Ninth Edition CoverGraziano & Raulin
Research Methods (9th edition)

VI. Barriers Against Women
in Early Psychology

Many women who entered psychology in those early years (1870s-1920s) met powerful prejudice and barriers. Some were denied enrollment in universities; others had their duly earned degrees delayed or denied; others were refused academic positions; many had little success in obtaining research positions. 

At that time, it was a generally accepted, unquestioned belief that women, compared with men, were less intelligent, less physically able, and more emotionally fragile and unpredictable. Therefore, they would presumably not be able to withstand the intellectual, emotion, and physical demands of academia. 

Much of the male certainty of their superiority stemmed from the limited variability hypothesis. This hypothesis was a misapplication of Darwin’s observation that males in some species had a wider range of physical development than did their female counterparts. From this, the notion developed--with no substantiating research data--that women as a group have less variability compared with men. That is, women tend to hover around the means of any characteristic, such as intelligence, strength, emotional control, reasoning, and so on. Therefore, they do not range as high intellectually as do men, and thus could not readily master higher education. Furthermore, they could not deal with the stresses of intense education, because they were not as strong emotionally or physically as men. These notions were challenged--indeed found to be false--by the pioneering research of Helen Thompson Wooley (published in 1900) and Leta Stetter Hollingworth (published about 1914). Their results were not well received by male psychologists. Some psychologists, so certain that what the women had found could not be true, went so far as to accuse them of distorting the data.

The major universities, where the most significant activity in psychology was taking place, were denied to women. As a result, many of those women who managed to obtain advanced degrees turned to other settings, where they were more readily accepted. Those settings included hospitals, clinics, schools, and private industry. There, female psychologists made important contributions in applied psychology, such as in psychological testing, education, counseling, and clinical work. 

Several women made significant contributions to the American psychological testing movement of the 1920s and 1930s (e.g., Florence Goodenough, Maude Merrill James, Psyche Cattell, and Anne Anastasi). Thus, the uniquely American applied psychology that grew from the American Functionalist movement provided opportunities for women who were shut out of academia because of male bias. 

It is an interesting historical fact that such bias was so strong in higher education, while other areas of professional opportunity were relatively open to women. However, even in those early years, while some major universities (e.g., Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins) were denying opportunities for women, others, such as Cornell University, were admitting women into graduate study and granting them advanced degrees. At Cornell, Tichener, one of the most renowned psychologists, held quite advanced views about women. More than a third of the 56 doctorates earned under Tichenener were earned by women (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). Margaret Floy Washburn was Tichener’s first graduate student, and she became the first woman ever to earn a doctorate in psychology. To illustrate the depth of the problem, however, Titchener, even with his advanced views, did not allow women to attend his prestigious weekly “experimentalists” meetings. His stated reason was that women would be distressed at the intense cigar smoke from the men, which prompted one woman psychologist to take up cigar smoking.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, women were treated badly, but children fared even worse. It was the time of the industrial revolution, and children as young as 5 were being forced into working in factories for 10 hours a day 6 days a week (and that was already a vast improvement over the early years of the 19th Century!). Children had virtually no protective legislation, and industry fought hard to prevent legislation on working conditions, hours, minimum age, and wages for children. It is understandable that women psychologists, such as Helen Wooley, would become advocates of improvement, not only for women, but also for children.

Times and practices change. Today 75% of the undergraduates and 65% of graduate students in psychology are women (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). In this section, we present brief descriptions of several pioneering women in psychology--women who opened doors for the female students of today. In this section, you will find:

Calkins, Mary Whiton Goodenough, Florence Washburn, Margaret Floy
Cattell, Psyche Hollingworth, Leta Stetter Wooley, Helen Bradford
Gilbreth, Lillian Moller Ladd-Franklin, Christine  


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