Esther Lowenthal was born on September 15, 1883 in Rochester, New York on to Louise and Max Lowenthal. Her father was one of the founders of the Mechanics Institute, now known as the Rochester Institute of Technology. Lowenthal graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1905, then went on to study economics at Oxford University. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1911. While at Columbia, the university published her dissertation The Ricardian Socialists, which studied the work of socialist economists such as William Thompson, John Grey, Thomas Hodgskin, and John Francis Bay, between 1820 and 1840, and the significant place they occupy in the history of socialist theory.
Lowenthal joined Smith College in 1911 as an assistant in the Department of Economics and Sociology, and was made a full professor of economics in 1921. In 1925, she became the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics. She served as chairman of the department until her retirement in 1952. From 1946 to 1948, while she filled the role of dean of the college, she focused primarily on educational policy and curriculum. Lowenthal also served as chair of the Council on Industrial Studies, as well as president of the Smith Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. She was recognized by Bryn Mawr in 1960 for distinguished service. At the time of her retirement, a fund from former students and friends was presented to the college to provide an Esther Lowenthal Scholarship for a student in economics.
Lowenthal was a specialist in public finance, especially government expenditures and revenues, and modern forms of taxation. She was also an active speaker in the community on subjects such as taxes, New Deal programs, and the relation of government to industry. She was also a strong supporter of the local services provided by United Way. In her will, she bequeathed $5,000 to the local United Way agency, thus establishing the Esther Lowenthal Memorial Fund.
Lowenthal died in a Rochester nursing home after a long illness on May 18, 1980 at the age of 96.
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