Washington University School of Medicine-St. Louis
Becker Medical Library
Women in Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine

Lee Nelken Robins
Lee Nelken Robins
“Robins was a calm, thoughtful voice in many debates.”

Lee Nelken Robins was born August 29, 1922, in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Radcliffe College and her doctorate from Harvard University in 1951.

Robins led national studies on psychiatric epidemiology and was a leader in the development of diagnostic criteria for psychiatric diagnosis. Robins’ studies followed child patients and randomly selected schoolchildren into adulthood. She also led large epidemiological studies. Together, these resulted in the publication of more than 250 papers on suicide, substance abuse among adolescents and Vietnam War veterans, alcoholism, and antisocial disorders and behavior in children. Many are considered classics in the field.

She began her career at Washington University in 1954 as a research assistant. In 1959, she was promoted to assistant professor, in 1962 to associate professor, and in 1966 to full professor of sociology in psychiatry. Since 1991, when she became University Professor of Social Science, she has taught in Arts & Sciences, Social Work and Psychiatry. In 2001, she became professor emerita.

Robins served on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and on various task panels of the President’s Commission on Mental Health. She is a member of the World Health Organization’s expert advisory panel on mental health.

Robins is the recipient of the Second Century Award from Washington University School of Medicine. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Psychiatrists.


Lee Nelkin Robins

Lee Nelken Robins’ academic training in psychiatry, social work and epidemiology allowed her to forge a unique perspective on psychiatric disorders and become an international leader in this field. Robins is the author of Deviant Children Grown Up (1966) and editor of 11 books.

Robins credits the heads of the Department of Psychiatry, beginning with Edward Gildea, M.D., and continuing through Charles Zorumski, M.D., with providing an extraordinarily supportive environment in which she could pursue her research goals without being overly burdened with administrative or teaching responsibilities.

She was a sought-after mentor and trained many of the current leaders in the field of psychiatric epidemiology. Colleagues state that Robins was a calm, thoughtful voice in many rancorous debates regarding policy issues dealing with substance abuse and the origins of criminality. Robins believes this may have been part attributable to her Southern heritage. She feels that Southern women learn to express their opinions without being abrasive. This skill served her well in her many multi-site collaborative research projects and throughout her highly productive career.