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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Jane Loevinger

1918 - Present

Jane Loevinger, well known in the area of psychometrics, is renowned for her conception of ego development stemming from The Washington University Sentence Completion Test. A self-proclaimed iconoclast, Loevinger is known as a skeptic toward all fields in which she is involved (i.e., psychometrics, psychoanalysis, and the women's movement), which has kept her as an outsider (Models of achievement, 1998). Nevertheless, her contributions to personality assessment are greatly valued.

Born February 18, 1918 (Contemporary Authors, 2002) in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jane was the middle of five children (Loevinger, 2002). Her father, Gustavus, worked as a lawyer and was later appointed district court judge in 1932 while Loevinger was in high school. Her mother, Millie (Strouse) Loevinger, was the caretaker of the household and children, something she describes as noteworthy when compared to Italian and Vietnamese culture where the man is the "authority" (Loevinger, 2002, p. 196). Loevinger describes her mother's spontaneous nature versus her father's dejected way of being as "the 1920s version of women's liberation".

Jane Loevinger's family was quite formal, according to her own words. "There was a lively, somewhat competitive atmosphere and a certain family loyalty and pride but not much overt affection". Affection was perfunctory at greetings and goodbyes, and Loevinger states that she felt "alienated" by this.

Loevinger was pushed ahead in school, finishing high school in the middle of her senior year. She was ahead of the other kids, and this contributed to her feelings as an "outsider". At her mother's encouragement, she enrolled at the University of Minnesota (UM). There she visited Jack Darley, her vocational counselor, and he told her psychology was "too mathematical", so she should try psychological aesthetics instead (Loevinger, 2002, p. 197). She took this as a challenge, and graduated magna cum laude at the age of nineteen (Contemporary Authors, 2002). A year later she had her masters of science in psychometrics, also from the University of Minnesota.

The advice of the chairman of the psychology department, Richard M. Elliot, was salient for Loevinger, for it is mentioned in two autobiographical articles. He said that the best graduate students were women, and many happened to be Jewish. Loevinger is both. The only academic openings at this time during the Depression were in "small denominational colleges in rural Minnesota", colleges that were not hiring Jews or women (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 157). After stating, "I wouldn't want you to become a clerk in a dime store", Elliot suggested that she marry a psychologist. "I was as outraged by the suggestion as a young woman would be today", states Loevinger (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 158).

The year after she graduated, Jane Loevinger was given an assistantship in the psychology department because the man who was to take it moved up to another job. Loevinger was given a peculiar condition for the assistantship: at the end of the year, she must "go elsewhere". The following year, she took a teaching assistantship at the University of California (which was then only the Berkeley campus). There she came into contact with many physical scientists, including Sam Weissman who would later become her husband. By being around so many great scientists, Loevinger believes she "gained confidence in my own judgment of what science is" (Loevinger, 2002, p. 199).

At Berkeley, she was a research assistant for Erik Erikson. Although her strength was considered quantification and psychometrics, Loevinger "gained the impression that he had no interest in scales or quantification" (Loevinger, 2002, p. 200). Being a woman during World War II was a short-lived advantage that opened up teaching positions for Loevinger although she had not completed her dissertation. She taught for a year at Stanford, and then a little over a year Berkeley. She quit in 1943 to finish her dissertation at Berkeley (Contemporary Authors, 2002), calling it "financially, the best investment I ever made" (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 159). Her doctoral thesis studied "construction and evaluation of tests of ability" (Loevinger, 2002, p.201). Loevinger critiqued psychometric theory and test reliability, proving that "there is no noncircular definition of test reliability". This made her an outsider to the psychometric establishment. No journal would publish her now oft-quoted "Objective tests as instruments of psychological theory", so Loevinger paid for it to be published in a "vanity journal" (Loevinger, 1957). Her thesis was finished in 1944, shortly after she married Sam Weissman in July 1943 (Loevinger, 2002). After she received her doctorate, Jane joined Sam at Los Alamos, where he worked as a scientist. "Suffice it to say that it was generally believed by the scientists taking part in the project that Hitler's Germany was working on an atomic bomb, and it was 'them' or 'us'" (Models of achievement, 1998). Although Jane was tired from completing her thesis, she felt pressure to work. She developed a "protracted illness" after briefly working at a computer lab (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 159). Once she recovered, she was five months pregnant with her daughter, Judith, so she did not return back to work. During that period when she did not work, she came to understand the disapproval of working women who think that a woman without a job "'isn't doing anything'". She gave birth to their second child, Micheal Benjamin, also at Los Alamos. The family stayed there until shortly after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Following the war, Sam took a position in the Department of Chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis. Men were eager to start their careers again after being occupied with the war, thus pressuring women to abandon their jobs and go back to being housewives. This prevailing attitude left Loevinger without many job opportunities. She worked occasionally as a part-time psychology teacher at Washington University, and also as a research assistant on a "biographical inventory for the Air Force" (Loevinger, 2002, p. 202). Loevinger describes the period after the war as the "dark days" of her career, and she credits many people with encouraging her during this time. Her family and her colleagues and teachers from Berkeley, especially Egon Brunswick, helped Loevinger. Also, the Margaret Justin Fellowship from the American Association of University Women for the year 1955-1956 validated her "aspirations and ...[her] continuing interest in psychology" (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 160).

