Mary Whiton Calkins is best regarded for the contributions that she made in the field of psychology. She is among the few women to enter the field of psychology in the initial era. She had witnessed many obstacles in life; which she overturned by willingness to succeed, career and education. She set her as an example to all other women in her generation who struggled due to gender inequality. She was like a ray of hope for other women to follow. Her achievements and contributions in the field of psychology raised a voice against the social taboo of gender bias and discrimination against women.
She was a commendable doctoral student but still couldn’t attain access into Harvard’s seminars and its laboratories. Her passion towards the subject of psychology and her self-determination encouraged her to open the first psychology laboratory in 1891 at Wellesley College in the United States. She invented paired-associate technique in the laboratory of Wellesley College.
The gender inequality taboo deprived her from the doctorate award by the Harvard. This struggle from injustice did not discourage her to contribute to the society in a broader sense. She was crowned to be the first woman president of the American Psychological Association and the American Philosophical Association.
Background, Early Life & Education
Mary Whiton Calkins was born in Hartford, Connecticut on March 30, 1863 in a German family to Charlotte and Wolcott Calkins (cited in Zusne, 1984). Out of the five children, Mary Calkins was the eldest. She was very close to her mother and her family. Mary went to the local elementary school where she learnt German in private sessions. In 1880, at the age of seventeen she shifted to Newton, Massachusetts when her family decided to move due to her father’s job transfer. In 1881, Mary Calkins took admission in Newton High School (cited in Furumoto, 1980). She graduated from Newton High School where she wrote a graduation essay:
The Apology Plato should have written: a vindication of the character Xantippi (cited in Johnson, 1997 & McHenry, 1995).
She then entered Smith College in the year 1882 as a sophomore. In the Spring of 1883, unfortunately her sister Maude died due to illness. This sad experience created a deep hollow in her inner-self throughout her life. She opted to stay back at home to impart education to her younger siblings and to support her mother who was ill. This didn’t fend her to learn continuously at home. She then learnt Greek which supplemented her study of classics. She rejoined Smith College in the year 1884 as a senior student and graduated in 1885 with in-depth study of classics and philosophy. (cited in Johnson, 1997).
In 1886, the Calkins family went to Europe for sixteen months where she nurtured her knowledge of classics in the University of Leipzig (cited in McHenry, 1995).
She returned to Massachusetts in 1887 and joined Wellesley College as a tutor in Greek to impart knowledge of the subject to women (cited in Furumoto, 1980).
Mary Whiton Calkins submitted many important theoretical facts to the world of psychology. The two forms of psychology that was popular at the time were “science of selves” and the “atomistic psychology”. She called it a compatible relation between functional and structural psychology. She engaged herself to seek compatibility between the doctrine of psychological views with the views of liberty and fundamental values of people that she perceived in day-to-day life. She also believed that awareness of one’s own existence which collectively put forward the thoughts and feelings of common people need to be observed from the viewpoint of efforts and actions. The thoughts and feelings should also be observed that existed in the mind. She could easily distinguish between these two viewpoints due to her knowledge of classics and religion. She used Professor Munsterberg’s distinction of the objective view with that of the subjective view. This made her to introduce the principle of “the double standpoint” in the field of psychology. She then published her first article on “self-psychology” in 1900. This article formed the base and was theoretically of prime importance to write the book “An Introduction to Psychology” in October, 1901. Calkins believed in “personalistic absolutism” which made her to gradually research in the field of philosophy. At that time, psychological views showed a general tendency towards behavioristic approaches. She believed that consciousness occurred personally and the mind would get transformed from a low level of being and would change according to the variance in environment and behavorial laws that guided an individual.
Contributions to Psychology
A significant contribution that she made in the field of psychology was that in September 1891, when she opened the first psychological laboratory for Women at Wellesley College. For many years she wrote articles which reported experiment results. She also helped many of her students in publishing journals and in the research of psychological aspects. She worked under the supervision of Edmund C. Sanford on a research level project which dealt with studying dreams and its contents in the year 1891 for 49 days. They collectively recorded 375 dreams and extracted vital information which was later believed to help the field of neurosciences. They submitted their research report at Clark University in the first annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
She contributed vastly to the field of psychology by inventing the Paired-Associate technique. This research was regarded to be considered as a subject of applied psychology which was used as a tool for human learning. Calkins devoted majority of his life in the research of Self-Psychology as she was interested in day-to-day experiences of selves and its importance in lives of common people.
In her career, she wrote four books and published hundred-and-five articles in the field of philosophy and psychology. She also published The Persistent Problems in Philosophy and The Good Man and The Good in 1907 and 1918 respectively. She published her autobiography in the year 1930 with the motto to change psychologists into self-psychologists.
Although, Mary Whiton Calkins contributed vastly in the field of psychology and philosophy through her research activities, yet she was denied doctoral degree from Harvard and was disallowed to present her thesis as she was a woman. She even declined the invitation of accepting a doctorate degree from the Radcliffe College due to her selfless nature. She as a female ahead of her time had already proved to the entire world when she became the first female president of both the American Philosophical Association and the American Psychological Association in 1918 and 1905 respectively. She condemned the discrimination against women for the right to cast vote. Mary Calkins was detected with an incurable cancer in 1926. She retired from the Wellesley College as Research Professor in 1929. She died at Newton, Massachusetts on February 27, 1830 (cited in Zusne, 1984).
She will be remembered as a feminist who was an eminent scholar and an admirable teacher. She strongly believed in idealism. She faced many criticisms in her era due to her ideologies but stood against it. She provided explanations and clarifications patiently to safeguard idealism against racism and pragmatism.