Christine Ladd-Franklin: Biography of this experimental psychologist

Christine Ladd-Franklin (1847-1930) was a suffragist mathematician, psychologist and feminist who fought to remove the barriers that kept women from entering college in the first half of the 20th century. Among other things, he worked as a teacher in logic and mathematics, and then developed a theory of color vision that had a significant impact on modern psychology.

Then we will see a biography of Christine Ladd-Franklin, A psychologist who not only developed important scientific knowledge, but who also fought to ensure access and participation of women in universities.

    Christine Ladd-Franklin: biography of this American psychologist

    Christine Ladd-Franklin was born on December 1, 1847 in Connecticut, United States. She was the eldest of two brothers, sons of Eliphalet and Augusta Ladd. ** Her mother was a suffragette activist ** who died when Christine was young, so Ladd-Franklin eventually moved with his paternal aunt and grandmother to New Hampshire.

    In 1866 she began her studies at Vassar College (a school for women). However, he had to give up his studies very quickly due to the economic situation. Take them back two years later with their own savings and after receiving family financial support.

    From the start, Christine Ladd-Franklin he had a great motivation for research and science. At Vassar College, he trained with Maria Mitchell, a renowned American astronomer who already enjoyed significant international recognition.

    For example, she is the first woman to discover a new comet through a telescope and is also the first woman to be a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the American Association for Scientific Advancement. Mitchell was also a suffragist, which greatly inspired Ladd-Franklin in her professional development and as a woman scientist.

    Christine Ladd-Franklin was particularly interested in physics, but faced difficulties in pursuing a career as a researcher in this field, he switched to mathematics. And then, to experimental research in psychology and physiology.

    Ladd-Franklin facing the exclusion of women from the academy

    In addition to being recognized as an important psychologist, Christine Ladd-Franklin is remembered for having firmly confronted the policies of exclusion of women in the new American universities, as well as those which advocated these policies.

    For example, in 1876 he wrote a letter to the famous mathematician James J. Sylvester of the new Johns Hopkins University to directly question if being a woman was a logical and sufficient reason to deny her access to higher education.

    At the same time, he sent an application for admission with scholarship to this university, signed with the name “C. Ladd” and accompanied by an excellent academic record. She was admitted, until the committee found out that the letter “C” was from “Christine”, with which they were about to cancel their admission. At this point, Sylvester stepped in and Ladd-Franklin was eventually accepted as a full-time student, but with “special” treatment.

    Training in logic and mathematics

    James J. Sylvester was a well-known scholar; among others, he is credited with creating the terms “matrix” and the theory of algebraic invariants. With him, Christine Ladd-Franklin trained in mathematics. On another side, he trained in symbolic logic with Charles S. Peirce, One of the philosophers who founded pragmatism. Christine Ladd-Franklin who became the first American woman to receive a formal education with these scientists.

    He completed his doctoral training in logic and mathematics in 1882, with a thesis which was later included in one of Pierce’s most important volumes on logic and syllogisms. However, and under the argument that diversity was not typical of civilized communities, his doctorate has not been officially recognized by the university. 44 years have passed and on the 50th anniversary of Johns Hopkins University, when Ladd-Franklin was 79, he was finally recognized for this college degree.

    However yes he evolved like professor in the same university during the first years of 1900, to which were added more difficulties, because he decided to marry and to found a family with the mathematician Fabian Franklin (from which took the nickname ). In this context, married women find it even more difficult to access and maintain official academic activities.

    Christine Ladd-Franklin also strongly protested in front of British psychologist Edward Titchener’s refusal to admit women to the Society of Experimental Psychologists which he had founded as an alternative to the meetings of the American Psychological Association (APA). Where, in fact, Christine Ladd-Franklin participated regularly.

      Development in experimental psychology

      Christine Ladd-Franklin moved to Germany with Fabian Franklin, where she developed her research on color vision. First worked in the Göttingen laboratory with Georg Elias Müller (One of the founders of experimental psychology). He then went to Berlin, to a laboratory with Hermann von Helmholtz, a pioneering physicist and philosopher in physiological psychology.

      After working with them and other experimental psychologists, Christine Ladd-Franklin developed her own theory on how our photoreceptors work in relation to the chemical functioning of the nervous system, allowing us to perceive different colors.

      Ladd-Franklin Theory of Color Vision

      During the nineteenth century there were two main theories about color vision, the validity continues, at least in part, to this day. On the one hand, in 1803, the English scientist Thomas Young had proposed that our retina be ready to perceive 3 “primary colors”: red, green, blue or purple. On the other hand, the German physiologist Ewald Hering had proposed that there be three pairs of these colors: red-green, yellow-blue and black and white; I studied how the photosensitive reaction of nerves is responsible for our ability to perceive.

      What Ladd-Franklin proposed is that there should instead be a process made up of three stages in the development of color vision. Black and white vision is the most primitive of scenes, as it can occur in very little light. Then, the color white is what allows the differentiation between blue and yellow, and the latter, yellow, allows the differentiated vision of red-green.

      Generally speaking, Christine Ladd-Franklin succeeded in uniting the two major theoretical propositions of color vision with an evolutionary photochemical hypothesis. More precisely describes the process of action of ether waves on the retina; understood as one of the main generators of light sensations.

      Her theory was very well received in the scientific context of the early twentieth century, and her influence has remained to this day, especially the emphasis she placed on the evolutionary factor of our color vision.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Vaughn, K. (2010). Profile. Christine Ladd-Franklin. Accessed June 26, 2018. Available at
      • Vassar Encyclopedia. (2008). Christine Ladd-Franklin. Accessed June 26, 2018.Available at
      • Dauder Garcia, S. (2005). Psychology and feminism. Forgotten history of pioneering women in psychology. Narcea: Madrid.

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