Loevinger personally felt the disadvantages of her gender, adding intrinsic and extrinsic complications to her career. Intrinsically, her commitment to her family not only kept her busy taking care of children, but it also left little opportunity to move to another city to teach. Extrinsically, Loevinger states that she felt prejudice from department heads and employers who were committed to the "old boy" network and also social pressures from both sexes to be a "good wife and mother". Loevinger's own experience as a mother and the experiences of her friends, particularly two women who had "severe postpartum depression" (Loevinger, 2002, p. 202), led her to develop an interest in "motherhood as an experience and ...the traits of women as pertinent to the tasks of family life" (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 161).

Loevinger abandoned her unfulfilling work at the Air Force and other part-time jobs in order to "follow her own star" and pursue research on women's experiences (Models of achievement, 1998, p.159). She was one of the first people in psychological research to focus on women as a demographic. Her research began with an objective test of mothers' attitudes, funded by the National Institute for Mental Health (Loevinger, 2002). Loevinger worked in an informal group weekly, at first discussing "all of the problems facing mothers and women in general, throughout the day and throughout the life cycle" (Loevinger, 2002, p. 203).

She found it was an advantage that she did not have a position in the psychology department, for those students who found the "strict behaviorism" of Washington University's program "uncongenial drifted over to [her] small group". This group, originally all women, began with Blanche Sweet, a clinical psychologist Loevinger knew from her days at Berkeley. Some of the women, but not all of them, were mothers (History, 1998). The group also added Marilyn Rigby, an experimentalist (History, 1998); Kitty LaPerriere, a doctoral student from Czechoslovakia and "a remarkable clinician"; Elizabeth Nettles, another clinician; and Virginia Ives, another Berkeley clinician, among others (Loevinger, 2002). Other people to later work on this project are Arthur Blasi, a philosophical psychologist whose work has helped to validate Loevinger's work; Le Xuan Hy, a Vietnamese student doing graduate work at Washington University; Michael Westenberg, who expanded the scope of the work to younger ages; and Vicki Carlson, who has worked on applying the study of ego development to other cultures. Originally, they started with a psychometric approach, "objective test items administered to several samples of women, with the results analyzed statistically" (History, 1998, p.1). This developed into the Sentence Completion Test (SCT), which measures ego development. This term is used because the SCT measures such a broad range of content: "moral development, interpersonal relations and conceptual complexity", and is not to be confused with any psychoanalytic connotations of the word 'ego' (History, 1998, p.3). The SCT correlates the answers of thirty-four open-ended sentences such as "most men think that women..." or "sometimes she wished that..." with seven stages of ego development (Loevinger and Wessler, 1970, p. 186-7).

