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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by Susan K. Hochman


Psyche Cattell was born on August 2, 1893 in Garrison New York. Her father was James McKeen Cattell, the famous psychologist and founder of the school of functionalism. Her mother was Josephine Owen Cattell. While dozens of books contain mountains of information about James McKeen Cattell, virtually nothing is written about Josephine Owen Cattell. It is therefore, impossible to know what kind of relationship Psyche had with her mother or how she influenced her. The influence of her father, however, was great. The Cattell children (there were six of them) were raised in a huge house. The family home was Fort Defiance, a large stone house at the top of a high hill overlooking the Hudson River. The building served as both a residence and as an editorial office for their father. The main office of the Science Press was in New Your City.

Their father insisted on having them home-schooled. Since he was a professor at Columbia University, he was able to hire extremely well qualified educators to teach his children. They were instructed in this fashion through high school. Psyche was not able to learn as quickly as her siblings were, as she suffered from dyslexia. She had to work much harder than the others to overcome this learning disability. When she expressed an interest in attending college, her father would not support her. He thought that she was not bright enough and would not be able to perform well on the university level. Rather than let her father's lack of emotional and financial support stop her, Psyche got a job as a research assistant in order to pay her own tuition. She began her undergraduate work, strangely enough at the Sargent School of Physical Education. Speaking of her experience there Cattell said, "I was always interested in sports, but I was never very good. I think I was a substitute on at least four teams" (Interest in Children 1961). From Sargent, she went on to do graduate work at Cornell University and received her M. A. in 1925. She moved on to Harvard University where she received a Master of Education degree followed by a Doctorate in Education in 1927.


Before, during and after her graduate studies at Harvard, Psyche Cattell was both a research assistant and research associate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. This included the span of years from 1922-1936. For one year she left the east to take a similar position at Stanford from 1925-1926.

Although this is a more personal than career-associated piece of information, it fits well within this chronology. In 1931, Psyche Cattell, who was living in Cambridge at the time, adopted a son, Hudson. As difficult as it is at the present time for a single woman to adopt, it was exponentially more so in 1931. Psyche, however, was determined and refused, as was her custom, to take no for an answer. In 1940, after having moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she adopted a daughter, Jowain.

Between the years 1936-1938, Cattell was an instructor in mental testing for the nursery training school of Boston. Her experience as a fellow of the Harvard University School of Public Health together with the knowledge gained from mental testing of infants and young children provided the basis for her book, The Measurement of Intelligence of Infants and Young Children (1940). In order to develop the test described in precise detail in her book, Cattell had performed a study involving nearly three hundred normal babies at the Center for Research in Child Health and Development at Harvard. During her years of work there, Cattell realized that existing tests needed improvement. She began working on new tests in 1932 that would find ways for babies to show their abilities. In creating her test, Cattell selected forty-five separate items to which babies will respond. She deliberately chose household items with which babies were familiar because they would be attractive to small children (Gable, 1961). One important use of the test was by the New York Psychological Corporation, which used them to test pre-adoptive children. Psyche Cattell's infant intelligence test is still used today. It has not been replaced, which speaks to its efficiency and effectiveness. The normal life span for a particular test is ten to twelve years (Cattell, H., 1998).

In 1939, Cattell moved to Lancaster, PA to take a job as Chief Psychologist at the Lancaster Guidance Clinic. She worked with children who had emotional difficulties and school problems. She felt that often school difficulties are rooted in reading difficulties. "If a child falls behind in his reading skills and is, nevertheless, passed to another grade, his problems are compounded by his feelings of inferiority and at times he becomes afraid to try to read" (Interest in Children, 1961). Dr. Cattell discovered that the most effective way to arrive at the child's root problem was to observe him or her playing with the toys provided by the clinic. The toys he chooses and the way he plays with them often give clues to his emotions. The method of her therapy was not to judge the child, but to accept him as he is and show interest in him while at the same time indicating that he could be better.

Aside from an attractive job offer, a second motive for Psyche's move to Lancaster was that her brother Jaques was living there. Jaques Cattell managed the printing plant for James McKeen Cattell (who was the owner of Science). In 1942, after the start of WWII, Psyche Cattell's parents moved to Lancaster and the additional offices were consolidated in Lancaster. From 1939-1942, Psyche Cattell was a psychologist at the Lebanon County Mental Health Clinic. She also began her private practice in 1939 in which she remained active until 1971.

