Women And Minorities In Psychology Research Paper

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Feminist scholarship has repeatedly demonstrated that how and what we come to know depends on who we are. —Morawski, 1990, p. 175

In July 1892 well-known Clark University psychologist G. Stanley Hall met with a small group of his peers and founded the American Psychological Association (APA). At their first official meeting the following December, 31 additional members were voted in; all were white, and all were male (see Fernberger, 1932). However, as psychology grew throughout the first half of the 20th century, the proportion of women in the field increased. In 1946, psychologist Alice Bryan and her colleague Edwin Boring conducted a survey of American psychology and found that of the 2,672 doctoral-level psychologists who responded to their survey, 24 percent were women (Bryan & Boring, 1946). At this point in history, very little attention was paid to the representation of non-white psychologists in the field.

The proportion of women remained relatively stable until the late 1960s. The greatest growth in the numbers of women in psychology began in the early 1970s, largely due to the impact of the second wave of the women’s movement, and has continued steadily since that time. Whereas in 1960, 17.5 percent of all doctoral degrees in psychology in the United States were awarded to women, by the year 2000 the proportion of women receiving doctorates in the field had risen to 66.6 percent (Women’s Programs Office, 2003). Psychology, especially its applied branches, is quickly becoming a female-dominated profession.

The 1960s also saw important cultural and political shifts that affected the number and representation of minority psychologists. The civil rights movement and the development of black nationalism provided the cultural and political foundations for the institutional and theoretical challenges of black psychologists. Their activism paved the way for other minority groups such as Latino/Latina psychologists and Asian American psychologists to demand greater receptivity to and support for their concerns and agendas within a largely white, Eurocentric psychological establishment. Although growth in numbers has been slow relative to the influx of women psychologists, ethnic minority men and women psychologists steadily continue to challenge and change the institutional, theoretical, and practical bases of the field.

Chapter Overview

In the first half of this research-paper, we focus on the history of women and feminism in American psychology. First, we briefly survey selected works by early women psychologists intent on using the tools of the new science of psychology to challenge prevailing stereotypes of and biases towards women. Then we describe the status of women in the profession during the middle of the century, with a focus on activities around World War II. We conclude by examining the profound effects of second-wave feminism on both psychological theory and practice, and the institutional structure of psychology.

In the second half of the chapter we turn to the history of ethnic minority psychologists. The lives and contributions of select early African American pioneers are highlighted, but we note that American psychology attracted few minority psychologists and remained oblivious to their concerns and critiques until fairly recently. It took strong advocacy from individuals and groups, starting in the late 1960s, to make psychology more receptive to ethnic minority issues. The events in American psychology that led to these changes and the impact of ethnic minority psychologists on the processes and products of psychology are then discussed.

It should be noted that this research-paper is limited to developments in the American context. Students interested in the history and status of psychologies developed in other countries and efforts by psychologists throughout the world to develop theory and praxis that are relevant to their local contexts can consult a growing body of literature, including Brock (2006), Kim and Berry (1993), and Paranjpe (2002). We again emphasize that who psychologists are impacts what we know in psychology. Accordingly, as indigenous psychologies develop around the world, and as American psychologists become more diverse, the potential for generating psychological knowledge that relates to and illuminates the diversity of the entire human experience becomes realizable.

Women In Psychology

First-Wave “Feminist” Psychologists

Women have been participating in psychology since its inception as a formal scientific discipline in Europe and North America in the late 1800s. Although women were often excluded from men’s elite professional circles such as the founding of the APA and E. B. Titchener’s Society of Experimentalists, they nonetheless made important intellectual and institutional contributions despite their small numbers and the considerable obstacles they faced in a male-dominated profession. Although it is not possible here to discuss all of the first-generation American women psychologists, Scarborough and Furumoto (1987) have identified 25 women who were members of APA or who listed their field as psychology in American Men of Science by 1906. Two of these women, Mary Whiton Calkins and Margaret Floy Washburn, served as presidents of the APA in 1905 and 1921, respectively. Another 50 years would pass before another woman, Anne Anastasi (1908-2001), would be elected president.

In this section, we focus on three early psychologists who explicitly challenged social expectations and stereo-types about women. Helen Bradford Thompson Woolley and Leta Stetter Hollingworth used the tools of psychological science to examine and refute commonly held beliefs about women’s inferiority. Christine Ladd-Franklin campaigned vigorously for egalitarianism in professional conduct and exchange among psychologists, and equal access to education and honors for women.

Helen Bradford Thompson Woolley

Woolley (1874-1947) received her PhD in 1900 from the University of Chicago. For her dissertation research she conducted one of the first comprehensive empirical examinations of sex differences in intellectual, motor, sensory, and affective abilities (Thompson, 1903). In this work, she repeatedly found more similarities than differences between her male and female participants. When differences did emerge she interpreted them in light of the differential experiences and training of men and women, especially during early development. She was critical of the tendency to minimize environmental influences in favor of instincts and biology. In her conclusion to the work, she noted, “The psychological differences of sex seem to be largely due, not to difference of average capacity, nor to difference in type of mental activity, but to differences in the social influences brought to bear on the developing individual from early infancy to adult years” (Thompson, 1903, p. 182).

