Women have always had to overcome great obstacles in science to be recognized. Margaret Washburn is one of such women who have overcome formidable obstacles to work as an academy psychologist. Despite this, however, she has become the first woman who received formal recognition with a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell University in 1894 (Fragaszy 10). This outstanding woman belonged to the first peer group of scientists who studied experimental psychology. Moreover, she was the second woman in the world who became the president of the American Psychological Association.
Margaret Washburn was born in 1871 and her family moved regularly during her childhood since her father was a priest in the Church of England and he often had to move to different parishes. First, the girl studied philosophy and science at Vassar College. She was a brilliant student and decided to study psychology at Columbia University in New York. She has chosen this particular university because of Professor James McKeen Cattell, one of the greatest psychologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Fragaszy 5). As a spokesman for the American School of Psychology, he was helping to transform psychology from pseudoscience to credible science. Unfortunately, Margaret grew up in an environment where education was available for men only. Since the majority of women were not able to get higher education and were not admitted to the universities in her time, Margaret was accepted only as a listener (Fragaszy 7). When Cattell noticed her interest in psychology, he advised her to apply to Cornell University, where she worked under Titchener’s direction. This was the beginning of her studies in the field of psychology.
During her work at the university, Margaret Washburn conducted a study of tactile equivalence methods and earned her master’s degree for this work. She then developed her doctoral dissertation on the impact of visual image on the perception of tactile distance. Titchener sent this document to the Philosophische Studien, the journal of experimental psychology, which published it in 1895 (Boyano 137). A year earlier, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in psychology. In 1908, Margaret Washburn published her most important and best-known book, called The Animal Mind (Boyano 135). It was a book on comparative psychology in which she collected research in the field of animal psychology. The text covered a wide range of actions related to feelings and perception. This work received support and recognition, and thanks to her intelligence, Margaret Washburn was one of the first women who were accepted into the Experimenters Club (Boyano 138). This happened after the death of Titchener, its founder, and after 25 years of exclusion of women.
The research conducted by Margaret Floy Washburn was the first, albeit little known, in experimental psychology, especially in relation to the mental processes of animals and humans. She has kept her career a priority and has gained great prestige for his research and teaching activities. She is also one of the frontierswomen in the struggle for equal opportunities in higher education and science. Without any doubt, Dr. Washburn’s life has been outstanding and exciting. She has been fighting to the end to achieve her goals as an experimental psychologist. However, despite the fact that her peers have recognized her merits, history has yet to give Margaret the importance and social recognition that she truly deserves.
Boyano, Jose T. “Margaret F. Washburn in The American Journal of Psychology: A Cognitive Precursor?” American Journal of Psychology, vol. 130, no. 2, 2017, 133-148.
Fragaszy, Dorothy Munkenbeck. “Comparative Psychology’s Founding Mother, Margaret Floy Washburn.” Journal of Comparative Psychology, vol. 135, no. 1, 2021, 3-14. Web.