Marie Jahoda

* 26.01.1907 (Vienna) 28.04.2001 (Keymer/Sussex (GB)) Austria
Fields of activity: Sociologist
Author: Veronika Schnablegger

Marie Jahoda laid the groundwork  for the development of the discipline known nowadays as  “positive psychology“.  She is considered as one of  pioneers of social studies and she had dicisive influence on the shaping  of international social democracy.

Marie „Mitzi“ Jahoda was born to a Jewish family as the third  of four children. Her father, Carl, was a salesman. Her mother Betty paid much attention to offering her children, both sons and daughters , the same chances for education.

Marie studied psychology and, for some time, German philology at the University of Vienna. In 1932, she  obtained her PhD.  At the same time, she received her teaching diploma  from the  “Pädagogisches Institut“ of Vienna.

As early as in 1924, she became a member of the Vereinigung Sozialdemokratischer Mittelschüler (Association of Social Democratic Secondary Level Students) and shortly afterwards, she joined the Social Democratic Labour Party of German-Austria. Between the years 1924 and 1934, Marie Jahoda was politically active as a social democrat, among others as the mouthpiece for social democratic women associations.

In 1927, Marie Jahoda married the sociologist Paul Felix Lazarsfeld. Their daughter Lotte Franziska was born in 1930. The couple  divorced in 1934.

In 1929, she participated in a demonstration after the strike of employees of café Prückland and for the first time in her life she was arrested for being a political activist.

Her interest in  social conditions in the  workers‘ community brought her to Gramatneusiedl, a village south of Vienna, where  the local textile works situated in the Marienthal industrial quarter had to be shut down as a consequence of the great depression in 1930,  and where hundreds of workers had lost their jobs. 

Marie Jahoda is the main author of the  Marienthal study written in the years  1931 -1932,  in which she investigates the impact of long- term joblessness on a small workers‘ community. The study shows that long- term unemployment does not lead to a revolution but rather to resignation. The report  „Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal“  has become  a classic study in the field of  empirical social research  and nowadays it is seen as a seminal work on the issue of unemployment.  

In 1936, as a consequence of her continual illegal activities, Marie Jahoda was arrested and in the following year condemned to three months‘ imprisonment for the establishment of a contact point for the “Revolutionary Socialists of Austria“ . Following  international protests, she was released on the condition that she would leave her home country.

During her years of exile in the UK, Marie Jahoda lived in London, Bristol and Southern Wales. She was, among others, employed at  the National Institute for Social and Economic Research and worked as an editor  and announcer for the secret radio station  “Radio Rotes Wien“. She investigated a jobless miner‘s project on self-aid and conducted a study on the psycho-social problems in factories after she had received a three years‘ grant.

She moved to the USA in 1945, where in 1949 she took up a post at the New York University. She was  soon appointed professor at  the Faculty of Psychology. In 1958, she returned to London and married the Labour politician Henry Albu.

Marie Jahoda was a teacher and scientist at the Brunel College in Uxbridge near London. When the college was turned into a university, she became Professor of Psychology. From 1965 till her becoming Emeritus Professor in 1973, she was Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Sussex in Brighton. Simultaneously,  she followed a variety of additional occupations and she  was involved in the establishment of  the first “Department of Social Psychology“ in the UK.

After her retirement, Jahoda stayed active at University of Sussex until 1995.

Like many fellow-sufferers, Maria Jahoda had to leave her country in order to survive. Only in this way could she  accomplish her life-work.

Translation: Angelika Trochimiak


Reinhard Müller: Marienthal. Das Dorf – Die Arbeitslosen – Die Studie

Photocredits: Maria Jahoda, 1937, author unknown,

Source: Picture archiv „Geschichte der Soziologie, Graz, Signatur 41/8.17, with friendly permission, September 4, 2013