Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Reconstructing the Experiences of First Generation Women in Canadian Psychology

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Reconstructing the Experiences of First Generation Women in Canadian Psychology

Article excerpt

To date, the historiography on women in Canadian psychology has been relatively sparse. This is especially true in relation to the much more extensive literature that documents the history of first and second generation women in American psychology. The aim of this paper is to systematically identify and analyse the personal characteristics, educational experiences, and career trajectories of first generation women psychologists in Canada. We identify this cohort as women who received their PhDs during the period 1922 to 1960. We contextualize their experiences vis-à-vis unique trends in Canadian society, paying particular attention to the common struggles faced by these women within or in reaction to the broader social, cultural, political, and institutional structures they encountered. By locating and distinguishing Canadian women in psychology, we offer an important contribution to the development of a more comprehensive history of Canadian psychology and highlight its gendered dynamics.

Keywords: Canadian psychology, history, women, feminism, gender

But if I am concerned about the lack of awareness of Canadian contributions to psychological knowledge, and a general lack of awareness of the history of our discipline, I am even more concerned about the relative invisibility of our herstory. (Stark, 2000, p. 3)

Written just over a decade ago, this call for increased awareness of the history of Canadian psychology and the role women have played in it is now being heeded. In this paper, we address concerns about the invisibility of our herstory by presenting the results of our systematic search for women in early Canadian psychology. In doing so, we provide a counterweight to the extensive historiography on women in American psychology that began in the 1970s and has since expanded to encompass many important historical studies (e.g., Bernstein & Russo, 1974; Cameron & Hägen, 2005; Johnson & Johnston, 2010; Johnston & Johnson, 2008; O'Connell & Russo, 1980; Rutherford, VaughnBlount, & Ball, 2010; Scarborough & Furumoto, 1987).'

Although much less is known about Canadian psychology's women's history-particularly the earliest generation of women psychologists-our work does build on a small number of valuable studies (e.g., de la Cour, 1987; Keates & Stam, 2009; M. J. Wright, 1992).2 Mary J. Wright (1992) explored the effects of World War II (WWII) and its aftermath on the careers of 10 women who obtained their PhDs between 1936 and 1949 from the University of Toronto. One of the themes she identified was that women did not move into more prestigious administrative and leadership positions as easily as their male counterparts, despite having significantly outperformed them in scholarly productivity and contributions to the discipline. De la Cour (1987) provided a brief overview of the history of women psychologists at the University of Toronto from 1920 to 1945. She argued that the presence of female psychologists in both academic and applied fields in this period was far from marginal. Finally, in their recent paper, Keates and Stam (2009) analysed patterns in the educational experiences of five prominent women who received their PhDs from Canadian institutions prior to 1950: Katharine BanhamBridges (1897-1995), Magda Arnold (1903-2002), Mary NorthPelin way (1909-1987), Mary S. Ainsworth (1913-1999), and Mary J. Wright (b. 1915). The authors compared the experiences of these women to those of the first generation of American women psychologists, noting however that this cohort of Canadian psychologists entered the field later than their American counterparts due to the later institutionalization of psychology in Canada.

One of the trends that Keates and Stam (2009) identified was that because of this later entry, the Canadian women psychologists did not appear to encounter the same institutional and educational barriers as the earlier American cohort. They suggested that Canadian women's comparably uncontested entrance into psychology likely resulted from the already accomplished shift in the field's orientation from primarily experimental to largely applied. …

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