Nicola Heath, Psychology Subject Advisor
In my latest blog, I celebrate International Women’s Day which takes place each year on 8 March. This is an important day for us to reflect on the positive contributions of women in a range of fields across the globe. The theme for this year is Embracing Equity and I am going to focus on five female psychologists who faced, but overcame, setbacks due to societal expectations.
These five women showed great resilience and determination culminating in huge advances in their fields of study and paving the way for future female psychologists.
Mary Whiton Calkins studied psychology at Harvard University and completed a PhD, although was refused the degree due to her being a woman. She did not let this setback or her gender stand in the way of her passion and went on to have a very successful career as a psychologist. Calkins’ PhD work was based on memory although her later work was focused on the perception of self and importance of introspection. She was elected as the first female president of the American Psychological Association.
Dr Mamie Phipps Clark was the first African American woman to obtain a PhD from Columbia University. Developing her thesis work, she devised the famous “Doll Test” which explored racial identity in young children. This ground-breaking work showed the importance of desegregation in schools which she campaigned for. Clark also advocated for more services for African American children and, alongside her husband, set up The Northside Centre in Harlem, which provided mental health services to African American children.
In 1894, Margaret Floy Washburn was the first woman to obtain a PhD in psychology. At a time in history where women were not accepted into all academic and professional roles, Washburn was able to overcome these barriers and lead a highly respected career in psychology where she published over 69 experimental studies from her laboratory. Her work mainly focused on mental processing in humans and animals.
Societal expectations at the time were that women would leave their positions once they married. Washburn turned down offers of marriage and was able to focus her life on a rewarding academic career.
Dr Martha Bernal was the first Latina to earn a PhD in psychology in the United States. Her academic work was based around highlighting the importance of effective treatment and assessment of children with behaviour problems. She was also a firm believer in the need for more diversity in the field of psychology and encouraged the increase of ethnic minority psychologists. Bernal is credited with helping to create a path for future female and ethnic minority psychologists.
Dr Eleanor Maccoby worked in the early field of psychology, just as the subject was starting to make waves. Stanford University was leading the way and Maccoby would eventually become the first woman to chair their prestigious psychology department.
Maccoby’s work on child and gender development challenged many stereotypes of the time. She worked in this field whilst simultaneously being all too aware of the challenges she faced by being a female psychologist. For example, whilst working at Harvard University, she was not permitted to use the front entrance due to her gender.
Do you have any suggestions for more female psychologists you would want to see celebrated in our blogs? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Psychology. You can also sign up to receive subject updates and information about resources and support.
Nicola joined OCR in 2022 as the Subject Advisor for Psychology. Prior to joining OCR, she taught psychology for over 10 years and has had various other responsibilities in that time, including being Head of Year and Subject Leader. Outside of work, Nicola enjoys reading, baking and spending time outdoors.