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Helen Crossley: Public Opinion Research Pioneer

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Korbel Communications

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As a pioneer in global public opinion research, Helen Crossley (MA '48) has traveled the world — including overseas assignments in postwar Germany and South Korea.

But her first trip abroad, in 1937, came about entirely by accident. "The older sister of a friend of mine had run off with a German baron, and her mother went to rescue her. I was invited along to keep my friend company," Crossley said.

"It gave me a chance at the age of 15 to see Hitler's Europe. I was right there watching it, seeing the Hitlerjugend, the swastikas. The trip opened my eyes to the rest of the world, so that after the war, I picked up my bags and got involved internationally from there on."

Crossley spent much of her career working for the United States Information Agency at the State Department, and was one of the original organizers of the agency's cross-cultural studies of the American image abroad. She also was instrumental in establishing the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) and served as its first female president.

Her gift establishing the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the Korbel School, which includes support for graduate coursework and fellowships, is the capstone of a lifelong effort to promote the use of public opinion research in international affairs.

"I've been very much impressed with the growth of the Korbel School and its faculty, and I'm appreciative of what they've done in picking up on the whole public opinion area," Crossley said. "It's an important field that should get particular attention." She was especially gratified to learn that two papers originating at the Crossley Center were presented at the international WAPOR conference in Nice, France this fall.
Her gift brings public opinion studies back to DU following a long hiatus. As a graduate student who came to Denver after earning her BA at Radcliffe College (now merged with Harvard), Crossley worked with Professor Don Cahalan, head of the Opinion Research Center then housed at DU. They conducted the groundbreaking Denver Community Survey, which resulted in significant findings on the validity of survey responses.

Crossley's gift to the Korbel School also honors her father, Archibald, who established the first scientific polling methods with his contemporaries George Gallup and Elmo Roper. "I know he would be proud of this contribution toward educating future public opinion leaders," said Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center.

Now 93 and living in Princeton, N.J., Crossley still keeps up with world events and is an avid reader. She recently finished Madeleine Albright's Prague Winter—a gift from the Korbel School—which recounts the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1938. For Crossley, the book brought strong memories of her own experience as an impressionable 15-year-old in Nazi Germany.

"It was a short trip," she said, "but it changed my life."

By Sara Piccini
Piccini is a freelance writer based in Virginia
She is also the niece to Helen Crossley

Originally printed in the Josef Korbel School's Global Connection