Women's Activism NYC

Mary Whiton Calkins

1863 - 1930

By: Joyce Sitt | Date Added:

Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930) was an American psychologist and philosopher who made significant contributions to the field of psychology and was a trailblazer for women's rights in the academic world. Most notably, In 1905, Calkins was the first woman to be elected president of the American Philosophical Association. Mary Whiton Calkins made numerous important contributions to the field of psychology, particularly in the areas of self-psychology, memory, perception, introspection, and functionalism. Her pioneering work continues to be widely cited, and her legacy continues to inspire future generations of psychologists. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Calkins was raised in a family that valued education and encouraged her to pursue her interests. She graduated from Smith College in 1884 with a degree in classics and philosophy. In 1887, she took a tutoring job in the Greek department at Wellesley College, an all women's college. Three years into her time there, Calkins was granted an offer to teach Psychology from a professor in the philosophy department at Wellesley. This professor noticed Calkins' excellent teaching skills and offered her a position to teach psychology, which at the time was new to the philosophy department's curriculum. In the general context of the late 19th century, psychology was considered a subfield of philosophy rather than a separate discipline. Calkins' offer to teach psychology was contingent upon her getting some preparation in the subject. To accept the position, Calkins sought an education in psychology. But, finding graduate-level training that included laboratory work was not easy, especially given the fact that she was a woman. Calkins decided on Harvard, as it could fulfill the proper training and had a laboratory, but she was denied entry based on her gender, as Harvard did not admit women at the time. After lobbying for her admittance, Harvard granted her the ability to sit in on lectures. She eventually was granted the right to study in the laboratory, under the specification that she was a guest and not a registered student. Despite her impressive academic record, Harvard later refused to award her a Ph.D. due to her gender, even though she had completed all the necessary coursework and exams. Calkins faced significant challenges as a woman seeking an education in psychology during a time when women were often excluded from academic and professional opportunities. Despite these challenges, Calkins never gave up and continued to work to advance the field of psychology and support other women in academia. She was a strong advocate for women's rights and worked to create opportunities for women in the field of psychology. Calkins made several important contributions to the field of psychology. She was a pioneer in self-psychology and developed the "Calkins' method" for studying self-perception, which was based on introspection and focused on understanding the subjective experience of the self. Calkins believed that self-awareness was an important aspect of psychological functioning and that it could be studied scientifically. Calkins made significant contributions to the study of perception and introspection. She argued that introspection was a legitimate method for studying mental processes, developing techniques for studying perception and attention. She also studied the nature of memory and introduced the concept of "mnemonic images" as a way of improving memory. Calkins argued that memories could be strengthened and made more vivid by forming mental images that were associated with the material being remembered. This idea was ahead of its time and influenced later research on memory and cognition. In addition, Calkins was a pioneer in the field of functionalism, which was a dominant theoretical perspective in psychology in the early 20th century. She argued that psychology should focus on understanding the functions of mental processes and behaviors rather than simply describing them. This perspective helped to establish psychology as a scientific discipline and continues to influence contemporary thinking in the field. Calkins' life and work continue to inspire and serve as a testament to the power of determination and perseverance. She broke down barriers for women in the field of psychology and paved the way for future generations of women to succeed in academic and professional pursuits.

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