Mary Whiton Calkins: Biography of this psychologist and philosopher

Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930) was an American philosopher and psychologist, a pioneer of experimental psychology and the first female president of the American Psychological Association. Moreover, and in the context of the contradictions between the social demands assigned to women, Calkins was one of the pioneers in the struggles for the participation of women in higher education and science.

In this article we will we will review 1 short biography of Mary Whiton Calkins and we will examine some of his contributions to gender equity and experimental psychology.

    Mary Whiton Calkins: Biography of an Experimental Psychologist

    He was born March 30, 1863 in Hartford Connecticut. Daughter of Charlotte Whiton Calkins and a Presbyterian pastor, Wolcott Calkins, as well as the eldest of five siblings with whom she has remained close. He grew up and lived in Buffalo, New York, and later in Newton, Massachusetts.

    In 1882 Calkins began his studies at Smith College for Women, a year before the death of his sister Maud; event which marked part of his subsequent training. He stayed at home for a while, where he also took care of his mother, and took private Greek lessons. It was in 1884 when returned to Smith College and graduated with honors in Classical Philosophy.

    Two years later, he traveled through Europe, where he took the opportunity to continue studying Greek. Upon her return to the United States, her father prepared an interview for her at Wellesley College, a school for women in Massachusetts, where she sought to work as a teacher and researcher.

    Calkins and Wellesley’s first psychology lab

    In 1888, Mary Whiton Calkins began teaching philosophy at Wellesley College for Women. At the same time, the specialty of scientific psychology was opened and the lack of teachers ready to give courses in it was recognized.

    To remedy this, one of the psychologists offered Calkins, a trained philosopher with significant teaching skills, a position as a professor of psychology. He thus had the opportunity to create the first Wellesley laboratory.

    She accepted the commitment to train in the region for at least a year. However, this created a new problem: where to study. At this moment opportunities for women were almost nil and, moreover, Calkins had made family commitments, so he did not wish to leave town.

      From “special student” to president of the APA

      At Harvard University, and in a context where psychology and philosophy were not formally divided, but where the participation of women was categorically denied anyway, several philosophers and psychologists began to receive them as “listeners.” ”, Both in their lessons and in the labs. For example, William James and Josiah Royce are examples of teachers who did this because they strongly opposed Harvard’s policies to exclude women.

      In 1889, Mary Calkins start taking physiological psychology classes with James, And of Hegelian philosophy with Royce, within Harvard University but as a “special student”. The following year, Calkins worked with Edmund Sanford of Clark University and founded the first psychology lab at Wellesley College, which he managed to combine despite various obstacles with teaching.

      At one point in 1984 and 1985, Mary Whiton Calkins graduated from Harvard University and developed research that significantly influenced modern experimental psychology. All this even after Harvard University responded with a categorical refusal to request official recognition of his doctoral studies. They offered him, instead, recognition from Radcliffe College, which was the “annexed” college of the same university. Calkins rejected the latter because he did not want to legitimize Harvard’s lack of legitimacy for students.

      She continued to work at Wellesley College, as an assistant professor, then professor of psychology and finally, a year before her death and upon retirement, she was recognized as a research professor, without official recognition of her Harvard doctorate.

      During the strong policies of academic and scientific exclusion of women, Mary Whiton Calkins was chosen in 1905 as the first female president of the American Association of Psychology. To its term, in the year of 1918, evolved like president of the American Association of Philosophy.

        The technique of associated couples and the psychology of the self

        His early work in psychology focused on the study of memory. Among others, and following her doctoral thesis, Mary Whiton Calkins laid the groundwork for what we call the “twin technique” or “twin task”, Currently used in the cognitive assessment test. Generally speaking, this is the proposition that we can learn them and memorize them one by one, until we are presented with one stimulus which results in the withdrawal of another.

        Subsequently, he focused on the development of a “psychology of the self,” from which he suggests that mental processes exist without independence from the Self; that is, they are processes that belong to an “I”.

        Calkins said that the ego is something indefinableBut it can be understood as an object of daily consciousness with reference to different characteristics: wholeness, uniqueness, identity, variability and relation of oneself to other organisms or objects. In constituting the mental processes associated with the Self, Calkins criticized functionalist psychology which included mental activities without “mental actors”.

        Self-psychology, for her, is a kind of introspective psychology, Which led him to differentiate two types of psychological systems. On the one hand, there is the impersonal psychology which tends to deny the Self when it focuses on the content of consciousness and mental processes, and on the other hand, there is personal psychology which is based on l study of oneself or of the person. Calkins placed his proposals in the latter, in turn divided into a biological dimension and a psychological dimension, closely related to each other.

        By bringing into dialogue different perspectives on psychology and philosophy, as well as the criticisms he has received about his work, Calkins has continued to develop and significantly update the psychology of the self.

        His self-studies were presented in 1900, and from there he has published four books and over 50 articles, Which gave it a lot of prestige at the national and international level. His most important works include The Persistent Problems of Philosophy, 1907, The Self in Scientific Psychology, 1915, and The Good Man and the Good, 1918.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Feminist Voices in Psychology (2018). Mary Whiton Calkins. Accessed June 25, 2018.Available at
        • American Psychological Association (2011). Mary Whiton Calkins, first woman president of the APA. Accessed June 25, 2018.Available at
        • García Dauder, S. (2005). Psychology and feminism. Forgotten history of pioneering women in psychology. Narcea: Madrid
        • García Dauder, S. (2005). Mary Whiton Calkins: Psychology as a science of the self. Athenea Digital, 8: 1-28.

        Leave a Comment