After earning her doctorate, Woolley went on to occupy a number of positions including director of the Bureau for the Investigation of Working Children in Cincinnati, where she formulated research and policy on child welfare reform (see Milar, 1999). When her husband moved to Detroit, Woolley gained a position there at the Merrill-Palmer School, where she initiated one of the first nursery schools for the study of child development. At Merrill-Palmer she continued her work on mental abilities by examining the mental abilities of young children. Finally, with a strong record of research and leadership in child development established, Woolley was offered an appointment as director of the new Institute of Child Welfare Research and professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Unfortunately, this appointment and her move to New York marked the beginning of a number of emotional and physical traumas, including isolation from her daughters and friends, permanent separation from her husband, and a hysterectomy. In combination, these events precipitated her premature retirement in 1930. She lived with one of her daughters for the remaining 17 years of her life.

Leta Stetter Hollingworth

Leta Stetter Hollingworth (1886-1939) also used her scientific training to challenge widespread beliefs and stereotypes about women (see Shields, 1975). In her dissertation research under the supervision of Edward Thorndike at Columbia University, she undertook an empirical investigation of functional periodicity, the commonly held belief that women became psychologically impaired during menstruation. Hollingworth’s study disconfirmed this belief, showing that women’s perceptual and motor skills did not vary as a function of their monthly cycles.

Later in her career she addressed another widely held theory about the sexes: that men exhibited greater variability than women across all psychological and physical traits. According to the variability hypothesis, the males of the species were presumed to drive evolutionary progress. Only men were deemed capable of the most impressive intellectual, social, and political achievements. In short, it held that because women as a class exhibited less variability and range in their abilities, they were doomed to mediocrity. Unsatisfied with the evidence for this view, Hollingworth conducted several studies to determine if the variability hypothesis would be supported. Needless to say, she did not find empirical support for greater male variability and criticized adherence to the belief on both empirical and interpretive grounds. She maintained that the true potential of women could only be known when women received complete social acceptance of their right to choose career, motherhood, or both.

Christine Ladd-Franklin

Christine Ladd-Franklin (1847-1930) was an eminent first-generation woman scientist and an outspoken advocate for the equal treatment and acknowledgment of women in professional spheres. Ladd-Franklin attended newly established Vassar College for women as an undergraduate, where she majored in science and mathematics. She then taught these subjects in secondary schools for over a decade while continuing to study mathematics and publish papers in this field. When Johns Hopkins University opened in Baltimore, Ladd-Franklin eagerly applied to do advanced work in mathematics. Johns Hopkins was the first university in the United States to focus on research and graduate training, but it would not allow women students. However, a mathematics professor who was familiar with her papers permitted her to attend his lectures in the 1878 to 1879 academic year. As her reputation grew, Ladd-Franklin was given access to further courses and completed all the requirements for a PhD in mathematics and logic by 1882. It was not until 1926, however, when she was almost 80 years old, that Johns Hopkins would award her the degree.

Soon after the completion of her doctoral work, Ladd-Franklin’s interests turned to psychology. When her husband traveled to Germany for a sabbatical, she arranged to spend six months studying color vision in G. E. Muller’s laboratory in Gottingen and the next six months in Hermann von Helmholtz’s laboratory with Arthur Konig, a physicist interested in color vision. As a result of this work, she produced her own theory of color vision and quickly established herself as a world authority on the topic (see Furumoto, 1992).

Throughout the rest of her career, in addition to promoting her theory, giving papers, and delivering lectures, she continued to advocate for women’s equal treatment in the professions. She criticized the American Academy of Arts and Letters for not admitting women. She also took up a cause much closer to home: E. B. Titchener’s exclusion of women from his invitation-only Society of Experimentalists. The Society, established by Titchener in 1904, was formed to promote discussion of experimental work among leaders in the field, junior faculty, and promising graduate students. Titchener’s adamance that the group exclude women on the grounds that men would not feel free to engage in freewheeling critique—and smoke—in the presence of the “weaker sex” was met with incredulity by Ladd-Franklin. In a series of letters to Titchener, Ladd-Franklin expressed her view that this practice was both immoral and unscientific. Her attack was largely unsuccessful; it was not until after Titchener’s death in 1927 that women were invited to join the group.

Women in Psychology at Mid-Century

Woolley, Hollingworth, and Ladd-Franklin lived and worked during a period when women were making important strides in American society. The suffrage movement had secured women the right to vote in the United States by 1919. Thus, their work in psychology was buttressed by what is now called “first-wave feminism.” The middle of the 20th century, especially the period leading up to and just after World War II, saw much less attention paid to the rights of women and the status of women in society. Accordingly, this was a period in psychology when women continued to face many of the same obstacles as their first-generation counterparts, but without the support of a cultural milieu that was sympathetic to these challenges. Here we discuss the status of women in psychology in this period and present brief accounts of two attempts to draw attention to the problem of women’s exclusion: the formation of the National Council of Women Psychologists, and the collaboration of Alice Bryan and Edwin Boring on “the woman problem.”

