Cognitive Daily‘s “History Week” continues with an item on some interesting but little-known work on child development from 1900 entitled The Biography of a Baby. The author, Milicent Shinn had earned a PhD at the University of California, and her book, was “one of the most thorough scientific accounts of a baby’s cognitive and physical development in its time.” Eric W. Codak notes that Shinn published intermediate reports prior to the book, including an article in Proceedings of the International Congress of Education (1893). (See also Scarborough, E, & Furumoto, L. (1987) Untold lives: The first generation of the American women psychologists. New York: Columbia University Press.)
Although Shinn’s Biography may have been the first book-length treatment of the topic, there had been earlier articles detailing the physical, intellectual, and moral development of children. Charles Darwin‘s “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant” was published in Mind in 1877. And its publication was prompted by a similar account by Hippolyte Taine in Revue Philosophique the year before. In the US, G. Stanley Hall had launched the “child study” movement in the early 1880s and founded the Pedagogical Seminary (later Journal of Genetic Psychology) to publish such work in 1893. Also, James Mark Baldwin, at U. Toronto and then Princeton U., published a number of articles and books on developmental psychology in the 1890s, starting with case studies of the development of his two daughters. Baldwin’s stage-wise approach to development would later be picked up and elaborated by the famed Swiss theorist, Jean Piaget.
The Cognitive Daily item on Shinn concludes that:
After Shinn completed her Ph.D. and published The Biography of a Baby in 1900, she returned to caring for her parents and her brother’s children, never returning to a career in academe, even though this did appear to be an option that was open to her, even at that early date in the history of women’s rights.