About Dr. Joyce Brothers on Sigma Delta Tau’s Founders’ Day

March 25, 1917 is the date on which seven female Cornell University students founded Sigma Delta Tau. Their organization was originally called Sigma Delta Phi, but when the group discovered the name belonged to another Greek-letter organization they changed the “Phi” to “Tau.”

Sigma Delta Tau’s founders are Dora Bloom (Turteltaub), Inez Dane Ross, Amy Apfel (Tishman), Regene Freund (Cohane), Marian Gerber (Greenberg), Lenore Blanche Rubinow, and Grace Srenco (Grossman). Nathan Caleb House was the Ritualist.

One of Sigma Delta Tau’s most famous members was an initiate of the Alpha Chapter. On March 27, 1944, Joyce Bauer pledged Sigma Delta Tau. She was one of five pledges that spring, according to the April 7, 1944 Cornell Bulletin. She majored in home economics and psychology, graduating with honors in 1947. She started graduate school at Columbia University and earned a Master’sdegree in 1949, the same year she married Milton Brothers.  In 1952, an American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women helped fund her as she wrote her doctoral dissertation. She graduated in 1953, the same year her only child was born. As a stay-at-home mom with a husband in medical residency, their finances were tight.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, 1950s

Dr. Joyce Brothers, 1950s

In 1955, the television quiz show, The $64,000 Question was popular. Brothers saw this as an opportunity to supplement the family’s meager income. Television personality Sonny Fox, on the PBS American Experience website, tells this story. “She went down originally and presented herself as a psychologist, and she had an expertise in something and, I’m not sure I remember what it was, but it certainly wasn’t boxing. And they said to her, ‘Well you’re wonderful as a personality but we’re looking for those dramatic juxtapositions.’ The marine officer who is an expert cook. The shoemaker who knows about opera. Those kinds of anomalies. That’s what we’re looking for. For instance, if you knew about boxing we’d…. She went home and — one thing you have to know about Joyce is she’s absolutely, she’s purposeful in her life. I mean, if she wants something she goes after it. And she wanted to be on this show and she started studying about boxing and she made herself into a boxing expert and she did not come on it as a boxing expert. She invented herself as a boxing expert. And she came on, she came back and said I’m a boxing expert. I’m a psychologist who knows about boxing. And they tested her and she did, and they put her on. Now the story that I understand, I’m not sure whether I got this from a prime source or a secondary source so I can’t be absolutely a hundred percent certain that I’m telling you the truth, but I think it is. At about $16,000 they thought they would knock her off. They didn’t think Joyce Brothers was building. So they asked her a particularly tough question, and she got it. 

“So at $32,000 they decided really to get rid of Joyce, and this time instead of asking her questions about boxers they asked her a question about referees, which they knew she didn’t know anything about. But they underestimated Miss Brothers because she had been studying every week in-between and she knew about referees by the time they asked her about referees. And she got $32,064. And they said what the heck let her go. They went back to her strength and she hit. You know she hit $64,000 and she became quite famous as a result and she still is. She’s still writing her columns and everybody knows the name Joyce Brothers. So she really rode that one to stardom and fame.”

Brothers became the second person, and the only female, to win the top prize. Two years later, she appeared on The $64,000 Challenge, and won that top prize, too. She parlayed her experiences on the quiz shows into a life-long career. The October 1, 1958 Cornell Alumni News reported on her activities, “Joyce Bauer Brothers, who did such a grand job on the $64,000 Question, now has her own television show. She is analyzing topics of interest to adults in a daily series on WRAC-TV.”

Her afternoon talk show, The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show, started as a local show and went into national syndication. Soon a late night show was added as well as a call-in radio show. A syndicated newspaper column and monthly magazine column followed as did several books.

When Milton Brothers died in 1989, his wife’s world was shattered. She wrote about her grief in what became her most popular book, Widowed; it was published in 1990. Brothers died on May 13, 2013.

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© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All Rights Reserved.


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