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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Charlotte Malachowski Buhler


Charlotte Malachowski was born in Germany in 1893. She was the first of two children of Walter and Rose Malachowski. Her father was an architect and her mother was an accomplished musician (Chapman, Conroy, & Sheehy, 1997). Both of her parents encouraged her to pursue her artistic and intellectual interests. At a very early age she demonstrated broad academic interests (O'Connell & Russo, 1990). She often wondered about the main purpose of human existence and even the existence of God. These led her to study thought processes. Charlotte did marry a man named Karl Buhler, after a whirlwind courtship. She was interested in his work before 1913, and married him in 1916. A year before she received her PhD she gave birth to a daughter, Ingeborg, and later a son, Rolf, in 1919 (O'Connell & Russo, 1990).

Education and Career

Charlotte got her Bachelor in Science from the University of Berlin in 1915 and completed her PhD in 1918 at the University of Munich (Chapman, Conroy, & Sheehy, 1997). The twenty years following graduation she spent developing her own new research methods. While at Munich, she respected a man named Oswald Kulpes. Shortly after his death, Karl Buhler was sent to supervise his graduate students. This was great for Charlotte because she felt that his work on human thought seemed to parallel her own (O'Connell & Russo, 1990). This is how her and Karl met and then later married in 1916.

Charlotte spent some time in Dresden doing research on adolescent thought processes. Here she lectured at Technische Hochschule. From 1920 to 1922 Charlotte assisted the Prussian school board and the government with an adolescence project. She then moved to Vienna in 1923 where Karl had accepted a university appointment. She also accepted a job at the Vienna Psychological Institute as lecturer and then attained the rank of associate professor in 1929 (O'Connell & Russo, 1990). While at Vienna, she integrated her experimental research with applications and also wrote a few published works. The Vienna Psychological Institute, a research center that was concerned with practical applications, is where she did her investigations of adolescent thought processes through her new autobiographical method (diaries) (Kazdin, 2000). In addition to her researching and teaching in Vienna, she also spent time traveling, teaching, and consulting in various parts of Europe.

In 1923, Charlotte was awarded a Rockefeller Exchange fellowship. This allowed her to go to work at Columbia University. Studying at the university put Charlotte in contact with American scholars such as Edward Thorndike, Larry Frank, and Arnold Gesell. Upon completion of her year at Columbia, she was awarded a ten-year grant from the Rockefeller foundation to help support her research at the Vienna Psychological Institute. In 1929 she returned to the United States as a guest professor of psychology for a year at Barnard College (O'Connell & Russo, 1990).

All of these studies ended abruptly in 1938 when Nazis invaded Austria, closed the Vienna Psychological Institute and destroyed all of her research records. They also imprisoned Karl for his involvement with socialists politics (Kazdin, 2000). Fortunately, Charlotte was in England during this time. She contacted a sympathetic Norwegian diplomat who negotiated to get Karl out of prison. Upon Karl's release from prison, they left the country. First they went to Norway. But during the same year Karl went to live in America and Charlotte followed the next year (Chapman, Conroy, & Sheehy, 1997).

The couple finally settled in Los Angeles in 1945. Here Charlotte worked first as chief clinical psychologist at the LA County Hospital and then as clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. Eventually she started a successful private psychotherapy practice that lasted until 1972 (Chapman, Conroy, & Sheehy, 1997). Buhler did say that their first ten years in the United States were very difficult and they were unable to write. She attributed what she appraised as a "cold" reception to her being viewed by American scholars as a "star" who might be professional threat (O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p.51). Charlotte did become known for her theoretical and clinical work that eventually helped launch Humanistic Psychology (Kazdin, 2000).

Along with Abraham Maslow and others, they addressed what they considered to be deficiencies in behaviorism and psychoanalysis. With Maslow, Rogers, and Frankl, she organized the Old Saybrook Conference in 1964. This led to the establishment of the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She was president from 1965 to 1966. She also presided over the First International Conference on Humanistic Psychology in Amsterdam in 1970. She really began to enjoy the collegial associations she was involved in (O'Connell & Russo, 1990).

Karl Buhler died in Los Angeles in 1963. Charlotte became ill and returned to German in 1972. She past away in her sleep in 1974 (Chapman, Conroy, & Sheehy, 1997).


Charlotte's major thesis is that people develop through their life span. She felt that developmental (maturational) age is much more significant psychologically than "mental age" or "intelligence quotient" (Kazdin, 2000, p. 482). By mid-century, her major thesis became a creative point of view in developmental psychology. Charlotte also considered the child in her theories. She was determined that infants were directed, intentional individuals who reached out to people and things and set personally selected goals as they matured (Kazdin, 2000).

She became interested in the centrality of human purpose in the early 1920's when she probed 135 adolescent diaries. The documents revealed that by late adolescence people often question what they are here for and what their purpose in life is. She believed in naturalistic techniques of gathering information as the best way to study developmental processes.

According to her, essentially healthy people face challenges continuously throughout life. They attempt to integrate four basic tendencies which include satisfying one's needs (for love, sex, ego, and recognition); making self-limiting adaptations (by fitting in, belonging, and remaining secure); moving toward creative expansion (through self-expression and creative accomplishments); and upholding and restoring the inner order (by being true to one's conscience and values) (Kazdin, 2000, p.482-483). Although these tendencies may be difficult at time to reconcile, people who meet her challenge of lifelong development tend to look beyond self and self-comfort. Instead the are dedicated to chosen values.

She identified activities in infants, young children, adolescents, and adults and felt that viewing the human person as a continually developing encourages fruitful exploration. According to Buhler, fulfillment results from living constructively and thoughtfully, in ways consistent with the person's best gifts (this includes profiting from misfortune) (O'Connell & Russo, 1990).


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