Leslie R. Wolfe, a longtime advocate for the rights of women and girls who helped produce studies showing gender-based inequalities in education and the workplace, died Nov. 30 at a hospice center in Rockville, Md. She was 74.
The cause was complications from dementia, said a former colleague, Karen Schneider.
As president of the Center for Women Policy Studies from 1987 to 2015, Dr. Wolfe was instrumental in drawing attention to a variety of issues, including workplace diversity, reproductive rights, violence toward women and the effects of HIV/AIDS on women. She also helped spotlight the needs of low-income and minority women on a global level.
In 1989, Dr. Wolfe was the co-author of an influential study examining gender bias and racial discrimination in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the exams widely used in college admissions. The study, which analyzed the performance of 100,000 students, concluded that the SAT was constructed in a biased manner that consistently gave male students higher scores than female students.
Dr. Wolfe also determined that testing was not an accurate gauge of academic achievement, showing that girls typically received better grades in college than the SAT had predicted.
In a later report from 1997, Dr. Wolfe and a co-author found that little had changed since the study eight years earlier. Boys, on average, scored 40 points higher on the SAT, giving them a significant advantage in the awarding of millions of dollars of National Merit Scholarships, based largely on test results.
Researchers from the Educational Testing Service, which developed the SAT, confirmed the gender bias that Dr. Wolfe had highlighted. But when she sought to find ways to change the tests, she encountered opposition from ETS and the College Board, which administered the SAT to hundreds of thousands of students each year.
The organizations “have become increasingly hostile to the work we’ve done,” Dr. Wolfe told The Washington Post in 1997. “The College Board keeps saying the fault is not in the test, the fault is in the girls. We have research from ETS’s own researcher that says even within the highest [income] group, there is a gender gap. Within every racial and ethnic group, there is a gender gap. There is something wrong with the test.”
Leslie Rosenberg was born Nov. 24, 1943, in Washington and grew up in Montgomery County. Her father worked at the Pentagon, and her mother was a homemaker.
She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1965, received a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1967 and a doctorate in English from the University of Florida in 1970.
Dr. Wolfe worked at the National Welfare Rights Organization before joining the Women’s Rights Program of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1973. She was a special assistant at the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare before becoming director of the federal Women’s Educational Equity Act program in 1979. She helped ensure federal compliance with the newly enacted Title IX law, which prohibited gender discrimination by institutions that received federal funding.
In 1983, Dr. Wolfe and four other women were dismissed from the federal agency in a “reduction in force” after an anonymous article in Conservative Digest magazine claimed that her department was “a network of openly radical feminists.” She believed that the move was politically motivated.
Dr. Wolfe later directed the Project on Equal Education Rights at the NOW Legal Defense Fund before becoming president of the Center for Women Policy Studies, an advocacy group founded in 1972.
Among other initiatives, Dr. Wolfe developed programs to inform female state legislators about women’s rights issues and helped launch efforts to educate women around the world and to bring international lawmakers and other officials to Washington for policy discussions.
Dr. Wolfe retired in 2015, when the center closed. She lived in Chevy Chase, Md.
Her first marriage, to Barry Wolfe, ended in divorce. Her second husband, William Green, died in 1998.
Survivors include a brother.
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