Feminist Pscyology in Canada: Early Days

Article excerpt

Abstract

Several of the events that marked the origins of feminist psychology in Canada are discussed in this paper beginning with an account of the "Underground Symposium" which took place in Montreal in 1972. Four other influential events from the early days are described - the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) Task Force on the Status of Women in Canadian Psychology, the founding of the CPA Interest Group on Women and Psychology in 1976, the implementation of an Institute on Women and Psychology in 1978, and the establishment of the cpA Status of Women Committee. Parallels with comparable events in the American Psychological Association are identified. The paper concludes with a forecast of the future of the psychology of women as a specialization within the discipline.

In this paper I discuss some of the events that marked the beginnings of feminist psychology in Canada - for example, the Underground Symposium, the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) Task Force on the Status of Women in Canadian Psychology, the founding of the CPA Interest Group on Women and Psychology, the implementation of an Institute on Women and Psychology, and the establishment of the CPA Status of Women Committee. Analogous structures and events within the American Psychological Association (APA) are described. The paper concludes with some personal speculations about the future of feminist psychology. A paper by Pyke and Greenglass (1997), presented at the International Congress of Psychology in Montreal in 1996, also explored much of this early history. From a somewhat different perspective, Stark (2000) also discussed certain aspects of the development in Canada of women's historic involvement in and contributions to the discipline.

Psychology emerged as a separate and distinct discipline in Canada in the 1920s with the establishment of autonomous departments at the University of Toronto and McGill University (de la Cour, 1987; Wright & Myers, 1982). It has been reported that women were well represented in the early days both in the student body and among faculty (de la Cour, 1987). However, the absolute numbers were very low. Mary Wright (1974) estimates that in 1938, there were only about 53 psychologists in the whole country, of which perhaps no more than six or seven were women.

The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) was founded in 1939 (Ferguson, 1992). Of the 38 founding members (Adair, Paivio, & Ritchie, 1996), only 6 (17%) were women (de la Cour, 1987). This is in marked contract to the robust membership of 3,100 in APA in 1940 (Hogan & Sexton, 1991). It has been widely believed and generally accepted that the organization was created so psychologists might contribute more effectively to the war effort (Ferguson, 1992; Vipond & Richert, 1977; Wright, 1974; Wright & Myers, 1982). However, Kathy Dzinas (1997), on the basis of a rigorous re-examination of the relevant literature and documentation, argues that there is no evidentiary support for these claims. Regardless of the motivation for establishing CPA, it seems clear that a primary focus of the fledgling organization was directed toward activities relevant to the war effort such as the selection and training of military personnel. Interestingly enough, there is little mention of the involvement of women psychologists in most accounts of these events. Nevertheless, women did contribute significantly through their provision of services relevant to working mothers and their children. The training of qualified personnel to staff day care centres for the children of women working in factories was one such significant and important contribution (de la Cour, 1987; Wright, 1974). Among the stimuli for the founding of the National Council of Women Psychologists in the United States was the unwillingness of APA to appoint women to their Emergency Committee - a committee intended to coordinate the activities of psychologists in the event of American involvement in World War II (Walsh, 1985). …