National Council of Women Psychologists

In times of war and other national and international emergencies, most professional groups organize to offer their services. Psychology has been no exception. In World War I, for example, psychologists helped the United States Army make personnel decisions by developing and administering group intelligence tests designed to sort thousands of recruits into appropriate positions within the military. With the outbreak of World War II, psychologists once again organized to offer their services. In 1940, the Emergency Committee in Psychology (ECP) was formed to oversee the mobilization of psychologists in the war effort. A problem soon arose: the all-male ECP chose to mobilize only male psychologists.

When it became apparent that the expertise of women psychologists was not being called upon, about 30 women psychologists, all members of the American Association of Applied Psychology (AAAP), confronted the AAAP representative to the ECP, Robert Brotemarkle, with their concerns. Although sympathetic, Brotemarkle admonished the group to be “good girls”—to be patient and to wait quietly until plans could be made that would include them (Schwesinger, 1943). When, almost two years later, nothing had been done to include women, a group of about 50 New York women psychologists began meeting to discuss how they could use their professional skills in the national emergency.

In November, a subgroup of these women met in the Manhattan apartment of psychologist Alice Bryan to draw up a charter for a national organization of women psychologists. On December 8, 1941, just a day after news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the National Council of Women Psychologists (NCWP) was formed. Florence Goodenough, a respected psychological scientist, was selected as president. Although not particularly sympathetic to the plight of women as a group, Goodenough did support the goal of applying psychological expertise to needed areas. By the middle of 1942, 234 doctoral-level women psychologists had joined the NCWP (Capshew & Laszlo, 1986).

Although the impetus for the formation of the NCWP was the exclusion of women from the war effort, women psychologists were reluctant to make the NCWP solely a clearinghouse for charges of sex discrimination. As Alice Bryan (1986) remarked, in the devastating aftermath of Pearl Harbor, “Winning the war had to be given first priority” (p. 184). In addition, male psychologists and leaders in the ECP used subtle strategies to undermine the women’s feminist resolve (Capshew & Laszlo, 1986). Many male psychologists denied that sex discrimination existed in psychology and suggested that in drawing attention to gender issues at a time of national emergency women were being self-indulgent. Others suggested that professional success in science was completely meritocratic; therefore, women had no right to demand special consideration on the basis of sex. Nonetheless, the formation of the NCWP marked the first time women had come together with the explicit aim of professional advancement.

“The Woman Problem”

In 1951, prominent Harvard psychologist Edwin Boring published an article in the American Psychologist titled “The Woman Problem.” In this short, expository article, Boring noted that in terms of their positions in APA, “professional women acquire less prestige than professional men ‘in proportion to their numbers'” (p. 679). He then suggested that two of the primary reasons for women’s lower prestige were (a) a natural predisposition in women for “particularistic” tasks over the work of generalization and theory building that was the true calling of the scientist, and (b) job concentration difficulties; that is, women chose more often to fulfill family obligations over work obligations. He concluded that because programmatic scientific work and fanaticism were generally rewarded, it was not surprising that women would experience conflict between professional success and family orientation. Finally, he tackled the question of whether a woman could become such a fanatic and still remain marriageable. He concluded that indeed she could, but that she must be “abnormally bright to combine charm with sophistication” (p. 681).

Boring’s single-authored article was actually the culmination of a somewhat complex collaboration with his colleague, Columbia University psychologist Alice Bryan, on the so-called woman problem. Bryan met Boring in 1942, when she was the only woman member appointed to a committee charged with reorganizing the APA. Boring was provoked by Bryan’s repeated assertions that women did not hold representation in APA offices proportionate to their numbers in psychology and suggested that they collaborate on a study of the problem. Their study resulted in three articles published in the Psychological Bulletin and the American Psychologist between 1944 and 1947 (Bryan & Boring, 1944, 1946, 1947).

In his autobiography, Boring (1961) described his motive behind the collaboration. He hoped that Bryan, with her feminist convictions, and he, with his conviction that for both biological and cultural reasons women “determined most of the conditions about which she complained” (p. 72), might moderate each other’s ideologies and get closer to the facts. Ultimately, in an effort to work together amicably the pair sidestepped their ideological differences and presented results that vindicated Bryan’s suspicions that women were underrepresented, but avoided providing any interpretation of these findings. Boring’s 1951 article, however, clearly conveyed his own interpretation: while acknowledging that disparities did exist, Boring was unwilling to attribute the disparities to discrimination.

As many feminist scholars have noted, despite the work of Alice Bryan and the NCWP, the postwar period of the 1950s did not provide a hospitable environment in which to sustain feminist activism. When the war ended, the NCWP was renamed the International Council of Women Psychologists. The reorganized group adopted a distinctly apolitical mission statement, began to admit more men, and was renamed the International Council of Psychologists (see Walsh, 1985). Unfortunately, the economic prosperity of the postwar period did not necessarily benefit women psychologists. Men quickly filled both the academic positions they had previously dominated and the newly prestigious clinical positions that had been at least partially situated in the “women’s sphere” before the war. It was not until the second wave of the feminist movement in the late 1960s that organized psychology would again have to examine its professional treatment of women and confront issues of sex discrimination.

