History of Psychology: The Role of Women

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1575 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Mar 28, 2019

Words: 1575|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Mar 28, 2019

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Women in the history of psychology (essay)
  3. Mary Whiton Calkins
    Leta Stetter Hollingworth
    Mamie Phipps Clark
    Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
  4. Conclusion


Throughout the history of psychology, the most well-known and appreciated names are largely made up of men. However, most psychology students and members of psychological societies, are woman. Between 1975 to 2007, 59.3% of doctorate recipients were woman, but in 2017, woman only made up 49% of psychology professors. As a result, those who decide to work within higher education are often much less represented than men. In addition, this lack of diversity of the workplace has perpetuated the negative stereotypes for women, of being less intelligent or competent, creating negative environments for women. Although, evidence has suggested students tend to have more positive outcomes when exposed to a diverse faculty this is often not the case in many workplaces. The representation of the notable women in the history of psychology discussed in this essay can help inspire more women to take on leadership roles in psychology and go on to create more revolutionary works of science and create social change.

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Women in the history of psychology (essay)

Mary Whiton Calkins

A notable woman of psychology was Mary Whiton Calkins, born in 1863, she was best known for creating the paired association technique and her developments in self psychology. The Paired association technique is a technical method of studying memory, invented in 1894 and involves the association and categorisation of ideas (Calkins, 1894). In 1892 Calkins was invited as a guest at Harvard but unable to enrol as a student due to being a woman. Whilst at Harvard she was able to conduct research in Professor Munsterberg’s lab at and it was here where she invented the paired association technique. Munsterberg later wrote a recommendation to Harvard to grant Calkins a PH. D degree, however Harvard refused to as they would not grant a degree to a woman (Furumoto, 1980). In 1902, Calkins and three other woman who studied at Harvard, were approved to be candidates for a Radcliff degree, however Calkins refused stating “could not take the easier course of accepting the degree”, currently Harvard has still not awarded Calkins a degree. In 1900, Calkins published the papers which included her developments in self-psychology. Self-Psychology was founded by Heinz Kohut and is the analysis of self, through self-reflection to form a healthy sense of self and explores narcissism (Kohut, 1966). Calkins developed this by emphasizing the role of self in its environments and the social role of self (Calkins 1900, 1901). In addition, Calkins made many contributions to the psychology of woman. In 1896, Calkins’ reviewed Joseph Jastrow’s “A study of mental statistics”, where participants wrote down one hundred words. He described the answers from woman to be more repetitive than men and to have less variability, whilst the answers from male participants were more “useful” and “constructive” (Jastrow, 1891). Calkins’s argument to reject these findings was that it was 'futile and impossible to attempt a distinction between masculine and feminine intellect ... because of our entire inability to eliminate the effect of the environment' (Calkins, 1896). Furthermore in 1905, Mary Whiton Calkins became the first woman president of the American Psychological Association (Furumoto, 1979). The representation of Mary Whiton Calkins is important as her and her work have paved the way to allow for woman, not only in psychology, to have a higher education and create opportunities where woman can have a voice in higher education and in published research.

Leta Stetter Hollingworth

Another notable woman from the history of psychology is Leta Stetter Hollingworth. She is known for being an early feminist and for her contributions to clinical psychology, educational psychology, psychology of woman and her work with gifted children. Hollingworth first aspired to work as a teacher in New York but found that she was unable to as she was a married woman. She later returned to school and received a PH. D in education in 1916, with her doctoral dissertation being to investigate the argument that woman would become incapacitated during menstruation, and therefore unable to perform well in the workplace during that time, making it less likely for woman to be hired. Hollingworth performed daily assessments over the course of three months and found no relationship between menstruation and poor mental and motor performance. (Hollingworth, 1914). This was a revolutionary piece of research for the woman’s suffrage movement at the time. Further research she conducted was against ‘The Male Variability Hypothesis.’ The hypothesis suggests that men show more variability in physical and psychological characteristics, including intelligence, than woman. (Ellis, 1894). It was also one of the reasons as to why men, especially male psychologists, viewed woman as “mediocre.” Hollingworth’s findings could conclude that men did not have more intellectual variability than woman (Hollingsworth, 1914) and therefore advanced woman’s status in society, whilst encouraging others to research claims used to oppress women. Another of Hollingworth’s achievements is her work with gifted children. During her time as a teacher, she witnessed how many of the intelligent children were left on their own and given little attention. Hollingworth developed the first course for gifted children, providing a meaningful and challenging education. In addition to this she has published several books on education, one of which being “Children Above IQ” (1942), which included the first systematic studies of children with IQs above 180.

