Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Margaret Floy Washburn

Margaret Floy Washburn

"Nothing in the world is so compelling to the emotions as the mind of another human being"
Margaret Floy Washburn

Margret Floy Washburn was born on July 25, 1871 in Harlem, New York. She was an only child to Reverent Francis and Elizabeth Floy Washburn whom were emotionally and financially supportive of her academic intentions. A large family inheritance allowed Washburn to attend a privately conducted school at the age of seven where she received an early education from the three daughters of a retired Presbyterian minister. In 1886 at the age of just 15, Washburn graduated from a public high school.

She attended Vassar College where she studied French and chemistry. In 1891 after graduating she became interested in philosophy and science and considering that the new science of experimental psychology was offered at Columbia University in the newly established psychological laboratory, Washburn studied under James McKeen Cattell. The University would not allow female graduate students but after three months of hard work she was able to be register in Cattell’s classes as a “hearer” only. After a year of study, she decided to work with Edward B. Titchener at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University where she as a woman would be able to receive a certified degree. After a year at Cornell she received her M.A. degree in absentia from Vassar College for her work with Edward B. Titchener. At Cornell she was the first graduate student to be encouraged to apply for the Ph.D. program and from there in 1894 she became the first women to receive a Ph.D. in Psychology. This significant accomplishment paved the way for future women in the field.   

Professional Life
Although Washburn did not marry or have children, she devoted her life to her career in psychology and contributed greatly to the advancement of psychology. Her main contribution to psychology was her study of consciousness and the investigation of mental processes in humans and animals. For the next six years following her doctorate, she became a Professor of Psychology, Ethics and Philosophy at Wells College. In 1901 she went back to Cornell University as a glorified resident advisor for the women’s dormitory whilst undertaking a lecture position in social and animal psychology. In 1902, Washburn decided to accept an assistant professorship position at the University of Cincinnati being the only woman in the faculty. In 1908 Washburn published The Animal Mind, which included research that saw this particular field of psychology mature. Her influential theory explained that animals acquire many similar traits to humans that was originally proposed by Rene Descartes. Through her widespread animal studies Washburn was able to show evidence of mental processes within the animal mind. She wrote a second book, Movement and Mental Imagery, which explained her motor theory of consciousness in learning, emotion and attention. Washburn also wrote dozens of studies and edited numerous academic journals. She then went on to becoming an undergraduate psychology professor at Vassar College until she was forced to retire in 1937 due to illness. Sadly two years later on October 29, 1939 Washburn died in Poughkeepsie of a stroke at the age of 68.  
Relevance to Class Material
Throughout Washburn’s career, she experienced hardships due to her gender in regards to education. She lived in a time when women were excluded from many academic opportunities and were very rarely given prestigious professional positions. Despite the odds against her Washburn overcame these gender inequalities and became a very well respected researcher and academic. In 1903 she was ranked in the top 50 psychologists in America for her remarkable 69 experimental studies. She achieved recognition that was not given to most men during her career including being named the President of the American Psychological Association. Her perseverance and dedication to her studies allowed her to pursue her goals in psychology and to overcome the initial obstacles that discriminated against her gender. Fighting for equal education opportunities for women saw Washburn work her way up through different professional positions throughout her career and making her a pioneer in the fight for equal gender education rights.      


Posted by Sarah Ferraz, NO2736849

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