Mary Whiton Calkins

An American psychologist and philosopher who became the first female president of both the American Psychological Association (1905) and the American Philosophical Association (1918).

The eldest of five children born to Reverend Wolcott Calkins, a strong-willed, intellectually gifted evangelical minister, and Charlotte Grosvenor Whiton, a daughter of an established New England Puritan family, Mary Whiton Calkins grew up in a close-knit family that highly valued education. As her mother's mental and physical health began to deteriorate, Calkins took on increased responsibilities for her younger siblings as well as her mother.

After earning a bachelor of arts degree from Smith College with a concentration in the classics, Calkins began teaching Greek at Wellesley College in 1887. The following year, she was offered the new position of instructor in psychology there, which was contingent upon a year's training in the discipline. Consistent with university policy toward women in 1890, Calkins was granted special permission to attend classes in psychology and philosophy at Harvard University and in laboratory psychology at Clark University in Worcester but was denied admission to their graduate studies programs. She also was denied permission to attend regular Harvard seminars until faculty members William James (1842–1910) and Josiah Royce (1855–1916), as well as Calkins's father, intervened on her behalf. After she was enrolled in James's seminar, four men already enrolled in the class dropped it in protest. Her attendance and exceptional performance in James's seminar led James to offer Calkins an individual study with him, and, within a year, Calkins had published a paper on association, suggesting a modification to James's recently published Principles of Psychology. Her paper was received enthusiastically by her mentor, who referred to it when he later revised his book.

Mary Whiton Calkins.

Mary Whiton Calkins.
Archives of the History of American Psychology–The University of Akron. Reproduced by permission.

In 1895, Calkins requested and was administered an examination equivalent to the official PhD comprehensive exam. Her performance was praised by James as “the most brilliant examination for the Ph.D. that we have had at Harvard,” surpassing that of his junior colleague, George Santayana (1863– 1952). Despite her accomplishments, Calkins was still denied admission to candidacy for the degree. With the creation of Radcliffe College in April of 1902, Calkins was one of the first four women to be offered the PhD, which she refused in protest.

Calkins taught at Wellesley College until her retirement in 1929, also publishing four books and more than 100 papers in psychology and philosophy. In 1901, she published the well-received Introduction to Psychology and spent the first decade of the 1900s developing a psychology of the self that anticipated later theories of personality. In 1909, Columbia University awarded Calkins an honorary Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.) and in 1910, Smith College granted her the Doctor of Laws (LL.D.). Calkins died in 1930.

See also Learning ; Learning: associative ; Memory .



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