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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Frances Mitchell Culbertson

Frances Mitchell Culbertson was born on January 31, 1921 in Boston. She was the youngest of three children born to Russian immigrant parents. Her father's original name was David Uchitelle, but was changed to David Mitchell after talking with an immigration official who could not understand the name (Culbertson, 2001).

Her parents came to the United States because they believed the fairy tale that everything was better and the streets were made out of gold. Their dream of earning a lot of money for their family never came true, and the family did not have a lot of money. Her mother was a housewife, and her father started out as a tailor. Later her became an independent businessman and a union organizer (Culbertson, 2001).

Since her family did not have a lot of money Culbertson grew up surrounded by public health nurses, teachers, and librarians who were very influential. One librarian in particular encouraged her love of reading and would set aside books for her every day. Her brothers also encouraged this and let her sit with them while they did their homework and pretended that she had homework as well. Her most influential teacher Miss Ryan made an impression on Culbertson because of the fancy dresses she wore on Fridays before a Junior League teas. At the end of the school year Culbertson remembers getting picked up by a car to attend Miss Ryan's wedding (Culbertson, 2001).

Right after graduation Culbertson had to get a job to help support her family, especially after the death of her mother. A Harvard graduate who owned a local candy store hired her. While working there she met a lot of people associated with Harvard, one of whom helped her get a scholarship to the college of her choice (Culbertson, 2001). After thinking about it, Culbertson chose to attend the University of Michigan as a biochemistry major. Her first semester was really rough because she had never taken algebra, trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, or physics. She also did not know how to write themes. She sought the help of two younger students who helped her through the semester and she ended up doing very well. During the second semester of her freshman year Culbertson had to choose a social science class, which sparked her interest in psychology. She was chosen to be a lab assistant for one of the professors, which is what prompted her to change her major. During her senior year she was a class assistant to Dr. Norman R. F. Maier. Dr. Maier had studied Gestalt psychology with Wolfgang Kohler (Culbertson, 2001).

While she was in college she met John Culbertson, a discharged World War II serviceman. They were married right after college and had four children named John, Joanne, Lyndall, and Amy. Right after they were married Culbertson was looking for a way to support her husband while he went to graduate school. Dr. Maier helped her find employment and enter graduate school. At the time it was unusual for a husband and wife to enter graduate school at the same time (Culbertson, 2001).

During her first semester of graduate school Culbertson was fortunate enough to study with Dr. Helen Peak, who was one of the few female professors in academia at the time. Dr. Peak was one of the founding members of the National Council of Women Psychologists, which eventually became International Council of Psychologists. Dr. Peak was the one who got Culbertson interested in International psychology (Culbertson, 2001).

Culbertson and her husband moved to Washington, DC after he was offered a job with the Federal Reserve Board. Culbertson was trying to work on her dissertation at the time and her husband helped her a lot by handing out questionnaires before and after the initial phase so the results were not contaminated by her participation. At the same time her husband was completing his own dissertation. Culbertson did not finish her dissertation until 1955 due to the birth if their twins. Two years later her thesis was published (Culbertson, 2001).

When her husband was offered a position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Culbertson met Dr. Harvey Stevens, who asked Culbertson to develop a research lab for his new facility for severely developmentally disabled children and adolescents. Culbertson did not want to take on the full time responsibility of the job, so she worked out what she believes to be the first job-sharing situation. She worked with Dr. Maressa Orzack to establish the research lab (Culbertson, 2001).

Culbertson did a lot of work with developmentally disabled children and wrote an article on the subject. This article discussed an educational program for autistic children in a public school. The experimental class was comprised of 8 4-12 year olds. Individual educational programs based on descriptions and definitions of a child's behavior were used (Culbertson, 1981).

In the experiment, four areas of training were focused on; language, socialization, play, and behavior. The profile of an average autistic male, aged 10 years 4 months, together with his individual educational program, was presented. Culbertson concluded that the schooling of autistic children does lead to learned and positive social, educational, and other behavioral responses but these need to be continuously maintained and monitored (Culbertson, 1981).

Culbertson also wrote an article on gender and depression. According to the article, for the past 30 years or so, in the United States and internationally, women have experienced depression about twice as frequently as men. For major depression, which is more impairing than a number of other medical conditions, the ratio has been reported as four women for every man, although rates vary with ethnicity and culture. For bipolar disorder (manic depression), the rates are equal between the sexes (Culbertson, 1997). Culbertson feels that, given these ratios for depression in women and men, gender is an important variable in "cross-culturally conceptualizing, assessing, and treating depression." Cross-cultural research on depression and gender should help answer some questions associated with the differences between women and men in the occurrence of depression observed in some countries (Culbertson, 1997).

After spending a good part of her career in academia, Culbertson retired from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater in 1988 and moved in to private practice. She then joined the Mental Health Associates and her current focus is hypnotherapy with children, adolescents, and adults; especially women. She is also doing research on resilience behaviors of aging women around the world (Culbertson, 2001).

Works Cited

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