Celebrating Women’s History Month: The Ladies of Psychology

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It’s Women’s History Month, and a time to pay homage to the ladies who helped shape therapy. Sure, we have all heard of Freud, maybe if you’re a psychology major you’ve heard of Jung and Wundt. But who are the women who contributed to the field of counseling psychology, and why is this important?

Many of these women were working against the odds of their time.

Mary Whiton Calkins wasn’t allowed a PhD from Harvard. Christine Ladd-Franklin was kicked out of Edward Titchener’s research lab since she was a woman, and she completed her dissertation at John Hopkins and still was not allowed to obtain her doctorate degree. 

Many of these women were also the firsts of their time.

Margaret Floy Washburn was the first woman to get a doctorate degree in psychology. Mary Whiton Calkins was the first American Psychological Association’s president in 1905. Mamie Phipps Clark, who you may know from her work with the Clark Doll test and Brown vs. the Board of Education research, was the first Black woman to get a degree from Columbia, and it was a PhD nonetheless! Eleanor Maccoby was the first female chair for Stanford’s psychology department.

Also, many of these women challenged the status quo in the field of psychology.

Karen Horney used feminine psychology to challenge Freud himself. Eleanor Maccoby was the first to wear a pantsuit as a female lecturer at Stanford. Mary Ainsworth was one of the first to look at the maternal-infant relationship. Anna Freud challenged her father that children can be psychoanalyzed, and Melanie Klein challenged Anna back, stating children can be observed through play – an important concept for her technique many of you may know now as Play Therapy! 

Why is this important?

To become a therapist, there is a lot of academic training involved (typically either a master’s and/or PhD degree, plus licensure, plus work experience alongside life stressors!). In order to gain this education, training, and join a workforce we feel passionate about, women therapists are standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. Can you imagine being the first woman to wear a pantsuit giving a college lecture, and that be a big deal? Can you imagine challenging the voices before you, or pioneering a brand-new concept in psychology, amongst a field of White men? Can you imagine the barriers that existed in order to be the first Black woman to receive a degree from your school and create research about racism while you’re at it?

As a woman therapist, I thank each of these women for their noble contributions. I thank them for their bravery, their innovations, and their savviness. It makes me wonder, what can we as women give to our fields next?

Chrissy Davis, MA
Doctoral Intern