Mamie Phipps Clark

Mamie Phipps Clark was born 1917 and is the first black woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia, and the second black person to earn a PH. D from the university. She is best recognised for her research on psychology of race and child development, as well as “The Clark Doll Test” which was a critical piece of research used in the 1954 Brown vs Board of education case, to demonstrate the harmful effects of segregation on children. Clark collaborated with her husband, Kenneth Bancroft Clark on The Clark doll test, where black children were shown two identical dolls except one was white and one was black. They were asked a series of questions on their preference between the two dolls e.g. “Which doll is the ‘bad’ doll?” “Which doll is the ‘nice’ doll?” The findings showed that 59% of the children choose the black doll as the ‘bad’ one, suggesting skin colour is a key factor in self-consciousness and could generate a sense of inferiority. (Clark and Clark, 1940). The Supreme Court then ruled segregation in educational institutions, unconstitutional (Tussman, 1963). Among other accomplishments, Clark improved the quality and accessibility of mental health services for minority children by opening the first full-time mental institution in Harlem, the Northside Testing and Consultation centre. The centre offered psychological services to families and worked on important research in the understanding and treatment of mental health (Shafali, 2002). Unfortunately, many of Clark’s contributions have been overlooked, with textbooks commonly only mentioning her in passing or only crediting her husband, Kenneth Clark, when Mamie Clark was the primary researcher in most of their research (Alvarez et al, 2019). Mamie Clark’s work helped create opportunities for more research to be conducted on the concept of self-esteem among minorities and opened new opportunities of research within developmental psychology. Psychologists such as Mamie Phipps Clark have been able to bring about positive social and legal change for equality. The representation of her and her work would help inspire more research on the psychology of race to improve the lives of marginalised groups in society by conducting research that allows for better healthcare and mental health care access.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was born in 1926 in Zurich, Switzerland and went on to a career as a psychiatrist. Kübler-Ross graduated from the University of Zurich in 1957 and soon moved to the United States to fulfil her medical residency requirements. During her residency at Manhattan State Hospital, she was appalled at the low standard of treatment the patients received. It was at this residency where she began to develop a program and protocol to improve the care that each patient receives, resulting in an increase in the mental health of her patients. In 1965, Kübler-Ross became an instructor at the University of Chicago’s medical school, it was at this time where she wrote her first book “On Death and Dying” (1969), which is based on a collection of patient interviews, and explores the hesitancy to talk about death. The book helped make the issues associated with dying an important part of medical training. In addition to this, the patient interviews that Kübler-Ross conducted, lead to her identifying “The Kübler-Ross model” or more widely known as the five stages of grief. The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As part of her life’s work to improve medical practice, in 1977, Kübler-Ross formed the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Centre, which is a hospice created to provide care for the seriously ill and to further promote the acceptance of death as a part of natural life.

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In conclusion, representation of woman in psychology matters due to the fact that more diverse voices are able to introduce more research to conduct positive social change for those in who are patients in healthcare, those in education and in marginalised groups and introduce research that challenges the myths that are used to supress woman in society and create harmful stereotypes, that occur when women are underrepresented in many different fields of. In addition to that, many revolutionary concepts such as the paired association technique and the five stages of grief have come from the research of female psychologists. In order to improve how women are represented, the contributions of female psychologist, need to be taught more in courses in schools and higher education, with them being written in the textbooks and not just as a passing thought.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

The Importance of the History of Psychology. (2023, March 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“The Importance of the History of Psychology.” GradesFixer, 30 Mar. 2023,
The Importance of the History of Psychology. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Dec. 2023].
The Importance of the History of Psychology [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Mar 30 [cited 2023 Dec 3]. Available from:
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