Mary Whiton Calkins

Mary Whiton Calkins, is best known for two things: becoming the first woman president of The American Psychological Association and being denied her doctorate from Harvard. However, these two aspects only make up a small portion of what she accomplished in her life. Her entire life was dedicated to her work, especially the development of her Psychology of selves. She founded an early psychology laboratory and invented the paired-associate technique. She passionately dove into the new field of Psychology but also was highly active in the field of Philosophy. She was not deterred by being a woman and used her struggles to gain a voice to speak out against women\'s oppression. (5)
Mary Whiton Calkins was born on March 30, 1863 in Buffalo, New York. Her father was Wolcott Calkins and a Presbyterian minister. She was from a close knit family, especially to her mother, and the eldest of five children. In 1880, when she was seventeen, she moved to Newton, Massachusetts where her family built a home that she lived in the rest of her life. Her father, knowing the education that women received, decided to design and supervise Mary\'s education. This enabled her to enter Smith College in 1882 with advanced standing as a sophomore. However, in 1893, an experience that permanently influenced her thinking and character, was the death of her sister, Maude. The following academic year she stayed home and took private lessons. She reentered Smith College in the fall of 1884 as a senior and graduated with a concentration in classics and philosophy (7).
In 1886 her family went to Europe for sixteen months. This is where she broadened her knowledge of the classics. Upon returning to Massachusetts her father arranged an interview for Mary with the President of Wellesley College, a liberal arts college for women that was a few miles from their home. She was offered a position there as a tutor in Greek and began teaching in the fall of 1887. Mary remained in the Greek Department for three years. However, a professor in the Department of Philosophy noticed her talent of teaching. He discussed with Mary the position needed to teach the new field of Psychology, which was still a sub-discipline of Philosophy. Due to the scarcity of women in that area, it made it realistic to see her potential and offer her the position.
The only requirement that the professor had, was that Calkins study for one year in a Psychology program. However, she faced two problems meeting this condition. The first, being that there were few psychology departments in 1890. Secondly, getting admitted to these places that did offer the program was highly unlikely since she was a woman. Her first consideration was to study abroad. An instructor at Smith told her that her best chance was to try obtaining "private instruction in psychology and philosophy at any of the German universities outside of Zurich" (6).
However, another instructor told her that would be a good idea "if ladies had been allowed the same privileges as men" (6). Calkins formally dismissed going to Germany when she received a letter from a woman student attending the University of Gottingen which stated, "I wish I might encourage you; but past experience has proved to me the utter uselessness of trying to enlighten the authorities, at least, in our generation."
Once Calkins started looking at the United States, she discovered that the University of Michigan, where she would be studying under John Dewey, and Yale, where she would be studying under G.T. Ladd, were promising. However, she received a letter from another woman student that dissuaded her. The letter stated, "Personally, I should be immensely glad if you would come. We might be able to get some delightful work together...By the way Prof. Ladd thinks you ought to have some lady with you at the lectures. If there were only one or two other girls who would come to join us, we could get a tremendous amount..."(4). She decided against both universities, most likely because they were further away from home that she would like and they did not have a psychological laboratory.
However, one of the few universities that did have a laboratory was Harvard. Two professors there, William James and Josiah Royce, had