Second-Wave Feminism and Psychology

In 1963, Betty Friedan (1921-2006) published The Feminine Mystique, ushering in a period of second-wave feminism in the United States. For the next decade, feminist psychologists waged their own battle with their chosen discipline, demanding that sexist practices and androcentric theories be acknowledged and reformed. One of these psychologists was Naomi Weisstein, a Harvard-trained cognitive scientist and founder of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. In the fall of 1968, she delivered a paper that was destined to become one of the founding documents of feminist psychology. Originally published by the New England Free Press in 1968 as “Kinder, Kirche, Küche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female,” a revised and expanded version was published in 1971 and has since been reprinted dozens of times in a wide range of publications (Weisstein, 1971).

In this article, Weisstein argued that psychology had nothing to say about what women were really like because, essentially, psychology did not know. This failure was due to psychologists’ focus on inner traits and consequent ignorance of social context, as well as their failure to consider evidence. In this section, we explore the institutional changes that occurred in psychology as a result of second-wave feminism and the activism of feminist psychologists. We then briefly describe feminist psychology’s internal struggle to embrace diversity and be relevant to the lives of all women.

Feminists Challenge the APA

In 1969, emboldened by the cresting of the women’s movement and the pioneering efforts of psychologists such as Weisstein, feminist psychologists met at the annual convention of the APA where “regular symposia became angry discussions focused on sexist practices at the convention” (Tiefer, 1991, p. 636). These sexist practices included job advertisements indicating “men only,” lack of child care at the convention, and overt sexual harassment. The result of these angry discussions was the formation of the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) in 1969.

Members of the newly established AWP rallied again at the 1970 convention, presenting their concerns to APA president Kenneth B. Clark at an explosive Town Hall Meeting. Two pioneer feminist psychologists, Phyllis Chesler and Nancy Henley, prepared a statement on APA’s obligations to women and demanded one million dollars in reparation for the damage psychology had perpetrated against women’s minds and bodies. Dorothy Riddle, a spokesperson for the AWP, accused the APA of using stalling tactics with the AWP’s demands rather than addressing its own sexism.

In response to these challenges, APA established a Task Force on the Status of Women, chaired by Helen Astin. The task force undertook a two-year study and published a detailed report of its findings and recommendations in 1973. One of these findings was that psychological research on and knowledge about women was deficient. Accordingly, the task force recommended that a division devoted to the psychology of women be established to promote research in this area. An Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women was formed to follow through on the recommendations of the task force, and in 1973, Division 35, Psychology of Women, was formed. Elizabeth Douvan was the first president of the division (see Mednick & Urbanski, 1991; Russo & Dumont, 1997). In 1976, the first issue of the new journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, appeared. By 1995, Division 35 had grown to become the fourth largest in the APA.

Feminism, Diversity, and Inclusiveness

The formation of AWP and Division 35 was largely driven by a fairly homogeneous group of white, middle-class feminists who resonated with liberal feminism and had already established an institutional presence in psychology. Women of color have not had a strong institutional base in psychology and have not had a ready ear for their concerns. Early on, however, feminist psychologists recognized the need to attract the interests and energies of feminists of color and to make the psychology of women a field that would reflect the richness of this diversity (see Comas-Diaz, 1991). Moreover, it was recognized that parallels between racism and sexism could not be overlooked.

In 1976, the president of Division 35, Martha Mednick, asked Saundra Rice Murray to organize a task force on black women’s concerns. The task force compiled a bibliography of research on black women, organized convention programs on the concerns of women of color, and worked to increase the representation of black women in APA governance. In 1978, the task force became the Committee on Black Women’s Concerns, with Pamela Trotman Reid as its first chair. In 1985, a bylaw change converted the Committee to a permanent Section on the Psychology of Black Women, and Reid became the division’s first black woman president in 1991. Since then, sections on the Concerns of Hispanic/Latina Women and Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Concerns have been formed. Women of color are slowly reaching the highest levels of APA governance, but despite this, as of 2006, no woman of color had been elected APA president.

Obviously, the history of women in psychology and the development of feminist psychology is a history-in-progress. Feminists have encountered both failures and successes in their attempts to mesh feminism and psychology. Ongoing challenges include responding to and incorporating more radical forms of feminist critique such as third-world and racialized feminism, and incorporating a range of feminist methodologies. As who psychologists are changes, so too must the methods and theories of the field.

Minorities In Psychology

In this section, we focus on the history of the involvement of racial and ethnic minorities in the field of psychology in the United States. Histories of minorities in other countries and cultures, though few in number, would provide a useful comparison with our work here (e.g., see the chapters in Bond, 1997; Louw, 2002; Richards, 1997). As with all histories, this is a transitional document. Given the changing demographics of the United States, which indicate that Americans of European descent will be in the numerical minority by the year 2050, our writing here is very provisional. A history of the field written one hundred years from now may well have a very different focus from the one discussed here.

