Vivian Schatz: Activist and educator

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Vivian Schatz, 95, a longtime activist for peace, social justice and the environment, and a retired science teacher, died June 16, at her home in Mt. Airy.

Mrs. Schatz worked all of her life for peace and social justice, and advocated for poor, underprivileged and marginalized people, nuclear disarmament, environmental issues, and a living wage. Organizations she was part of, often in leadership roles, included the Chile Committee, Nuclear Freeze, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. 

Mrs. Schatz was a prolific letter-writer, rarely missed a demonstration, and made numerous phone calls to senators and Congress people. She and her husband produced tens of thousands of leaflets in their living room during the Vietnam War. When she was interviewed in 2006 by someone from the Germantown Courier regarding what she planned to do on July 4, she said, “I’ll probably go to a civil liberties rally at 6th and Market. That’s really what the Fourth of July is all about.”

Mrs. Schatz was raised in northern New Jersey where she often experienced anti-Semitism. She said, “It was everywhere:” on the radio, at friends’ houses, and in her father not being able to get a job in his field as an electrical engineer. On a brighter side, she loved taking walks and riding her bike. She knew where every wildflower was in her neighborhood. 

An event in high school was instrumental in setting the course of Mrs. Schatz’s life. A librarian lent her a copy of a book about the Scottsboro Boys. She was outraged at the racial injustice it portrayed, and she made a conscious decision to do all she could to make the world a better and just place for all. 

In her 20s, Mrs. Schatz and her husband, Albert Schatz, who discovered streptomycin, lived in Albany, New York. Mrs. Schatz was on the committee to bring Paul Robeson to Albany for a concert. She often told of meeting him at the train station and shaking his hand. Her father had seen Robeson play professional football and had told her how big his hand was. She agreed!

When Mrs. Schatz’s health was poor in her early 30s, she read Adelle Davis' books on nutrition and healthy eating. She began eating nutritious foods, taking supplements, and her health improved. She continued this practice throughout her life.

Mrs. Schatz had a master's degree in biology and a second master’s in medical biochemistry. When she was working for her doctorate, her research yielded paradoxical effects, which were not known about then as much as they are today. The faculty at the University of Pennsylvania didn't believe the results of her research and awarded her a second master's degree. The women's liberation movement had yet to be born, and, unfortunately, Penn denied her a Ph.D. degree that she should have received. 

In 1962, Mrs. Schatz, Albert, and their two daughters moved to Chile during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Mrs. Schatz became acting director of Nido de Aguilas, a bilingual K-12 school that Chilean and foreign students attended. Mrs. Schatz was in charge of the relocation of the school from Santiago to a rural area outside of Santiago. She used to pay the groundskeepers to bring her snakes and tarantulas that they found in the hills where the school was located. Without the reward for bringing them to her, they used to kill them. Mrs. Schatz would walk way up into the hills surrounding the school and let them go. 

When Mrs. Schatz and her family returned to the United States, they lived in St. Louis, Missouri. Mrs. Schatz became a junior high-school science teacher. Her classroom had over 100 animals in it at one time. When there was a batch of ducklings, they used to follow a student out of the classroom, down the hall, hop down the steps, and eat worms outside. After their snack, the “parade” occurred in reverse back to Mrs. Schatz’s classroom. 

In 1969, Mrs. Schatz and her husband returned to Philadelphia. She taught science at the Crefeld School, Penn Charter, and Springfield School. At the School District of Philadelphia, she taught teachers how to bring hands-on science into their classrooms, encouraging curiosity, asking questions, and a deep appreciation of nature.  

Soon after being elected to the Weavers’ Way Cooperative Association board of directors, Mrs. Schatz organized a retreat to help the board work more effectively. For many years, she was head of the Education Committee at Weavers Way and wrote many articles about environmental and social justice issues for the co-op’s monthly newspaper.

Mrs. Schatz loved nature in all its forms, especially butterflies, the full moon, clouds, rocks, and exploring insects that live in and on ponds. In her backyard, she planted parsley and milkweed to help create habitats that would encourage butterflies. She had a compost pile for vegetable scraps and a worm box for the same purpose in winter. 

Mrs. Schatz is survived by two daughters, Linda Schatz and Diane Klein; four grandchildren; and seven great grandchildren. 

For information about a memorial service, which will take place at a later date, please send an email to: vivianschatzmemorial@gmail.com

Donations in Mrs. Schatz’s memory can be made to All Together Now Pennsylvania (alltogethernowpa.org) and to the Environmental Defense Fund Monarch Butterfly Restoration Project (www.edf.org/monarcheffect).  

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