Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Leta Stetter Hollingworth


Leta Stetter Hollingworth was a psychologist, an educator, and a feminist. She received much positive recognition during her lifetime. However, references to Hollingworth's body of work seem to have all but vanished for some thirty years until the early 1970's when researchers began investigating the historical origins of the psychology of women.

It is generally agreed that Hollingworth made significant contributions in three areas: The psychology of women; clinical psychology; educational psychology (particularly psychology of the highly gifted). For example, her masters thesis challenged the principle behind sexist hiring practices: the alleged incapacitation of women each month due to menstruation. Additionally, Hollingworth disproved the "variability hypothesis" i.e. men range enormously in their talents and their defects; women are all pretty much alike. She also studied the physical characteristics of 2000 babies and found no sex-related differences in variability on any measure. Hollingworth was a clinical psychologist and continued to work part-time in this field until 1920.

She determined that many children labeled "mentally defective" had normal intelligence but were hampered by emotional disturbances and attitudinal problems due to adjustment problems...particularly during adolescence. Her text, The Psychology of the Adolescent (1928) became the standard in the field for twenty years. Hollingworth wrote the most influential textbooks on giftedness, adolescence, mental retardation and special education. Her greatest contributions were in the study of the nurturance of giftedness.

She published more than thirty studies of the gifted and was the first advocate of multiple criteria in the identification of the gifted. She was the first counselor of the gifted and the first to study their emotional and social development. She taught the first course in gifted education in 1922-23, thereby inaugurating the field. She designed the first program for emotional education/the affective curriculum. She initiated one of the most famous experimental programs for gifted learners at the Speyer School in New York City. She is most remembered for the publication two books:, Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture (1926) and Children above 180 IQ-Stanford-Binet. The latter remains the most comprehensive longitudinal study ever conducted of children in this range of abilities. Leta Stetter Hollingworth died of stomach cancer at the age of 53.

Contributed by Ann Klein, 1996.

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