When G. Stanley Hall founded the American Psychological Association in 1892, those included in the initial membership represented a range of scientific and scholarly fields: psychology, philosophy, physiology, medicine, and so forth. Yet, not one of the original members, or any of the members for many years to come, was from a racial or ethnic minority. This is not surprising, as there were very few scientists or scholars at this time who were minorities. The reasons for this scarcity are both complex in detail yet, in some ways, simple. The United States was a society built on a foundation of white elitism.

Educational systems favored whites of Anglo-Saxon or northern European descent. However, as schooling became compulsory, opportunities for education for most of the population increased. For children of minorities, those opportunities were different in kind and quality, with fewer resources devoted to the education of African American, Native American, Latino/a, or Asian American children. Nevertheless, with the dawn of the 20th century, the issue of race and ethnicity loomed larger. As the noted black scholar and sociologist W. E. B. DuBois so famously wrote in 1903, “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line” (p. 1). The history of that color line in psychology centers on the determination of people of color to find a place in the new field and to shape a body of knowledge and practice that is true to their values and heritage.

The authoritative history of the early years of this struggle has been written by the African American psychologist-historian, Robert V. Guthrie (1998). As Guthrie points out, blacks simply did not appear in standard histories of psychology such as those by Boring or Murphy. Within the field, racial minorities did appear as subjects, typically in research reports about racial differences. Such research typically produced results that were interpreted as indicating the inferiority of African Americans or Chicanos (Americans of Mexican descent) or some other minority (Richards, 1997).

Despite the lack of inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities in the histories of the field, there were, of course, individuals who were ethnic minorities who were involved in applied psychology. Few opportunities existed for higher education for minorities at the beginning of the 20th century, and fewer still for work beyond the bachelor’s degree. Still, psychology became one of the more popular degrees at historically black colleges and universities. For example, at Wilberforce College in Ohio, there was an honors psychology club with more than 40 members in 1914 (Guthrie, 1998).

Unlike the white institutions, black colleges and universities stressed the applied aspects of psychology. Consequently, applied fields like education and guidance counseling were more commonly taught. Students could use their training to return to their communities and offer practical services through the (separate) school systems and churches. In the first two generations after the discipline of psychology was begun (ca. 1879-1920), then, psychology was being taught and used by minority, primarily African American, communities. It is important to keep in mind that because the opportunities for higher education for minorities were very limited, many African American communities focused on sending a few bright students, what DuBois (1903) called the “talented tenth,” to college to be trained as teachers, ministers, lawyers, dentists, and doctors.

Early African American Psychologists

One of the first, if not the first, African American to work on psychological topics was Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923). Turner was part of the small group of animal behavior researchers working in the tradition of Charles Darwin at the end of the 19th century and into the first few decades of the 20th century. The research tradition developed by these individuals became the new field of comparative psychology. However, Turner trained as a biologist at the bachelor’s (1891) and master’s (1892) levels, then earned his PhD in 1907 in zoology. He spent his professional career as an educator at black institutions. His scientific work focused on adaptations (learning) in a variety of species: ants, cockroaches, spiders, pigeons, snakes, bees, wasps, and moths (Abramson, 2006). Turner had 70 scientific publications over the course of his 33-year career, yet he was never able to secure a faculty position at a research-oriented university. He was a finalist for a position at the University of Chicago, but he was rejected when a new chairman who did not want a person of color on his faculty was hired (DuBois, 1929).

At Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, there were several African American students who earned master’s or doctoral degrees between 1915 and 1920. The aforementioned G. Stanley Hall, founder and president of Clark, believed that Africans and people of African descent were in the adolescent stage of civilization development. In Hall’s (1904) view, African Americans were not inferior to whites, they were just not as developed and so could not be expected to perform equally the intellectual and educational tasks that were natural to whites. Of the black students there in this period, three earned degrees in psychology: Howard Hale Long (MA, 1916), J. Henry Alston (MA, 1920), and Francis Sumner (PhD, 1920). All had important careers in psychology.

Long was a professor at historically black colleges in Georgia and Tennessee before moving to a position as Associate Superintendent for Research in the Washington, DC, public school system (Guthrie, 1998). He was a major contributor to the psychological and educational research literature on intelligence, academic achievement, and race in his career. His 1935 article in the Howard University Journal of Negro Education, “Some psychogenic hazards of segregated education of Negroes,” was an important contribution to the evidence used by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund as part of their legal efforts to end segregation in public schools. Those efforts eventually culminated successfully in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, handed down in 1954 (see the following for more on this).

