Mamie Phipps Clark: Biography of this social psychologist

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) was a social psychologist who studied the development of racial identity and self-awareness during childhood, in relation to the context of American segregation. With Kenneth Clark, he developed one of the most classic experiments in psychology on the development of racial awareness: the doll test.

Below we will see a biography of Mamie Phipps Clark, One of the pioneers in the consolidation of American social psychology of the twentieth century.

    Mamie Phipps Clark: Biography of a Social Psychologist

    Mamie Phipps Clark was born on April 18, 1917 in Arkansas, USA, to a family that Phipps herself called privileged. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a housewife.

    After graduating from Langston College, I despite the context of double discrimination against black women, Mamie has received various offers of scholarships to pursue higher education. Options included Fisk University in Tennessee; and Howard University in Washington. They were also two of the most prestigious in the United States and their entry criteria were based on merit. They are almost the only options for the elite of the black community.

    Grandma decided to study in Washington. In 1934, he took courses in mathematics and languages. However, his motivation for his studies clashed significantly with the impersonal approach of his mathematics teachers, particularly known to women, so he quickly decided to change his choices (Phipps Clark, in O’Connell) and Russo, 1983 ).

      Beginnings in child psychology

      While studying at Howard University, Mamie meet Kenneth Barcroft Clack, who was pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. This relationship greatly influenced Granny’s interest in psychology. Among other things, psychology seemed more promising professionally (especially more than degrees in medicine, physics or mathematics). In addition, the psychologist would allow him to get closer to the development of the child, a subject which also aroused him curiosity and which intensified especially during the completion of his master’s thesis.

      Barcroft introduced him, for example, to Francis Summer and Max Meenes, two psychologists who later became well known in educational psychology, pedagogy and child development, and with whom he worked on various research. With them, says Mamie, she was welcomed and shared common interests. After completing his studies, he worked in the psychology department of the same university.

      Some time later he moved to New York and met Ruth and Gene Hartley, who were doing a lot of pre-school childhood studies. Specifically, the Heartlys were interested, just like Phipps, in how the self-identification of preschoolers developed, And to analyze this, they used black and white children’s drawings.

      Against this backdrop of security, Mamie Phipps Clark didn’t even question what it was for a black woman to have come this far professionally in a field of study for white men, like psychology. Grandma herself explains this as a silent challenge that she recognized until she continued her graduate studies, and which led her to significantly question the racial segregation of American public schools.

        Studies of Racial Self-Identification in Childhood

        The success and recognition of her master’s studies led her to enter Columbia University for her doctorate. Against this background, Mamie recounts that she initially found herself the only black student in a doctoral department where all members were white students. In fact, her husband, Kenneth Clark, was the first black student to graduate with a doctorate in psychology in 1940. In 1943, Grandma was the second.

        In her master’s thesis, Mamie Phipps Clark had researched how and when black children became aware of their racialized identity, And how that influences the formation of your self-image. His research was titled “The Development of Ego Awareness in Black Preschool Children”. This quickly became a line of research that became decisive, both for psychology and for American politics.

        Thanks to his research of mastery, and in the continuation of this one, developed the famous test or test of the dolls. The latter consisted of introduce preschoolers to a white doll and a black doll. They then took stock of their preferences (for example by asking them to give them the one they preferred); attitudes (asking what they think is good or bad); and their ability to racially identify different groups. Finally, they assessed the children’s ability to recognize themselves as members of a racial group (racial self-identification).

        This experience is generally cited and attributed to Kenneth Clark. However, the same psychologist stated that the legal records on which this study subsequently impacted should be recognized as the main project of Mamie, which he later joined and collaborated on (Karera, 2010).

        What is racial awareness?

        Grandma defined racial science as a self-awareness that belongs to a group that is differentiated from other groups by phenotypic characteristics. The most important result has been that black children become aware of their racial identity around the age of 3, and simultaneously they develop a fundamentally negative self-concept. Their results established that the latter was determined by the negative and racist definition that society had in different spheres. Largely thanks to the policies of segregation.

        Her studies aroused a lot of interest in the world of psychology and was even reproduced by different people, among which the most popular is perhaps Mary Ellen Goodman, in the mid-twentieth century. Likewise, the effects of racial segregation have had a significant legal impact on US education law.

          Political impact

          When Mamie Phipps finished her studies, she began working as a secretary in a law firm headed by William Houston, among other important figures in the history of American civil law. This office was one of the first to work on cases that defied the laws in favor of racial segregation..

          Among other things, they addressed what is now known as the “Brown Affair,” whose US laws have declared unconstitutional the separation of public schools between black and white students. A fundamental thing in arguing for the latter, and ultimately achieving it, was precisely the doll experience.

          Bibliographical references:

          • Karera, A. (2010). Profile. Granny Phipps Clark. Feminist Voices of Psychology. Accessed July 5, 2018. Available at
          • Guerrero Moreno, S. (2006). The development of racial awareness: an evolutionary study with Spanish children aged 3 to 5. Report to apply for a doctorate, Complutense University of Madrid.
          • O’Connell, A. and Russo, N. (1983). Models of Success: Reflections from Leading Women in Psychology. New York: Columbia University Press.

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