Interview: Psychology’s Feminist Voices

AHP has the pleasure of presenting an interview with Alexandra Rutherford (right) on the ongoing online archive project Psychology’s Feminist Voices. Directed by Rutherford, Psychology’s Feminist Voices documents the contributions of female psychologists to the discipline, both past and present.

Rutherford is a faculty member in the History and Theory of Psychology graduate program at York University, a fellow of the American Psychological Association’s Society for the History of Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Society for the Psychology of Women and she was kind enough to grant AHP’s request for an interview.

AHP: Briefly, what is Psychology’s Feminist Voices?

AR: Psychology’s Feminist Voices is an Oral History and On-Line Archive Project that I launched in 2004. Although it started small, it has developed over the past 7 years into a multi-component collaborative initiative to document and preserve the voices and stories of feminist psychologists both for the historical record, and for feminist scholarship, teaching, and advocacy in psychology. To date, we have conducted over 100 interviews with self-identified feminist psychologists across North America and Europe. In 2010, we launched the Psychology’s Feminist Voices multimedia internet archive – http://www.feministvoices.com – at the American Psychological Association (APA) convention in San Diego, California. At that time, the site was officially endorsed by the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the APA.

The internet archive features profiles of many of the participants in the oral history project, full transcripts and video excerpts from their interviews, and a 40-minute original documentary about the history of feminist psychology in the United States. And this is only half of it! The other half features profiles of women in the history of psychology who may or may not have identified as feminists, but who nonetheless made important contributions that need to be highlighted in our history. We have also developed timelines and bibliographies for students and others interested in feminist psychology and the history of women in psychology.

AHP: What was the impetus for the project?

AR: The original impetus for the project was the observation that many of the psychologists involved in creating the field of feminist psychology in Canada and the United States in the 1970s were getting older, and their stories needed to be recorded while they were still able to tell them. What started as a fairly modest effort to conduct a few oral history interviews has expanded into a project with a much larger scope and set of objectives.

AHP: Who are the contributors to the project?

AR: The project is carried out by a dedicated team of researchers, including senior undergraduate students at York University, graduate students in the History and Theory of Psychology Program at York, and colleagues at McMaster University, Carleton University, and Ryerson University. It is truly a collaborative project. You can read more about the team at http://www.feministvoices.com/about

AHP: How do you envision the site being used? Similarly, who do you think will benefit most from the site?

AR: I envision that the site will be used by students, educators, and researchers in psychology, history, and women’s studies, but hope that anyone interested in feminist psychology might take a look. Because there is archival material at the site – that we have both created ourselves (oral history interviews) and also collected and digitized from other sources – and we have made every effort to provide links to the on-line finding aids that exist for the psychologists profiled, it could potentially be used by researchers in the history of psychology and the history of feminism. There are multiple ways the site can be used in teaching, across a wide range of courses. We are currently at work on a set of Teaching Guides that will be made available at the site over the next couple of months. These will include examples of assignments and in-class exercises that we have pilot-tested, as well as ways to use the site to enliven lecture material.

Students have already benefitted from the site! Prof. Julie McIntyre at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY asked her intro psych students to read and respond to profiles that they selected, and many of them were inspired by the stories they found. A visiting student from Shanghai discovered the story of Chinese-American feminist psychologist Jean Lau Chin, and was impressed that Chin had been so successful in psychology despite her parents’ early lack of encouragement (psychology has typically not been seen as a practical career choice by Chinese families). Another student found the profile of Mamie Phipps Clark, and, as a current employee and previous client of the Northside Center, connected with the founder in a new way.

AHP: Has there been anything that has surprised you as the project has developed?

AR: I have been a bit surprised by the range of reactions psychologists have had to being profiled at the site, and to their interviews being made available on-line. Many have been very eager to be profiled and feel it is an honor to be featured (which is a nice feeling for us!). Others are very reluctant, either because it is such a “public” project, or perhaps they feel self-conscious about the attention being drawn to their lives and careers. We really feel that Psychology’s Feminist Voices is an important advocacy tool around the value and necessity of a vibrant, inclusive, and explicitly feminist psychology and thank all of our participants for their generosity in contributing to the project.

Psychology’s Feminist Voices is also a tool to ensure that women’s professional contributions and life stories continue to be included in, and added to, the historical record of psychology. Being very familiar with this record, and the impressive work of women’s historians, I sometimes forget how non-mainstream this approach still is and how little students actually know about the history of women in psychology, let alone the history of feminist psychology.

AHP: What can we expect to see on the site in the future?

AR: Coming soon are the aforementioned Teaching Guides, as well as reorganized Resources pages, and additional profiles. We are constantly uploading new material. In my wildest dreams, I envision making the site more interactive – with capabilities for people to write in, add, or change their own profiles, a discussion forum, and a place to share teaching ideas and experiences. I would also like to start adding profiles of feminist psychologists who are early and mid-career. While it is incredibly important to include the “pioneers,” the site should also reflect the contributions, perspectives, and concerns of the next generations. Finally, over the coming months we will also be making the site more international – including profiles of feminist psychologists from all over the world, not just North America and Europe.

AHP: Is there anything else you would like AHP’s readers to know about the project?

AR: There is a lot of depth to the Psychology’s Feminist Voices site, and I really encourage users to “go deep.” Read some of the oral history interviews; use the search functions to bring up groups of profiles, explore the photo galleries, and watch the documentary! There are also media links to other interesting sites (although these are limited to those we have deemed intellectually reputable and relatively stable). Let us know of any factual errors, but also what you liked about the site. Here are a few questions to get you started on your exploration – if you look hard enough, you will find the answers!

Who described her recruitment of subjects in one of her studies as follows: “I located subjects by driving around looking for diapers drying on clotheslines”?

Who was the first African American psychologist to be licensed in Virginia?

What famous feminist psychologist states in her interview that when she arrived at Harvard to undertake graduate work in clinical psychology, she was “appalled” by the state of the field? Why?

AHP’s previous posts on Rutherford’s work can be found here, here, here, and here.

Share on Facebook

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *