Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part I

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

Chicago Philosophy Club, 1896
Amy Eliza Tanner in white blouse and tie, in between rows

There now exists a large and robust historiography on women and American science before 1970 (Rossiter, 1982; Scarborough & Furomoto, 1987). These works focus on the severe constraints faced by women due to sexist social norms, the tension between pure versus applied work, and the question of whether women scientists generated a specifically feminist-conscious science. With important exceptions (e.g. Rosenberg, 1982; Rossiter, 1982), much of this historiography focuses on a single discipline and often one or two notable (and particularly successful) women. For this project, presented at the 2013 conference of Cheiron: The International Society for the History of Behavioral & Social Sciences, we were interested in comparing the careers of female social scientists within and across disciplines. By relying on prosopography rather than biography, we could compare the career patterns of the better known women to their lesser-known peers (Scarborough, 2005; Pettit, 2008).

With these interests in mind, a focus on the University of Chicago made a lot of sense. Founded in 1893, the University of Chicago accepted women as doctoral candidates at a time when such opportunities were not available at elite east coast institutions (e.g., Harvard). Moreover, the city of Chicago was the site of Hull House, the country’s most famous female-centered social reform network (Sklar, 1985; Muncy, 1991) whose members had a complicated relationship with the male social scientists at the University, as Mary Jo Deegan has shown (Deegan, 1988). By looking at the doctorates granted to women in the social sciences, we were interested in exploring whether further connections to this world of reform could be found. Finally, Chicago made sense for pragmatic reasons. Three early editions of The Alumni Directory of the University of Chicago, published in 1906, 1913, and 1919 are available online. These volumes include systematically organized and fairly complete information about undergraduate institution and subsequent employment of all graduates. This kind of source is invaluable for collective biography. One of our goals was to test the possibilities and limitations of relying on this kind of source, so individuals who did not provide either a personal or professional address for any given directory have been left out of its respective maps.

Our questions are fairly simple: where did these women come from prior to entering Chicago and where did they go upon graduation? Did they all receive their undergraduate education at one of the Seven Sisters schools? Did they ultimately teach at the same kinds of women’s colleges, join reform projects (in Chicago or elsewhere), work in other applied settings, or leave professional life?

Pre 1906 female graduate social sciences at U of Chicago
Post 1906 female graduate social sciences cohort from U of Chi
Post 1906 female graduate social sciences at U of Chicago

The first directory published for the school covers the years up to 1906, with the first female doctor of a social science, Hannah Belle Clark, graduating in 1897. Our cohort, comprised of 38 women over 16 years through 1913, graduated with PhDs from a variety of social science and humanities disciplines including psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, political economy, philosophy, history, education, neurology, sanitary science, and comparative religion. In this first directory, all but one are listed with a combination of two or three disciplinary titles, such as ‘sociology and political economy.’ In the second directory, the majority of listings identify only one department, and after 1910 five out of eight are in psychology. F

or interpretive clarity, the cohort is split into two generational groups: one for the generation who graduated before the first directory was published (we’ll call them pre-1906) and those who graduated between 1906 and 1913 (we’ll call them post-1906). This division functions rather well for a couple of reasons beyond making the maps easier to read: it splits the total directly in half with 19 graduates in each group, and there do seem to be some differences in career trajectories between them, which will be discussed in the following posts, parts II and III.

Undergraduate Education

Map #1 for blog
Undergraduate Institutions. Click to enlarge.

This first map illustrates at which institutions the entire cohort achieved their undergraduate degrees before attending Chicago for their doctoral work. It excludes one of the total 38, Ella Flagg Young, because her undergraduate school was not included in any of her directory listings. Here we can see that the catchment area for Chicago’s social science graduate programs does not include the South at all, and focuses primarily on the Northeastern Seaboard, extending throughout the Midwest, with only two on the West Coast (Annie Lucy Dolman Inskeep at the University of California, and Jessie Blount Allen at the University of Washington).On the fringes of the ‘women’s college’ demographic in New England, there were two more Seaboarders: the only international student, Annie Marion MacLean who spent her undergraduate years at Acadia College in Nova Scotia, and Amy Hewes who attended the Women’s College of Baltimore in Towson Maryland.

14 of the 37 individuals, approximately 38 percent, attended a ‘Seven Sisters’ college: five went to Vassar in New York; three went to Wellesley, three to Smith, two to Mt. Holyoke, and one individual, Frances Gardner Davenport, attended Radcliffe, all in Massachusetts. Nine of this Seven Sisters group graduated from Chicago before 1906 and the remaining five did so between 1906 and 1913. Every member of this group earned their doctorates in some combination of political science or economy, psychology, sociology, and history. The few variations nevertheless stay with the theme, and are complementary to the scholar’s other listed discipline, such as sociology with sanitary science, sociology with anthropology, sociology with comparative religions, and psychology with philosophy.

Undergrads on the Eastern Seaboard
Undergraduate educations on the Eastern Seaboard. Click to enlarge

However, the majority of the remainder studied in the Midwest: the University of Chicago, perhaps predictably, ties Vassar as having the largest percentage of attendees at five, three went to the University of Nebraska, two to the University of Michigan, two to Oberlin in Ohio, and the rest are individuals at: University of Syracuse in New York, Ohio Weslyan University, the universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, Lombard College in Illinois and at Drake University in Iowa. Of this Midwestern group of 20, philosophy and psychology dominate, listed by eight and seven graduates, respectively; four listed sociology as one of their departments, while political economy, anthropology and education are listed by only two students each, neurology, and science by one.

Click to enlarge
Undergraduate educations in the Mid-West. Click to enlarge

The directories did not include place of birth, and it proved difficult to find this information for half of the women, so we were unable to systematically assess to what extent they were attending regional institutions near the locations where they were raised, or travelling to access education. For those whose place of birth was known, it seems, not surprisingly, that those who attended universities in the Midwest were more likely to have been raised in the Midwest, and that those who attended the Seven Sisters or other Eastern colleges were coming from a variety of areas around the nation, excluding the Deep South.

Subsequent sections of Mapping Science & Reform will be posted on April 21 (read here) and May 5. Come back then to find out about the academic and social services career trajectories of the first generation of female social scientists from the University of Chicago.

Full reference list from the Cheiron presentation available by request (leave a comment below with an email address to which it can be forwarded). 


Deegan, M. J. (1988). Jane Addams and the men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Muncy, R. (1991). Creating a female dominion in American reform, 1890-1935. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pettit, M. (2008). The new woman as ‘Tied-up Dog’: Amy E. Tanner’s situated knowledges,” History of Psychology, 11(3): 145-163.

Rosenberg, R. (1982). Beyond separate spheres: The intellectual roots of modern feminism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rossiter, M. W. (1982). Women scientists in America: Struggles and strategies to 1940. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Scarborough, E., & Furumoto, L. (1987). Untold lives: The first generation of American women psychologists. New York: Columbia University Press.

Scarborough, E. (2005). “Constructing a Women’s History of Psychology,” The Feminist Psychologist, 32(6).

Sklar, K. K. (1985). Hull House in the 1890s: A community of women reformers. Signs, 10(4), 658-677.