Although the SCT has been adapted for males, it was written to address women's issues. Examples sentences include "the worst thing about being a woman...", "a good mother...", and "for a woman a career is..." (Loevinger, Wessler, and Redmore, 1970). The rating guide uses real examples of answers to help clinicians determine one's stage of ego development. Loevinger, Wessler, and Redmore's 1970 book, Measuring Ego Development 2: Scoring Manual for Women and Girls is 457 pages of examples intended to clarify what types of answers would occur at each stage of ego development (1970). Loevinger and Wessler know that inherent difficulties of such a system. They understand that "there is no one-to-one correspondence between a given bit of behavior and its underlying disposition- in this case, ego level" (Loevinger and Wessler, 1970, p.8). Also, deciphering what is exactly ego development versus other types of development such as psychosexual or chronological cannot be determined. Furthermore, the nature of using such an open-ended test does not guarantee that the clinician will get the proper information to understand a person's ego level. Any test that is more structured, however, would have too much of the researcher's bias within it. People also display behavior at more than one ego level, which must be taken into account. Moreover, one must question if the clinician is appropriately assigning ego level. Loevinger states that she enforced a rule that all aspects of the SCT must be in writing, because she had seen other types of tests where the most accurate knowledge was with certain clinicians. Once these clinicians left, the expertise of the ratings vanished with them (Loevinger, 2002). Writing everything down helped to make their contributions permanent, by allowing those who used the SCT to have a more proficient understanding of how to rate it.

Although Jane Loevinger has contributed significantly to psychological research through the Washington University Sentence Completion Test, she was not offered any teaching positions in St. Louis other than her most recent one as William Stuckenberg Professor of Human Values and Moral Development. All others positions were achieved because she had asked (Models of achievement, 1998). Other women "goaded" her into asking for tenure (Models of achievement, 1998, p.162). In 1971, Loevinger became the "first woman full professor" of psychology at Washington University also "at [her] initiative", other than a woman who was associate professor for many years and "was promoted to full professor a year before she became emerita". She states, "I was not turned down for positions in the psychology department prior to that- I was never permitted to apply".

Loevinger believes that these promotions may have to do with the legislation of the day. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VII of the Equal Employment Opportunity, employers were forbidden to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color and national origin. Universities that were sued for "long standing" sex discrimination were "threatened with cutoff of all federal funds, which would have been fatal for some institutions and for an enormous number of projects in most others". She states, "perhaps it was only a coincidence that I became a full professor with tenure 1 week after I wrote to the administration that my next letter would go to the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors" (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 163).

Loevinger declares that it has been a disadvantage to her career that she is a woman (Models of achievement, 1998). She also states that it has been an advantage, too. It allowed her to "follow [her] own star" early in her career, when men may have felt more social pressure to do what accepted by colleagues (Models of achievement, 1998, p. 163). Loevinger describes herself as an "iconoclast", who was not popular among psychometricians for her thesis that showed there is "no noncircular definition of test reliability". She also studied among behaviorists, of which "some men seemed determined to stamp out psychoanalysis", which was Jane Loevinger's interest at the time. Furthermore, the fact that she did not support such psychoanalytic concepts as cathexis or psychic energy made her unpopular with local psychoanalysts. Even though she states she was not popular in certain psychological circles, Loevinger earned many supporters. Robert Kegan, in his article with Lisa Lahey and Emily Souvaine, talks about Loevinger's visits to Harvard in the 1970s, (1998). His description is detailed and favorable: "Jane Loevinger's visits were anticipated with something like the eagerness, curiosity, and trepidation a family might have awaiting the arrival of an outspoken, stern but loving aunt whose tough-minded integrity concealed a sympathetic heart. ...She would leave a trail of overturned vanity in her wake, and then months later you would hear from a colleague how highly she spoke of what you were up to" (p.39). This was different that "ordinary colleagues" who were often plentiful with their compliments in a colleague's presence, and then critical of their work behind their back.

It is evident that Jane Loevinger forged her own path as a psychologist, and resisted any pressure to completely adhere to one psychological school of thought. Despite the drawbacks of basing a theory of development on one taxonomic test, Loevinger's Sentence Completion Test is a contribution to psychology, an established method of personality assessment. Her frank nature about the difficulties of being a woman also contributes an honest look at the field of psychology, giving voice to the experience of women in middle of the past century.


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