well-being.

Dr. Pipes McAdoo’s work on the strengths of Black families and Black family life has been an important influence on OPRE's work focused on Black families and other populations that have been marginalized from social and economic opportunity. A few recent OPRE efforts that are particularly illustrative of the strength-based understanding she helped champion include the forecasted African American Child and Family Research Center Visit disclaimer page , the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families Visit disclaimer page , and the American Indian Alaska Native Family and Child Experiences Survey.


[1] Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology Visit disclaimer page
[2] SRCD Oral History Interview with Dr. Pipes McAdoo (PDF) Visit disclaimer page
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