Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Annie Marion MacLean

by Jenn Bumb


Annie Marion MacLean was a sociologist who has been erased from history. This is made clear when the University of Chicago, where she graduated from and taught at for thirty years, has none of her works available in their archives. Much of her research involved entering the workplace and observing the horrible conditions that workers, especially women, had to work in. She advocated for women's rights in the workplace along with better working conditions. She did this by relaying her information to the proper authorities. MacLean's work was on the forefront of women's rights movement yet she has no place within its historical progression--she is left out.


Annie Marion MacLean was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada to a Baptist Reverend John MacLean and Christina MacLean. She had three siblings: Haddon, Pearl and Mildred. Her earliest vocational ambition was to be President of the United States. She stated that "this ambition was due to the discovery at the age of eight that my birthday coincided with Inauguration Day" (MacLean, 1926). Throughout much of her life MacLean struggled with being identified as a Canadian versus an American. Although she was born in Canada she moved to the United States in 1893 and never went back to Canada. She stated that when she lived in Canada the United States never seemed foreign to her. However, once she arrived in the U.S. she realized how much of an alien land Canada was to the U.S. Therefore she sought to conform to the U.S. ways, with regards to language. Upon returning to Canada to visit they said she spoke like a Yankee. Finally, after years of dealing with this struggle, she stated, "But I have chosen where to live, and , unimportant though it is, if I could choose where to die, it would be under the Stars and Stripes" (1926).

Once she decided against being the President she set her goal to become a Sociologist, although that wasn't the term that was used then. She attended Acadia College in Nova Scotia, where in 1893 she earned her A.B. At this time she founded the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, later to be called American Association of University Women. The first objective of her association was to improve the health of college women by educating them on the dangers of neglecting their health. In 1894 she earned her A.M. At this point she decided to receive the rest of her education at the University of Chicago. In 1897 she was the first woman to earn her Ph.M. from the university. In the following year she earned her Ph.D. in Sociology, the second woman at the university to ever do so. Her master's these was titled "Factory Legislation for Women in the United States," which sparked a life long interest in the subject matter. Her main focus for many years was on women in industry and she encouraged trade unions and women to protect their mutual interests by organizing and to seek equal pay for equal work.


The main profession, aside from her research, was as a teacher. She began teaching part-time at Royal Victoria College and John B. Stetson College. However, in 1903 she actively connected herself with the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of Sociology in the Home Study Department, mainly through correspondence work. She continued with this job until her death in 1934. In addition to this job, she obtained a position from 1903-1916 as a Professor of Sociology at the National Training School of the Y.W.C.A.

Since Sociology was a new field she taught courses such as: Rural Life, Introduction to Social Problems of Industry, Social Technology, Modern Immigration, and History of the Social Reform Movement. She was considered by many to be an excellent teacher who had a genuine interest in her students, not only in the academic sense, but personal as well. It was not at all uncommon for her to write personal letters to her students and was known to deal with their personal problems outside of class.

Although she was adored by many their were a few students who were uncomfortable by having a woman professor. She recalled that her first student was a German male who wrote when he dropped the course, "It is not supposed to be that a female can teach me." Her response to his remark was, "That was a hard blow to me in my exuberant youth, but it is some compensation to think that, if the gentleman still lives, he has probably had more insupportable indignities that that to endure" (MacLean, 1922).


In Chicago at the time that MacLean was beginning her research the main technique to observe people was from the "social worlds" standpoint. This defined as an attempt to portray life as it was experienced by participants in a particular group, community or institution. She used this "social worlds" technique to portray a hop picker, sweat shop worker, clerk in a department store and as a striker/worker in a "model" factory. All most all of her research centered around interest and concern for women in many occupations but focused on industry. Also, learning and depicting various social worlds. Lastly, humanitarian, as far as women in improving working conditions.

In 1898-1899 MacLean took on the social world of a clerk at a department store. What she did was work at two Chicago department stores during the holiday season. She basically observed the practices surrounding overtime procedures and what compensation was given for this overtime. What she found was truly shocking. In addition, it gives modern day workers a glimpse of a department store in that era. MacLean observed that many workers worked until 10pm when they had sometimes arrived at 8am. She noted that the stores employed "cash children", who were workers under the age of twelve years. They also used the practice of firing people on Saturday if their previous weeks they didn't average at least five dollars in sales.

From 1903-1904 she worked in a sweat shop and observed the conditions. However, she wanted to further inquire about the conditions she had observed at one sweat shop to see if conditions were universal. In this time period she visited fifty to sixty sweat shops in the New York area. From these visits she noticed that their were no unions instituted, no minimum wage set up and most of the times entire families would be working until midnight. She used this information and additional information gathered, to write her book WAGE EARNING WOMEN.

In 1908-1909 she worked at a so-called "model factory." This information was used, also, in WAGE EARNING WOMEN. What she gathered by working in this environment was that women were fired on a whim or if shortages in work arise. The most disturbing thing that happened was that the women were cautioned not to talk trade unions. If any mention was made of such things the women could be dismissed.

In 1909-1910 she worked as a hop picker in Oregon. She did this research in conjunction with the Y.W.C.A. and reported all her findings to them. She reported of the unbearable conditions as follows, "Pillowless strawbeds are not conducive to sleep, especially with the rain coming in as it did in my corner. I opened an umbrella, and finally slept, only to dream of icebergs. The cold of those Oregon nights makes me shudder yet. The others were used to the climate, and so were more comfortable that I."

In 1910 she took all of this information from her experiences and wrote WAGE EARNING WOMEN. In order to further prepare information for this she, along with twenty-nine college educated women, went to four-hundred established factories across the country and noted conditions each factory had employees work under. The research involved five schedules which elicited the following kinds of information: demographic, including population of city or town; nationalities of and number of women employed in each type of occupation; "betterment work" by industry for women; number of homes and cooperative clubs maintained for working women; and finally, detailed information from the women themselves. From this investigative research many conditions changed in conjunction with the Y.W.C.A. MacLean's final comments on this project are as important today as they were then: "If a woman is to work in the industrial world, then it behooves society to make her an efficient worker. The most serious problem the young girl has to face...are low wages and the constant jeopardizing of her health by the occupation in which she's engaged..."(MacLean, 1910).


Although MacLean's work focused primarily on the social worlds of women particularly in the labor force, she struggled within the academia as well. For her thirty years of teaching through the University of Chicago's Home-Study Department, she was never invited to teach as a full-time regular faculty member. However, all the men who graduated at the same time with the same degree were awarded the privilege. This is something that MacLean didn't fight to receive, however, many of her women colleagues at the time did.

In 1924 much of MacLean's work went on a downhill slope. She was in poor health for the last ten years of her life and virtually an invalid. Hence, the Home-Study Department became central to her life for the last ten years. She taught correspondence courses to University of Chicago students. However her health dramatically declined and on May 1, 1934 she passed away at her home in Pasadena, California.

Annie Marion MacLean is one of the many women in history to be erased from the textbooks and records. The reason stated for this is that within the system of record keeping the filtering and selecting of what information will be kept and what will be discarded plays a severe role in what is to be kept for future generations. This means that, usually, a person's contributions are to stay in the records, although their name may be dropped from their work. However, in MacLean's case both were forgotten.


Fish, V. K. (1981). Annie Marion MacLean: A Neglected Part of the Chicago School. Journal of the History of Sociology, 3, 43-62.

MacLean, Annie Marion

Obituary, Annie Marion MacLean (1934) American Journal of Sociology 40, 104.

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