The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions

By Margaret P. Munger | Go to book overview
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Margaret Floy Washburn (1871–1939) found herself at Vassar College in 1891 with “two
dominant intellectual interests, science and philosophy. They seemed to be combined in
what I heard of the wonderful new science of experimental psychology.” An only child with
parents who were continuously supportive of her scholarly interests, Washburn spent her
early life in Harlem, then an isolated residential suburb of New York City. Following college,
she arranged immediately to study with James McKeen Cattell at Columbia University, but
could not formally enroll because of the Trustees' restrictions barring women. Cattell, whom
Washburn found very supportive, suggested that she consider Cornell University, which of-
fered women the full range of graduate study and degree candidacy. Awarded a prestigious
scholarship, Washburn was one of the first students of E. B. Titchener (p. 324), recently ar-
rived from Wilhelm Wundt's (p. 296) Leipzig laboratory to begin an experimental psycholo-
gy program at Cornell. Washburn earned her Ph.D. in 1894, the first woman to receive the
degree in psychology, and was elected to membership in the American Psychological Asso-
ciation the same year. She eventually returned to Vassar as an associate professor of philos-
ophy, developing a remarkable body of research without some of the advantages available
to her colleagues at research institutions or inclusion in Titchener's elite “Experimentalists”
club, a vibrant discussion group of top North American psychologists. Washburn combined
teaching and research by designing a variety of experiments for senior students to conduct
and interpret. Fifty-seven times Washburn and her students found significant new results,
which she published, with her respective student coauthors, as the series “Studies from the
Psychological Laboratory of Vassar College” in the American Journal of Psychology. Wash-
burn's professional activities extended well beyond Vassar and mark her as one of a growing
number of college professors who were beginning to consider their careers in terms of their
academic disciplines, as opposed to a particular loyalty to their current institution. In addi-
tion to serving in a variety of leadership roles, including president of the American Psycho-
logical Association and editor of the American Journal of Psychology Washburn was elect-
ed to the National Academy of Sciences in 1931.



The Difficulties and Methods of
Comparative Psychology

§ 1. Difficulties

THAT the mind of each human being forms a region inaccessible to all save its possessor, is one of the commonplaces of reflection. His neighbor's knowledge of each person's mind must always be indirect, a matter of inference. How wide of the truth this inference may be, even under the most favorable circumstances, is also an affair of everyday experience: each of us can judge his fellow-men only on the basis of his own thoughts and feelings in similar circumstances, and the individual peculiarities of different members of the human species

From Margaret Floy Washburn, “The Difficulties and Methods of Comparative Psychology,” and “The Evidence of Mind.” In The
Animal Mind (pp. 1–32). New York: Macmillan. 1907.


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