Nursing’s Evelyn Perloff ‘was ahead of her time’

Evelyn Perloff, School of Nursing professor emerita who was the pioneering developer of the Health and Psychosocial Instruments database — now providing information about more than 225,000 behavioral and psychosocial measurement tools supplied to hundreds of libraries around the world — died May 26, 2022 at 101.

When Dean Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob joined the nursing school as a faculty member in 1987, Perloff was teaching research methods to undergraduates and had already been building the database since 1985, with a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“She was very, very invested in it, and it was really a novel project,” recalled Dunbar-Jacob. “Finding psychosocial instruments to use for research projects was very challenging at the time. What she was building really served an incredible need. She was ahead of her time, for sure.”

Perloff’s degrees had all been in psychology: a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1942 and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Ohio State in 1946 and 1951. “As a psychologist, she was very committed to accuracy in measurements, making sure you had valid inputs, making sure you knew what they measured,” Dunbar-Jacob said. “Her commitment in building this database was to make that an easier process and more accessible for people doing research.”

The database not only helped psychosocial researchers in many fields, Dunbar-Jacob said, but encouraged research in the school, which had not been as much of an emphasis prior to 1971, when Perloff began her teaching career at Pitt. She had already been on the faculty at Purdue, Kendall College, Northwestern and Ohio State, beginning in 1948.

“Her work really addressed multiple fields and continues to go on,” remarked the dean.

Perloff’s published articles and book contributions focused not only on her field and her research interest but on home health care, ethics in academic program evaluation and the status of women in the mid-20th century. She also lectured throughout the country and served on many School of Nursing administrative committees and on dozens of master’s and doctoral committees for students.

Her career outside academia began with a research focus as well, working as a research technician for the Air Force (then part of the Army) during World War II and as a researcher, research psychologist and visiting scientist for such varied concerns as the American Institutes for Research, the Prince George’s County Board of Education in Maryland and the American Psychological Association. She was also a lecturer at Winchester-Thurston School during her time at Pitt.

Perloff was born in New York City and raised in Philadelphia, marrying her husband, Robert Perloff (who died in 2013), in 1946.

She is survived by her three children, Richard, Linda and Judy, six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Memorial gifts are suggested to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, P.O. Box 515, Northampton, MA 01061-0515.

— Marty Levine