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“As a lawyer, I’d just look for a divorce or settlement or separation,” she recalled years later. “And that was inadequate.”
What they needed, she thought, was counseling.
That insight led her to a striking career change: She went back to college, earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology and became a leading voice in sex education and counseling. In 1967 she was the principal founder of the first accrediting organization in the United States for professionals in that field, the American Association of Sex Educators and Counselors (later expanded to the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists).
It was a time when thinking about sexuality and how (or whether) it should be taught and talked about was changing. Ms. Schiller not only helped bring order and professional standards to the business of sexuality counseling; she also helped shape sex-education curriculums and broaden thinking on subjects like teenage pregnancy.
Among her proudest achievements was helping to establish the Webster School for pregnant girls in Washington in 1963, at a time when pregnant teenagers were generally forced out of school. Instead, the Webster School allowed them to continue their education and provided counseling and other support.
Ms. Schiller died on June 29 at her home in Palm Beach, Fla. She was 104.
Her son, Jonathan Schiller, announced the death.
Ms. Schiller had a lighthearted take on her mission of making it acceptable to talk about sex, and she was able to brush off friends’ inevitable jokes.
“They say, ‘Ha, ha, there’s the dirty old lady, there’s the sex maniac,’ ” she told The Washington Post in 1978. “But I don’t mind. I enjoy it.”
Jokes aside, she emphasized that sex was not an end in itself but part of a bigger picture.
“Sex is a function of being human,” she said. “When all there is between people, though, is sex, it’s time to split. We’re not sexual acrobats, learning all the steps and strokes. The goal is to become warmer, more caring.”
She was born Pearl Silverman on Oct. 27, 1913, in Brooklyn. (Her son said he wasn’t sure when or why “Pearl” became “Patricia,” though presumably it was in her childhood; “I have never known the ‘Pearl,’ ” he said.) Her father, Louis, was a pharmacist, and her mother, Gussie (Zuckerblatt) Silverman, was a homemaker.
Ms. Schiller said her parents wanted her to become a teacher because they thought it was a field where a woman would always be able to find a job. But she was more interested in law, graduating from Brooklyn Law School.
In 1943 she married Irving Schiller, a Washington lawyer, and after doing litigation and appellate work for the Wage Stabilization Board in the early 1950s she was volunteering at Legal Aid while raising their young children. Her revelation about her clients’ need for counseling sent her back to school at American University, where she received her master’s degree in 1960.
She fought for federal funding of the Webster School, which became a model project in an era when officials were re-examining how to deal with teenage pregnancies. She emphasized keeping the girls in school and also counseling everyone involved, which was unusual for the time.
“Working with the young men to help the pair grow as a family was crucial to her work,” her daughter, Louise Schiller, said by email. “Pregnant teens had babies, the boys fled at the news, and the young women entered a cycle of lack of education, lack of partner support and continuing poverty.”
Later in the 1960s Ms. Schiller would direct a government-sponsored training program for principals, nurses, teachers and other school staff in how to teach and counsel about sexuality and family life. Outside the school setting, she was seeking to bring standards to the field of sexuality counseling, which in the mid-1960s was becoming trendy and was full of people with questionable credentials and motives.