In honor of women’s history month, I have been thinking a lot about my place in the field of psychology (and the world) as a woman. Overall, women have made such huge gains in the area of personal freedom and rights. Being a young woman in the field of psychology, a field dominated by women, it is easy to take our freedoms and rights for granted. However, just looking at the history of psychology will remind us that our rights, including our right to pursue higher education in the field of psychology, are precious.
Take the example of Mary Whiton Calkins. She was a pioneer woman psychologist, who was never allowed to get a higher degree in the field of psychology. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in classics and philosophy. Her first job was as a professor of Greek at Wellesley College. Wellesley quickly offered her a position as professor of psychology, as long as she took a year long course in the subject. The two universities that would accept her (Yale and the University of Michigan) were too far away. She appealed to William James, of Harvard, to allow her to sit in on his classes. At first she was denied by the dean at Harvard. However, after letters from William James and her father, the dean agreed to let her in, as long as she was not considered to be a matriculated student. Despite all her work at Harvard (she even wrote a thesis) she was only ever considered to be a guest. And although her thesis committee unanimously approved her thesis in 1895, she was never granted the degree she earned from Harvard. She was allowed to teach psychology at Wellesley, which she did until she retired in 1927.
Mary Whiton Calkins was a pioneer in the field of psychology, and a pioneer for women. Without her first step of attempting to get a higher degree in psychology, schools like MSPP would not be what they are today. On any given day at MSPP, it is clear that women dominate the field of psychology. And women psychologists across America should take the time to thank Mary Whiton Calkins for her brave venture into the field, as it has paved the way for us (and future generations of women studying psychology).