Women have made many contributions to the advancement of psychology, many of which have gone without notice until recent times, and some of which still goes unidentified in the field of psychology. The mention of women in the early development of psychology usually refers to them as minor contributors to a field that at one time was predominantly dominated by men. “Women of the time were subject to gender and martial prejudice” (Stipkovich, 2011). One such women who thrived in the field of psychology despite of and greatly due to the discrimination women experienced in the 1900’s is Leta Hollingworth.
According to “Stipkovich (2011)”, “The remarkable path Leta Hollingworth’s life took her was instrumental in becoming a significant figure in the history of psychology of woman” (Contributions to the field of Psychology). Background Born Leta Anna Stetter, in May of 1886 in Nebraska, she was the oldest of three children. Raised on her grandparent’s farm after her mother’s death and fathers abandonment following the birth of her youngest sibling. “Leta Stetter received her early formal education in a one-room log schoolhouse, an education she later described as “excellent in every respect” (Miller, R.
1990, para. 4). Leta graduated high school in 1902, at the age of 15 she was one of eight students in the class. In high school Leta showed a talent for creative writing which she was encouraged to develop in college. Leta enrolled and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “where she quickly achieved a campus reputation in literature and creative writing and was designated Class Poet of the Class of 1906” (Miller, R. 1990, p. 145). While attending the university Leta met and became engaged to classmate Harry Levi Hollingworth.
Harry graduated from the university before Leta and decided to do his graduate studies in New York at Columbia University, Leta stayed in Nebraska to finish her undergraduate work and graduated in 1906. Unable to start a career in writing as she originally intended due to financial problems, Leta took a teaching position in Nebraska and later joined Harry in New York the two were married on December 31, 1908. Leta attempted to get a job as a teacher in New York but was denied based solely on her marital status. “This was a very frustrating circumstance for the talented and educated graduate and led to the questioning of the role women play in society” (Stipkovich, 2011).
Over time Leta went on to complete her graduate studies at Columbia receiving an M. A. in 1913, Ph. D. 1916. While completing her studies in educational psychology at Columbia Leta had an opportunity to work directly with Edward Lee Thorndike. According to Stipkovich (2011), “With the environment finally allowing her to explore her academic interests, and questions about her own existence as a married woman, she pursued the study of women’s psychology and new interests in giftedness and intelligence” (A little Background). Theoretical perspective
Leta became interested in psychology after questioning women’s inferiority to men. After researching the works of other psychologist she found only one assertion that could be tested scientifically. This assertion was commonly known as the “variability hypothesis,” (Benjamin, L. , 1990 p. 147). Held, L. (2010), states “The variability hypothesis posited that men exhibit greater variation than women on both physical and psychological traits, in essence suggesting that men occupied both the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum on any trait and women were doomed to mediocrity” (para.4).
In order to disprove this hypothesis Leta did some research at the Clearinghouse for Mental Defectives “Hollingworth believed societal
While working with these children she discovered most of them were averagely intelligent but suffered from adjustment problems due to adolescents. In 1928 Leta published “The Psychology of the Adolescent” once again done from a behaviorist perspective further research should children with high intellect could be problem children, causing her to ask what special programs have been developed for them in public schools? (Benjamin, L. , 1990). “She worked on assessment tools for early identification of the intellectually gifted, and inevitably her work led her to the development of educational methods for these children” Benjamin, L., 1990).
Contributions to the field of psychology Leta Hollingworth is a contributor to three specific fields of psychology. Leta’s recognition of the challenges faced by women set precedent to a new field of psychology: the psychology of women. Barbaro (2002), “Because of her work, future women would not have to deal with unchecked acquisitions of innate mediocrity or menstrual disability in their pursuit of scientific eminence” (Contributions to Psychology).
In 1921 Leta Hollingworth was cited in “American Men of Science” for her research on the psychology of women (Held, L. 2010 p. 15). The other field of psychology Leta Hollingworth was a great contributor to the psychology of the exceptional child which led to her much known involvement and influence in school psychology. Due to her studies on the gifted children she was able to develop methods to recognize gifted children and aide in the development of a school curriculum better meeting their needs.
Hollingworth’s writings on gifted children, special education, adolescence, and mental retardation were inspirational for over twenty years (Miller, R. , 1990). In clinical psychology she disproved the “variability hypothesis” her examination on both male and female infant craniums proved that while the males were slightly larger if a difference in variability existed it favored females (Held, L. 2010 p. 4). After the disproving of the “variability hypothesis” Leta Hollingworth worked in the field of clinical psychology part-time for twenty years.
Other contribution to psychology are noted publishing’s such as “Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture” (1926) this book was based on the results of her study on gifted children and “Children Above 180 IQ” (1942) this was Leta Hollingworth’s last publication and was completed after her death by her husband, Harry L. Hollingworth (Held, L. 2010 p. 7). Conclusion Leta Hollingworth was a women extraordinary for her time. She not let her troublesome childhood prevent her from gaining an education instead she used her less than perfect up bring to develop a talent in creative writing.
When she found herself unable to work doing what at the time seemed like her natural calling she went on to teach, only to find her marital status would prevent her from doing so. This turning point in her life was discouraging but, with the support of her husband went on to gain an education, and dismantle one of the theories that prevent her and other women of her time from equal treatment. Leta went on from their developing not only one but three types of psychology that had not yet been explored in-depth, the psychology of women, educational psychology, and the psychology of the gifted child.
Her work in the field of psychology not only furthered the field it changed the way women were looked upon, and the education of children both gifted and non-gifted. Instead of becoming a victim of her era she went on to become a pioneering female psychologist of her time “were she to observe contemporary society, she would be gravely disappointed that in the past 50 years there has been so little progress in changing societal attitudes toward the gifted, and that women, particularly gifted women, still face so many impediments to achievement and recognition” (Silverman, L. K. 1992 p. 11).