This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 01 table of contents.

Early Female Psychologists

Many of the historical figures in American psychology from the 1800s have the same look: they are all middle-aged white men with beards. But there were also some early, pioneering female psychologists. William James served as a mentor to Mary Whiton Calkins, who later became the first female president of the American Psychological Association, succeeding James at that position. James had a high regard for Calkins and welcomed her into his classes. He recommended her to Harvard University as a doctoral student. However, Harvard refused to consider awarding a PhD degree to a woman in the 1890s. As a result, Calkins pursued her career without that degree, and she was successful anyway.

Who was Mary Whiton Calkins?

In 1892 Wundt sent his 25-year-old student Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927) to take over new laboratory facilities at Cornell University. Titchener-though young for a professor-must have seemed like an echo of an earlier era. He was strict and authoritarian like his mentor Wundt. He came to class in full academic regalia: a traditional cap and gown with long flowing robes. Titchener entered class first, followed by the junior faculty members and the graduate students, in that order. The class stood as he entered and remained standing until he told them to be seated.

Titchener also reflected his era's patronizing attitude toward women. A group called the Titchener Experimentalists was formed in 1904 and met regularly to compare research notes, smoke cigars, and debate. Women were not allowed at the meetings. This was particularly offensive to Christine Ladd-Franklin (1847-1930), a female scientist who had befriended Titchener.

How was Titchener old-fashioned? How did Titchener offend Ladd-Franklin?

Ladd-Franklin had begun corresponding with Titchener, an Englishman 20 years younger than herself, from the time he arrived in the United States in 1892 to begin his career at Cornell. In 1912 she reacted incredulously when Titchener refused her request to attend the annual meeting of his group that April at Clark University. (Furumoto, 1992)

Ladd-Franklin described this attitude as "so unconscientious, so immoral-worse than that-so unscientific" and eventually Titchener allowed her to attend one, but only one, meeting of his group.

Other women occasionally listened in on the group through a door left slightly open and "came away unscathed" according to historian Ernest Boring (1967).

Schultz and Schultz (1987) defend Titchener, maintaining that "he did not discriminate against women students at Cornell" and pointing out that his first doctoral student was a female, Margaret Floy Washburn, who (like Mary Whiton Calkins) went on to become a president of the American Psychological Association and a prominent authority on animal behavior.

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