The “Other Woman” of British Psychology

Elizabeth ValentineThe most recent issue of the The Psychologist, the flagship journal of the British Psychological Society, marked the launch of a new historical column, “Looking Back,” edited by Julie Perks of Staffordshire University.

The first of the new columns, by Elizabeth Valentine of Royal Holloway, University of London, focuses on the life and career of Nellie Carey, a student of Charles Spearman’s at University College London during the 1910s. In a series of articles in the British Journal of Psychology between 1914 and 1916 Carey explored aspects of color perception, mental imagery, school subjects, and intelligence. She abruptly withdrew from UCL in 1920 and disappeared from the membership roles of the BPS in 1925. Valentine’s article explores what became of so promising a student.

The answer involves the story of one of Carey’s student colleagues at UCL, a German emigrĂ© named Adolf Wohlgemuth. Although married to a French widow, Wohlgemuth met frequently with Carey, who was nearly 20 years his junior. In an apparent fit of jealousy, he was shot by his wife in 1918. He survived (his wife was jailed briefly) and he continued his relationship with Carey. Although unable to marry under the laws of the day, Wohlgemuth and Carey bought a house together and had children in 1921 and 1929. They attended meetings of the BPS’s Medical Section through the 1920s, Adolf presenting several papers on various aspects of psychopathology. He also wrote articles critical of psychical research and of psychoanalysis.

They finally married after his ex-wife’s death in 1936. Adolf died in 1942 at the age of 73. Nellie Carey Wohlgemuth died, also at 73, in 1960.

Unfortunately, Valentine’s article on this fascinating figure is only available online to those who are subscribed to The Psychologist. The full reference is: Valentine, E. (2008). The other woman. The Psychologist, 21(1), 86-87.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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