MILICENT W. SHINN
Milicent Washburn Shinn (1858–1940) lived among meadowlarks and wildflowers on the
family ranch in California for most her life. Attending the University of California in 1874,
the second year it began admitting women, she thoroughly enjoyed her time as a student
and scholarly pursuits. She then returned home to care for her parents and tutor her
younger brother, choosing the ranch over an offer to attend the Harvard Annex, a newly
constituted but unofficial series of private courses that allowed women access to graduate
studies in Cambridge. In 1882, Shinn began editing a local literary magazine, Overland
Monthly, motivated, in part, by a desire to encourage fellow Californians to take up the lit-
erary life, which she thought might improve society and the basic moral fiber of the youth.
Ruth, Shinn's niece and the subject of her book The Biography of a Baby was born in
1890, the center of doting attention for the entire family. Shinn was fascinated by the child,
but, unlike most aunts, had what she described as, “the notebook habit from college and
editorial days, and jotted things down as I watched, till quite unexpectedly I found myself
in possession of a large mass of data.” Shinn was eventually convinced of the value of her
notes, begun as a private project, and returned for graduate study at Berkeley in 1894. Her
various publications, including the popular Biography were greeted with wild enthusiasm
by scholars, both in America and abroad. After becoming the first woman to receive a
Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, Shinn returned to the family to care for
her aging parents, a responsibility she refused to share with her two brothers or sister-in-
law. Her sense of family responsibility extended to tutoring her brother's four children, as
she had tutored that brother in his youth, and maintaining copious correspondence with
the extended family.
“IT is a well recognized fact in the history of science that the very subjects which concern our dearest interests, which lie nearest our hearts, are exactly those which are the last to submit to scientific methods, to be reduced to scientific law. Thus it has come to pass that while babies are born and grow up in every household, and while the gradual unfolding of their faculties has been watched with the keenest interest and intensest joy by intelligent and even scientific fathers and mothers from time immemorial, yet very little has yet been done in the scientific study of this most important of all possible subjects—the ontogenetic evolution of the faculties of the human mind.
“Only in the last few years has scientific attention been drawn to the subject at all. Its transcendent importance has already enlisted many observers, but on account of the great complexity of the phenomena, and still more the intrinsic difficulty of their interpretation, scientific progress has scarcely yet commenced.
“What is wanted most of all in this, as in every sci
From Milicent W. Shinn, “Baby Biographies in General,” and “The Dawn of Intelligence.” In The Biography of a Baby (pp. 1–19,
161–181). New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1900.