Francis Sumner was Hall’s last doctoral student. He earned his PhD from Clark University in 1920, with a the-sis titled “Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler.” He was the first African American to earn a doctorate in psychology (Guthrie, 1998; Sawyer, 2000). As notable as this accomplishment was, Sumner’s career contributions far exceeded this beginning. His first full-time appointment was at West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now West Virginia State College), where he served from 1921 to 1928. He then moved to Howard University in Washington, DC, where he remained until his death in 1954. At Howard, he led the efforts to create an independent Department of Psychology (1930). From this point until his death, Howard developed the most outstanding department of psychology in any historically black institution (Guthrie, 1998). Among the many who earned psychology degrees (bachelor’s or master’s) there during this time were Kenneth and Mamie Clark, Keturah Whitehurst, James Bayton, and Alonzo Davis. Each of these individuals made important contributions to psychology.

Sumner made research contributions as well with published articles on emotions, religion, education, and intelligence. He, along with other black psychologists of this period, contributed to the intense debate then raging about the relative influences of environment and heredity in psychological abilities (Dewsbury, 1984; Sumner, 1928).

From the mid-to-late 1930s into the 1950s and 1960s, the number of minority psychologists slowly but steadily increased. Herman G. Canady (PhD, Northwestern, 1941) replaced Francis Sumner at West Virginia State College and pursued a vigorous research program for many years. Canady’s interest was in clinical problems, with a focus on issues such as the race of the examiner in testing children. In 1938, Canady organized psychologists in a special section of the all-black American Teachers Association (ATA). The all-white National Education Association would not admit minority educators. At the 1938 ATA meeting, Division 6, Department of Psychology, was formed. It was the first professional organization of psychologists of color. When APA reorganized during World War II, Canady led a delegation from Division 6 to participate in the reorganization (Capshew & Hilgard, 1992).

In this period, ethnic minority psychologists were gaining strength, even if their numbers were not high.

There was great vitality in the psychology departments at Howard, West Virginia State, and other centers. At the same time, there was a great cultural expansion in Harlem that encompassed music, painting, poetry, and literary novels. This was the era of Duke Ellington, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston (an anthropologist as well as a novelist), Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison. Black communities across America knew what was happening in Harlem and took special pride in the accomplishments springing from this cultural and artistic center.

In the 1930s, African American women began earning doctorates in psychology. Inez Beverly Prosser was the first, earning a PhD in psychology from Cincinnati in 1933. She had already had an outstanding career in education in institutions in Texas and Mississippi. A fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation’s General Education Board while she was a professor at Tougaloo College in Mississippi made it possible for her to attend the University of Cincinnati for her doctoral work (Benjamin, Henry, & McMahon, 2005). Cincinnati, though it had a troubled past of racist actions by white citizens, was in a period of relative calm in the early 1930s. In fact, the university had a legacy of offering higher education to black students, at least for some of its degree programs (Benjamin, Henry, & McMahon, 2005). Charles Henry Turner had, in fact, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology there (Abramson, 2006). With a bright future ahead of her, Prosser proudly received her doctorate in 1933. Unfortunately, she was killed in an automobile accident in 1934, cutting short what had already been a brilliant career (Guthrie, 1998).

Other women who received their doctorates in this period included Keturah Whitehurst (PhD, Radcliffe, 1952), who taught at Meharry Medical College (Nashville) in the 1950s before moving to Virginia State College in 1958, where she spent the remainder of her career and where she “mothered” several leaders of black psychology, including Aubrey Perry (Farley & Perry, 2002). Ruth Howard (PhD, University of Minnesota, 1934) was a developmental psychologist, having worked with the noted developmentalist Florence Goodenough. Howard later married the African American psychologist Albert Beckham, who was the third African American to earn his doctorate in psychology (NYU, 1930). Alberta Banner Turner (PhD, Ohio State, 1937), was a clinical psychologist who served for many years with the Ohio Bureau of Juvenile Research (Guthrie, 1998). These women, and numerous others, forged rewarding careers despite the constant discrimination and lower pay they experienced as women of color.

The Clarks’ Contributions

Mamie Phipps Clark (PhD, Columbia, 1944) came to psychology after an initial interest in pursuing a mathematics degree at Howard University. She met Kenneth Bancroft Clark when both were students at Howard, and he persuaded her to change her major to psychology (Guthrie, 1990). Both she and Kenneth earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard before moving on to Columbia University. (Kenneth, a few years ahead of Mamie, earned his doctorate at Columbia in 1940.) It was at Howard that Mamie Phipps, having secretly married Kenneth in 1937, began her work on racial identification in children. This work became a joint effort with Kenneth once she moved to New York. In their work with black children in both northern and southern U.S. settings, the Clarks found evidence that segregation inflicted psychological damage on the children (Phillips, 2000). Kenneth Clark later reported that the work had been terribly disturbing to both of them and they had great reservations about pursuing it. However, with the encouragement of the NAACP Legal Defense fund, Kenneth agreed to use the results of their studies in the Fund’s court challenges to school segregation (Jackson, 2001).

It was this work along with other social science research on the effects of racial segregation and discrimination that was considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in their landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, when the Court ruled in 1954 that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional (Pickren, 2004a). It was the first time that psychological research had been used by the Court in making their decision. Not unusual for the time, the predominantly white APA made no mention of it in any of their fora (Benjamin & Crouse, 2002). The decision and its defiance by school boards in both the North and the South were critical turning points in U.S. history. As it fit within the larger civil rights movement, the work of Kenneth and Mamie Clark that was used by the Court became one of the most important applications of psychology to the cause of social justice.

