Classics in the History of Psychology
Special Collections

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3713

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An Historical View of Some Early Women Psychologists and the Psychology of Women

Edited by Katharine S. Milar
Earlham College

General Introduction


1.  The focus of this collection is on the contributions of the first women psychologists to the discipline of psychology. This history of availability of higher education for women in this country is fascinating (see Solomon, 1985).  Post secondary school education was not available to women until the founding of Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1837; full four year collegiate education became available in 1865 with the establishment of Vassar College.  Various objections were raised to advanced education for women; arguments against it included worries that women=s health would be jeopardized thus jeopardizing the future of the nation and further, the argument that women did not need the same education as men to adequately fulfill their roles as wives and mothers (Rossiter, 1982).


2.  At about the same time as these major advances in women=s education were occurring, psychology was becoming established as an academic discipline. In the effort  to establish the academic credentials of the new science, recruiting and training more psychologists was an important part.  Between 1892 and 1904 over 100 psychology PhDs were awarded and for the five year period between 1898 and 1903 psychology ranked fourth among the sciences in doctorate production (Camfield, 1973; Napoli, 1981).  Some of these new PhDs were women; in fact, psychology was among the most hospitable of the sciences in opening graduate study to women (Rossiter, 1982).  Elizabeth Scarborough and Laurel Furumoto (1987) have suggested that the admission of women to graduate programs in psychology was an advantage for the discipline because women could Aswell the numbers and generate studies that would establish the legitimacy of the new science@ (p. 136).  The presence of women among the ranks of professional psychologists meant that some prevailing notions about the psychological characteristics of women, and about their appropriate educational and social roles were challenged.


3.  This collection features some of the early challenges offered by women psychologists to psychology=s view of women and is based, in part, on Milar (2000).  The collection is divided into 2 sections.  The first section features works which addressed the question of the psychological characteristics of men and women.  The second section includes writings on the appropriate education for women, employment opportunities and the dilemma faced by married women with regard to expectations about their appropriate social roles. 



Camfield, T. M. (1973). The professionalization of American psychology, 1870-1917.  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 9, 66-75.


Milar, K.S. (2000).  The first generation of women psychologists and the psychology of women.  American Psychologist, 55, 616-619.


Napoli, D. S. (1981).  Architects of adjustment: The history of the psychological profession in the United States.  Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press.


Rossiter, M. (1982).  Women scientists in America: Struggles and strategies to 1940.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press.


Scarborough, E. & Furumoto, L. (1987).  Untold Lives: The first generation of American women psychologists.  New York: Columbia University Press.


Solomon, B. M..  (1985). In the company of educated women : a history of women and higher education in America.  New Haven : Yale University Press.