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As part of celebrating Women’s History Month, we’re taking a closer look at the important and groundbreaking contributions women have made in areas of study found at South University.

While the field of psychology has long acknowledged the contributions of legendary male figures like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, there has been less of a light shone on the women in this field. Now however, more and more women are being recognized for their trailblazing work throughout its history.

Mary Whiton Calkins

Mary Whiton Calkins had the distinction of being the American Psychological Association’s (APA) first woman president. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1863, graduated from Smith College and went on to teach at Wellesley College until her death in 1929.

According to an APA profile, her contributions to the field included:

Throughout her life, Dr. Calkins published writings based on both philosophy and psychology. The Persistent Problems of Philosophy (1907) and The Good Man and The Good (1918) were two publications where she got to express her philosophical views. Though most of her work focused on memory, it would seem she was most interested in the self. After spending many years seeking to define the idea of the self, her work concluded that she in no way could define the idea. She stated that even though the self was indefinable, it was “a totality, a one of many characters... a unique being in the sense that I am I and you are you...”

Mary Ainsworth

Mary Ainsworth is credited with contributing immensely to our understanding of relationships between mothers and infant children. As part of her research, she developed the "Strange Situation" procedure for evaluating and providing insights into the maternal-infant relationship:

Dr. Ainsworth, who lived in Charlottesville, worked closely with Dr. John Bowlby, the British child psychiatrist whose work on separation, attachment and loss provided the foundation for attachment theory. She carried on his legacy in the United States, conducting systematic studies of attachments between mothers and infants.

''No one had ever looked at that'' before Dr. Ainsworth's work, said Jude A. Cassidy, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland at College Park. ''There had been little empirical observation.''

Karen Horney

Born in 1885 near Hamburg, Germany, Karen Horney is widely regarded for her work on feminine psychology and neurosis. She helped challenge much of the accepted knowledge of female psychology, especially many concepts embraced by Sigmund Freud himself. As this profile at Encyclopedia Britannica highlights:

"She moved to New York City in 1934 to return to private practice and teach at the New School for Social Research. There she produced her major theoretical works, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937) and New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939), in which she argued that environmental and social conditions, rather than the instinctual or biological drives described by Freud, determine much of individual personality and are the chief causes of neuroses and personality disorders."

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of the prominent women in the field of psychology. For more information, please take a look here, or visit our Psychology program page if you'd like to learn more about South University.