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Patricia Schiller, a Sex-Education Pioneer, Dies at 104

Patricia Schiller, a Sex-Education Pioneer, Dies at 104

She was born Pearl Silverman on Oct. 27, 1913, in Brooklyn. (Her son said he wasn’t sure when or why “Pearl” became “Patricia,” though presumably it was in her childhood; “I have never known the ‘Pearl,’ ” he said.) Her father, Louis, was a pharmacist, and her mother, Gussie (Zuckerblatt) Silverman, was a homemaker.

Ms. Schiller said her parents wanted her to become a teacher because they thought it was a field where a woman would always be able to find a job. But she was more interested in law, graduating from Brooklyn Law School.

Ms. Schiller wrote three books. This one, published when she was in her 90s, was the most recent.

In 1943 she married Irving Schiller, a Washington lawyer, and after doing litigation and appellate work for the Wage Stabilization Board in the early 1950s she was volunteering at Legal Aid while raising their young children. Her revelation about her clients’ need for counseling sent her back to school at American University, where she received her master’s degree in 1960.

She fought for federal funding of the Webster School, which became a model project in an era when officials were re-examining how to deal with teenage pregnancies. She emphasized keeping the girls in school and also counseling everyone involved, which was unusual for the time.

“Working with the young men to help the pair grow as a family was crucial to her work,” her daughter, Louise Schiller, said by email. “Pregnant teens had babies, the boys fled at the news, and the young women entered a cycle of lack of education, lack of partner support and continuing poverty.”

Later in the 1960s Ms. Schiller would direct a government-sponsored training program for principals, nurses, teachers and other school staff in how to teach and counsel about sexuality and family life. Outside the school setting, she was seeking to bring standards to the field of sexuality counseling, which in the mid-1960s was becoming trendy and was full of people with questionable credentials and motives.

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