Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Leta Stetter Hollingworth

Leta Stetter Hollingworth was born on May 25th, 1886 in Nebraska.  She was the eldest of three girls very close in age.  When Leta was 3, her mother died giving birth to her third child. Upon his wife's death, Leta's father left the three girls to be raised by their maternal grandparents.  When Leta was 12, her father (recently remarried) returned to reclaim his children. Leta kept a journal through most of her childhood and described this time in her life as a "fiery furnace."  Her father was an alcoholic and her step-mother was verbally abusive.  In 1902, at the age of 16, Leta graduated from high school and escaped home by enrolling at the University of Nebraska.

While away at college, Leta met Harry Hollingworth, whom she would later marry.  In 1906 she received her Bachelor's of Arts and a Nebraska State Teacher's Certificate. After graduating college, Leta taught at a high school in Nebraska for two years until Harry obtained an assistant professor position at Barnard College in New York.  The couple moved to New York in 1908 and were soon married.

Soon after getting married, Leta learned of New York State Board of Education's policy against hiring married women to teach.  Without a second income Leta and Harry forced to live in poverty.  Leta tried, on numerous occasions, to obtain a scholarship to graduate school but was repeatedly denied because of her gender.  In 1911 Harry was hired by Coca-Cola to research the effects of caffeine.  He hired Leta as a research assistant, giving her enough money to take graduate courses at Columbia University.  She received her Masters in Education at Columbia University in 1913.

Leta's first job after receiving her Masters degree was working at the Clearing House for Mental Defectives administering Binet Intelligence tests.  In 1914 the Civil Service began requiring that those administering mental tests successfully complete a competitive exam.  Leta Hollingworth was the top scorer on the exam and was given the first position as a psychologist in New York under the Civil Service.  Her position was at Bellevue Hospital as a consulting psychologist.  During this time, Leta also completed her Doctoral work at Columbia University under the supervision of Edward Thorndike.  She received her PhD in 1916.

Soon after receiving her PhD, Leta accepted a teaching position in Educational Psychology at Columbia University's Teacher's College.  While teaching at Teacher's College, Leta continued to work at Bellevue Hospital, established the Classification Clinic for Adolescents, and was the principal for the School for Exceptional Children.  She continued teaching and doing research at Columbia University until she died in 1939 at the age of 53.

Work on Psychology of Women and Sex Differences
Leta was one of the first psychologist to look critically at the status of women.  While doing her graduate work at Columbia University, she began exploring the popular explanations that supposedly justified women's inferiority.  A popular explanation at the time was the "variability hypothesis" which stated that there was greater variability among men than women, making men inherently superior.  She conducted several experiments testing this hypothesis, ultimately disproving the hypothesis.

Leta was also the first to study the validity of another commonly held belief at the time that women made lousy scientists because of the instability caused by their menstrual cycle ("functional periodicity").  This was the subject of her Doctoral Thesis supervised by Edward Thorndike.  To test the hypothesis that women were significantly impaired during their menstrual cycle, Leta measured various skills and abilities of 23 females (and 2 males as controls) over a 3 month period.  She was unable to find any significant differences in scored between any phase of the female's menstrual cycle.

After earning her Ph.D., Leta's research interests shifted to the field of child psychology and gifted children.


Posted by Prof. Hill

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