Mary Whiton Calkins was born in Hartford, Connecticut on March 30, 1863. When she was a teen, her family moved to Massachusetts and she began her schooling at Smith College in 1882. She graduated in 1884 with a degree in philosophy. Her first job was as a Greek tutor at Wellesley College. After several years, she was noticed by members of the Psychology department and with a little encouragement, she decided to pursue her degree in psychology in order to teach. She was given special permission to study at Harvard, but was not permitted to be formally enrolled, as women were not allowed to attend the same college class as men at the time. Upon her graduation, she began her work in psychology in earnest. She helped found the first lab dedicated to the study of psychology at Wellesley, all while continuing her education. After several more years at Harvard with no possibility of admittance, Calkins was offered the opportunity to receive her Ph.D. from another university, but declined.
Eventually, Calkins worked her way up to earn the title of Associate Professor, and ultimately, full Professor at Wellesley College. She even achieved the esteemed role of being the Research Professor of the university’s psychology department before her death. In addition to those accomplishments, Calkins also received Doctors of Letters and Doctors of Law from both Smith College and the University of Columbia.
Contribution to Psychology
During her college experience, Calkins was fortunate enough to be assigned a research project that allowed her the chance to spend nearly two months studying dreams. Using her own dreams and those of a colleague, Calkins recorded and analyzed over 350 dreams. Her findings were impressive enough be noticed by Sigmund Freud, and he even mentioned her work when he began his foray into his own research on dreams.
Calkins also devoted much of her research to her theories on Self-psychology. She believed that the self is a conscious and mobile force in the context of psychology. Self-psychology is based on the theory that the self acts with purpose and meaning.
A pioneer, Calkins broke barriers for women in the field of psychology. She was listed among the most influential psychologists of her time in the early 1900’s and she sat as president of both the American Philosophical Association and the American Psychological Association. Calkins published countless papers and numerous books, and worked at Wellesley for nearly four decades, pushing for advancement in her field and advancement for women.