But the work of the Clarks was much more diverse than the “doll studies” that were part of the evidence presented to the Court. Because they both wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and families, the Clarks, with their own money, started the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem in 1946. It was, for Kenneth, the “convergence of academic life and social policy” (as cited in Nyman, 1976, p. 111). He was the research director at the center from 1946 to 1952. For Mamie, it was a way for her to use her training, expertise, and sense of social justice to “give children security” (Lal, 2002).

The Clarks faced many challenges at the Northside Center (Markowitz & Rosner, 2000). For example, the Clarks discovered that the New York Board of Education had policies that facilitated the easy labeling of minority or immigrant children as mentally retarded or developmentally delayed and then shuffled them off to special classes. This has been a problem for well over a century in the U.S., and it continues today. This issue became one that the Clarks and their staff at Northside dealt with repeatedly.

Mamie, as director, soon discovered that focusing solely on the problems of individuals and their families was inadequate. There were structural problems—housing, organization of work, schools, social and educational policies—that could not be ignored if these children were to be helped. Kenneth Clark held strong views about the need to address the larger social structure, as he became well aware from his research that the provision of clinical services alone would not make an enduring difference in the health of the community (Nyman, 1976). The need to address the larger social problems and pathologies in the social system was at the crux of what the Clarks wanted to do.

In 1962, Kenneth became the director of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency program in Harlem, the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Initially, this effort to revive Harlem as a place of opportunity was successful. Kenneth and his staff set out to make a structural difference and improve individual lives. Through a jobs program for youth and community projects to freshen up neighborhoods and improve services, it seemed like there was hope when communities took action collectively.

However, other black leaders, mainly Adam Clayton Powell, then the representative to the U.S. Congress for that district, betrayed Clark over money. Clark became disillusioned about the possibility of real change. In his disillusionment he wrote Dark Ghetto (1965). It reflected his despair over structural and individual racism.

In 1968, Kenneth Clark was asked by the leaders of APA to allow his name to be placed on the ballot for the presidency of APA. The association was, at this time, struggling with how to respond to the massive social changes and social problems then facing the nation and shaking up APA. The new, militant Association of Black Psychologists had laid challenges of racism and irrelevance at APA’s door, and APA was not sure how to respond (Pickren, 2004b).

Clark became APA president-elect in 1969 and served his term as president from September 1970 through August 1971. Among his enduring contributions were his actions to establish internal governance structures within APA to deal with issues of social justice and public interest. The APA membership approved the creation of the Board for Social and Ethical Responsibility in Psychology (BSERP). This board, which no longer exists, inaugurated a sea change in APA’s approach to psychology, making APA much more receptive to issues of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability through such structures as the Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs and the current Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (Pickren & Tomes, 2002).

The Association of Black Psychologists

Pressuring APA from another side was a group of African American psychologists, alluded to previously. These psychologists were mostly of a younger generation than the Clarks and were inspired by the more militant views of Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm X, and Frantz Fanon. The Clarks were committed to integration and the abolition of the color line. The younger black psychologists were committed to black identity and black nationalism. Rather than focusing on the damage to black communities and accepting victimization, these psychologists portrayed black communities as sources of strength and black families as sources of resilience (White, 1972). This was at the time that the national discourse, led by such well-meaning whites as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was labeling black families as “tangles of pathology.”

What upset many younger and older black APA members was the lack of action on APA’s part to address institutional racism and the failure of psychology graduate programs to recruit and retain minority students or train their students in theory and method relevant to social problems. In short, what many minority psychologists (accurately) perceived was that APA represented a white middle-class ideology committed to maintaining the status quo. And the status quo included using psychological tests to label and sort minority children and students as inferior or deficient, or, at best, culturally deprived. In 1962 the APA had created a committee to investigate the low numbers of minority psychologists, but the committee was bogged down and had done nothing by the late 1960s. Fed up with what they perceived as foot-dragging, a group of young black psychologists founded the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) in 1968 at the APA meeting in San Francisco (B. H. Williams, 1997; R. Williams, 1974).

ABPsi was led by a dedicated group of mostly male psychologists. Some of the leaders were Henry Tomes, Robert Williams, Reginald Jones, Joseph White, Robert Green, Charles Thomas, Asa Hilliard, and others. In retrospect, the initial impetus for the organization was reactive; its members were angry and upset at the failures of what they perceived as a white-dominated psychology. However, these psychologists soon articulated a black psychology that focused on the strengths and resilience of black folks and black communities. In journals (e.g., Black Scholar, Journal of Black Psychology) and books (e.g., the several editions of Reginald Jones’s Black Psychology), White, Williams, Jones, Hilliard, Luther, X, and others articulated a positive psychology predicated on a world-view informed by the history and philosophy of people of African descent. One aspect that was present from the beginning and remains potent is the emphasis on community and how resolutions of problems come from reliance on community resources and the strength that the community gives to its members. This orientation stems from the communalism that is part of the cultural traditions of those of African, particularly West African, descent (Nobles, 1972). What the founders of ABPsi fostered and what has been maintained is a psychology of resilience and strength anchored in community.