Because she was so dedicated to the cultivation of early intelligence, Psyche Cattell decided to open an early childhood school in her own home in 1941. This was a radical idea at that time as her concept called for the school to be focused on developing the children's intelligence rather than on daycare. Her critics admonished her that people would resist sending their children to school - away from their mothers at such a young age. Local pediatricians whom she asked to give her referrals told her it would never work. Obviously, the woman who never took no for an answer, paid them no heed. Psyche opened the school with four pupils; two of them were relatives (her daughter and her nephew). The following year, enrollment doubled. The third year saw still another doubling of enrollment as well as the addition of a kindergarten class. From then on steady growth occurred and the school maintained a census of 37-43 students.

Originally called The West End School (the address was 314 N. West End Ave.), the citizens of Lancaster insisted on calling it Dr. Cattell's School. In 1945, the name was officially changed to The Cattell School (Lancaster Landmark, 1974). At the height of its growth, The Cattell School employed a staff of nine people. Included among them were a pianist, a drama teacher and a housekeeper. On a typical school day, "the children sang and danced to the accompaniment of the piano in the long green-tiled room on the second floor. Wooden cubbyholes ran along two walls bearing a different flower sticker so that each child might identify his or her cabinet. Downstairs, in two rooms with wood floors, crackers would be served in shifts" (Cattell School, 1974).

In 1963, Dr. Cattell retired as chief psychologist at the Lancaster Guidance Clinic. Dr. Cattell had decided to close the school when she reached her 80th birthday as she did not want to continue to the point where people would say that she was getting too old to run the school. She wanted to bow out while she was on top. As it turned out, she could have continued for a number of years longer.

When Dr. Cattell started in 1939 at the Lancaster Guidance Clinic, there was one part-time psychologist, one part-time psychiatrist and one part-time secretary. At the time of her retirement, the clinic staff had grown to include three social workers, three psychologists and one psychiatrist. Dr. Cattell had planned to spend her time writing magazine articles and perhaps accumulating materials for another book. Among the topics she pursued were, "children want and need limits" and "eating problems of children below the first grade level" (Clinic Psychologist, 1963).

Dr. Cattell extended her writing commitments in 1964, when she agreed to do a twice-weekly column for the Lancaster New Era entitled "Children Under Eight". The purpose of her column was to give "down-to -earth" advice on aspects of early childhood rearing such as how to handle a toddler's jealousy of a new baby in a family. Ten years later, in 1974, The Cattell School closed its doors. No reason was cited in the Lancaster New Era article, which chronicled the event. One can only assume that perhaps the administration of an early childhood program became too labor intensive. Possibly, competition from newer pre-schools could have drawn potential students away.

Psyche Cattell's last book, Raising Children with Love and Limits, was published in 1972. She claimed that she couldn't prevent the minor childhood catastrophes that happen to almost all parents, but she could offer workable solutions. The ideas espoused in her book were gathered during her thirty-one years experience as head of her own nursery school as well as from observing the behavior of her own two children and five grandchildren (Stoner, 1972). Dr. Cattell addressed the topic of punishment in her book as follows: "Love and limits must be combined: either alone is not enough. When a child is being punished for a misdeed, he should still feel that he is loved. If your child is noisy and you send him out of the room, tell him you still want him, it's the noise you don't want" (Stoner.1972). Regarding the subject of sharing, Dr. Cattell suggested first teaching a child his or her property rights. Then he or she can understand that what is loaned is still his or her possession. Also included in her book are chapters on dealing with sex, toilet training, learning how to dress and coping with sleepless nights.

Dr. Cattell died in April of 1989 in Lititz, PA, at Moravian Manor, a home for the aged. She had a stroke in March of 1987 that rendered her unable to live independently in her large house in Lancaster. As of this writing, her son, Hudson* and daughter, Jowain as well as her grandchildren are still living.

* I would like to extend a special thank you to Hudson Cattell, for his valuable assistance. During a telephone interview, he provided me with vital information that was unavailable through other sources. My promise to him in return for his cooperation was to immortalize his mother in cyberspace. Indeed the purpose of Webster University's "Famous Women Web Site" is to insure that those women who have made significant contributions to the study of the mind are not forgotten.



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