Thursday, September 21, 2023


Dana Raphael, 90

Dana Raphael of Fairfield, who together with Margaret Mead established the Human Lactation Center in her home on the Westport-Fairfield border in the 1970s, died Feb 2 at home of complications from congestive heart failure. She ws 90. Image
Dana Raphael: medical anthropologist. Contributed photo

A well-known medical anthropologist, writer and lecturer, she was best known for her work in supportive behavior and breastfeeding,

She is credited with launching the Doula movement. The term doula was first used by Raphael in a 1969 anthropological study to describe a female caregiver during labor and childbirth whose function was often associated with successful breastfeeding (in Raphael’s words, ‘mothering the mother).

A longtime resident of Fairfield, she was also a generous supporter of Connecticut Ballet and the Connecticut Audubon Society over several decades.

Born Jan. 5, 1926 and raised in New Britain, her family started a chain of department stores (Raphael’s) that were well known in the greater Hartford region into the early 1970s. She obtained her doctorate from Columbia University, studying with anthropologist and mentor, Margaret Mead.

As a newlywed in 1953, she did her initial field work in India. Her marriage to soulmate and collaborator, Howard Boone Jacobson, lasted 60 years until his death in 2013.

In 1975, she cofounded The Human Lactation Center in her westport home with Margaret Mead, an institute devoted to researching patterns of lactation worldwide.

The Center is now a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Raphael’s seminal book, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding, published in 1973, extols the virtues of lactation and offers a number of tools and techniques to assure a successful breastfeeding experience.

Many in the midwife and doula community refer to it as the ‘bible of breastfeeding’ for mothers looking to overcome social stigmas, medical concerns or personal challenges around lactation.

Raphael never shied away from controversy, having taken on milk formula companies such as Nestle in the 1980’s, pushing them to be more aware of the impact they were having on infant mortality in the developing world.

She worked with them to amend their practices, creating educational programs to help mothers better understand how to use formula as a supplement to breastfeeding.

Taking her work a step further, she also served as executive director of the Eleventh Commandment Foundation, an NGO which researched the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse on women’s experiences of pregnancy, labor, childbirth and lactation.

As a longtime member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), she was called to struggle against the Vietnam War, for justice for survivors of sexual abuse, for gender equality, and against sexist depictions of the female body in the media and popular culture. In the last 20 years,

She served on the U.S. Board of the Club of Rome, working on climate change issues and creating programs to educate world leaders on the impact of climate change.

She served as an adjunct professor at Yale University, School of Medicine, and as an invited lecturer in the United States, China, India and Japan.

She received two Fulbright awards, chaired or participated in more than 50 conferences and symposia, and wrote or edited five books and numerous articles.

She is survived by her three children, Brett Raphael, of Stamford, Seth Jacobson and wife, Cindy Jacobson-Short, of Malibu, Calif., Jessa Murnin and husband, Jim, of Fairfield. She also leaves behind six grandchildren: Wynn Jacobson-Galan, Layne and Skye Jacobson, and Kevin, Katie, and Sean Murnin.

A celebration of her life and work will be held on Sunday, March 6 at 4 p.m. at a location to be announced. Please RSVP to the following email address if you plan to attend: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Her family would prefer memorial contributions made to: The Dana Raphael Fund for Connecticut Ballet (

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