ABPsi as an Organizational Model

Once the ABPsi was formed, it quickly became a role model for other organizations of ethnic minority psychologists in the United States. In 1970, Edward Casavantes, a Mexican American (Chicano) psychologist founded the first professional organization of Hispanic psychologists, the Association of Psychologists Por La Raza (APLR). At first, there were only a handful of members and the organization struggled to get recognition from APA (Pickren & Tomes, 2002). By the end of the 1970s, the group re-formed as the National Hispanic Psychological Association. The growth of the association was fostered by the financial support provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for conferences and training (Pickren, 2004b). In 1979 the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science was founded at the Spanish Speaking Mental Health Resource Center at UCLA, with Amado Padilla as the editor. After a period of lagging growth, the group was renamed the National Latino Psychological Association and began a period of growth at the beginning of the century, thus reflecting the rapid growth of the Latino/a population in the United States.

The Asian American Psychological Association (AAPH) was founded in 1972 by two brothers, Derald and Stanley Sue. By the late 1960s, there was growing unrest in the Asian community in the San Francisco Bay area regarding the inadequacy of mental health services. The brothers brought together leaders of various community groups, psychologists, social workers, and ministers who were involved in some way with mental health work. NIMH provided money to fund a meeting to sort the issues out, a meeting that became quite heated and confrontational (Pickren, 2004b). Out of this passionate meeting came a decision to more formally organize. As Stanley Sue later recounted, AAPA initially built its membership by going through the APA directory and contacting anyone who had an Asian-sounding name (Pickren & Nelson, 2007). From this small beginning, the AAPA has had a healthy growth pattern into the 21st century. It had a membership of over 400 by the year 2000.

The AAPA has been involved in a range of issues since its founding. It has provided key liaisons to the NIMH and other federal agencies to assist with the development of workable policies for training minority mental health providers and to foster cultural competence in the training of all psychologists. There has been substantial progress on developing a body of theoretical work that is reflective of Asian American cultural experiences in psychology by members of the AAPA, including clinical training and social research. Derald Sue and other leaders of the association were among the first advocates of guidelines for multicultural counseling. The Journal of the Asian American Psychological Association began in 1979. Dr. Richard Suinn (b. 1933) was elected to serve as the president of the APA in 1999, the first Asian American to serve in this office.

The Society of Indian Psychologists (SIP) grew out of two different organizational efforts in the early 1970s. Carolyn Attneave founded the Network of Indian Psychologists in 1971. Joseph Trimble formed the American Indian Interest Group, also in 1971. The two groups merged in 1973 and changed the name to Society of Indian Psychologists in 1975 (Trimble, 2000). The membership of SIP has remained small but very active. Because of a legacy of racism, which endures to the present, fostered by official U.S. government policies, the mental health needs of American Indians have been and remain great. Efforts to increase the number of American Indian mental health providers have met with some success. The most notable success has been the Indians into Psychology Doctoral Education (INDPSYDE) program begun by Arthur L. McDonald in the mid-1980s. In the early years of the 21st century, INDPSYDE programs were in place at a few colleges and universities in the West and in Alaska. As a result there has been a slow growth in the number of mental health professionals of American Indian or Alaska Native descent. Logan Wright, in 1986, became the first person of American Indian heritage to be elected APA president (Trimble & Clearing Sky, in press).

Toward Inclusiveness In 21st-Century Psychology

As we can see, progress has been made in U.S. psychology in terms of making diversity a part of the agenda. Still, the membership of ethnic minorities in APA and other general psychological organizations lags well behind the proportions in the U.S. population. And, still, there is significant resistance to making training programs in the professional fields of psychology—clinical, counseling, and school—truly committed to the necessity of training all the students to be culturally competent in the provision of mental health services.

Where can we look for a model of how to do this best? Surprisingly, it is in many of the professional training schools, many offering the Doctor of Psychology degree, that we can find successful models of training for diversity. At the best programs, the administration and faculty are characterized by the following:

  • Commitment from all concerned parties
  • Sufficient financial support: grants, fellowships, and so forth
  • Flexible admission criteria: for example, life experiences
  • Presence of one or more minority faculty members
  • Nurturing and supportive environment
  • Incorporation of cultural diversity into all aspects of program

Although these characteristics are critically important, they cannot be implemented in a cookie-cutter fashion. Rather, each program has to find a way to create a program that is sensitive and welcoming of diversity. Given the changing demographics of U.S. society, doing so is no longer an option if psychology is to remain a relevant discipline and profession. With successful implementation of these programs creating a vibrant pipeline for minority psychologists, we might optimistically predict ever-increasing diversity in the discipline itself. As who psychologists are changes, the psychological knowledge produced by the discipline will become increasingly relevant to all of its consumers.


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