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October 25, 2012

Obituary: Joseph W. Eaton

EatonProfessor emeritus Joseph W. Eaton died Oct. 15, 2012. He was 93.

A Pitt faculty member for 52 years, Eaton was appointed a professor of social work research in the School of Social Work in 1959.

He also held appointments in public health and public and international affairs.

Eaton chaired the School of Social Work’s doctoral program 1962-66.

He also is credited with the creation of a MSW research major at Pitt.

He took a leave of absence in 1973 to assist in starting the University of Haifa’s social work school.

In the early 1980s he organized the dual degree program between Pitt’s School of Social Work and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Eaton also directed GSPIA’s economic and social development program.

He was named professor emeritus in 1989.

In 2007, a group of School of Social Work doctoral alumni established the Joseph W. and Helen F. Eaton Emerging Scholars Award Fund to recognize an outstanding scholarly work by a first- or second-year doctoral student. Its first award will be made this year.

According to biographical information from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Eaton was born Josef Wechsler in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1919. One of four sons in an Orthodox Jewish family, he and his brothers were expelled from school in Berlin following the Nazi takeover in 1933. Along with one of his brothers, Eaton was sent to the United States as part of a children’s transport.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in rural sociology at Cornell in 1940.

While a graduate student at Columbia, he was drafted into the Army in 1943. As a native German speaker, he was trained as an intelligence analyst in a psychological operations unit, which operated radio and print communications in Germany.

Following the war, he remained in Germany as part of the Allied occupation, serving as editor of the Army-sponsored Regensburger Post newspaper.

He also is credited with assisting underground efforts to help Jewish Holocaust survivors escape Europe and with helping to reunite families by carrying letters from survivors to relatives in the United States.

A number of his wartime photographs and documents now form the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Joseph Eaton Collection.

Following his military service, Eaton returned to complete his doctorate at Columbia in 1948.

Prior to joining the Pitt faculty, Eaton was a faculty member in UCLA’s School of Social Welfare. He also served on the sociology faculty at Wayne State University and Western Reserve University.

His early research focused on the Hutterite population in the United States and Canada. Over the course of his academic career he published widely on topics in the fields of social work, sociology, public health and public and international affairs. His most recent book, published in 2007, focused on the real estate title insurance industry.

He served since 1994 on the Pittsburgh cable communications advisory committee, an advisory body to City Council. He had been reappointed to a three-year term in 2010.

Eaton is survived by his wife, Helen; his children, David, Seth, Debra and Jonathan, and six grandchildren.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 5

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