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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Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark


by Marie Koesterer

Photograph of Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark from Even the Rat Was White, 2nd Edition, Guthrie, 1998

"...It soon became apparent to me that a black female with a Ph.D. in psychology was an unwanted anomaly in New Your City in the early 1940's" (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001, p. 271).

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark studied the effects of segregation and racism on the self-esteem of black children. Her work with her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, was used in testimony in the case of Brown V. The Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision that declared that school segregation was unconstitutional. She also co-founded The Northside Center for Child Development, one of the first agencies to make psychological services available to poor, black children. Dr. Clark served as the executive director of Northside from 1946 until 1979.


Mamie Phipps was born on April 18, 1917 to Dr. Harold H. Phipps and Katie Florence Phipps in the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas (Guthrie, 1998; Mamie Phipps Clark, date unknown). Her father had a medical practice in town and managed a hotel and spa for blacks. Because of her father's income, the family was able to achieve middle-class status and was allowed access to some areas of town that were normally only open to whites. However, as was usual at the time, Mamie's public school elementary and secondary education took place at segregated schools. In 1934, she graduated from Langston High School. Although there were few opportunities for higher education for black students, Mamie was offered several scholarships, including scholarships to two of the most prominent possibilities: Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and Howard University in Washington, D.C. (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). Mamie chose to study at Howard University because it was located in the nation's capital and because of the many accomplished black members of its faculty whom she viewed as role models. She began her studies at Howard as a math major, minoring in physics.

Education & Marriage

During her early years at Howard, Mamie met her future husband, Kenneth B. Clark, a master's student in psychology (Warren, 1999). The many educational possibilities at Howard, in addition to the lack of support and encouragement that she received from her mathematics professors, led Mamie to reconsider a career as a mathematics teacher (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). After hearing of her disillusionment with mathematics, Kenneth suggested that Mamie pursue psychology because it was a fascinating area that offered her employment possibilities and the chance to explore her interest in children. Kenneth introduced Mamie to the head of the psychology department at Howard, Dr. Francis Sumner, and to Dr. Max Meenes (who was to become a future colleague). Both professors were encouraging and supportive of Mamie's academic interests. Because Mamie felt welcome and secure in her psychology classes at Howard, she writes that she did not fully consider the problems that she might encounter finding employment as a black, female psychologist or how she would be able to find work with children, when white children were the children predominantly receiving psychological services (2001). Mamie's initial awareness of these problems came in her recognition that there were no black women on the Psychology faculty at Howard. However, she viewed this, and the lack of black female psychology graduate students, as a "'silent' challenge" (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001, p. 268).

In 1937, Kenneth was studying at Columbia University in pursuit of his doctorate. Being apart was difficult for both Mamie and Kenneth and they secretly eloped during Mamie's senior year. The marriage was kept secret so that it wouldn't interfere with Mamie's academic opportunities and because her parents disapproved of Mamie marrying before graduation (Mamie Phipps Clark, date unknown). In 1938, Mamie graduated magna cum laude from Howard, received a graduate fellowship and began studying for her master's degree. Mamie became even more interested in developmental psychology during this time. She began working with children in an all-black nursery school, while she decided what research she would conduct for her master's thesis (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). Kenneth suggested that she contact Ruth and Gene Harley (then Ruth and Gene Horowitz), psychologists who were doing studies about self-identification in young children. The Harley's encouraged Mamie to pursue similar research with her all-black nursery school students. Mamie's initial research was done by having the children participate in two existing psychological tests: a coloring test and a test with dolls (Warren, 1999). Mamie's resulting thesis, "The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children", and her master's degree were completed in 1939.

Mamie's work with self-perception in black children was of great interest to Kenneth (Warren, 1999). Between 1939 and 1940, Mamie and Kenneth published three major articles furthering the work in her thesis. Mamie viewed her initial work as broadening ideas about self-identification and the field of psychological development and she believed that more work needed to be done (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). She and Kenneth developed a proposal for further research on self-identification in black children and created updated versions of the coloring and doll tests. Their proposal was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1939 and renewed twice in the next two years. Because of the fellowship, Mamie was able to attend Columbia University to pursue her doctorate.

Mamie began studying at Columbia in 1940 (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). In addition to pursuing her studies, Mamie cared for their daughter, Kate, alone while Kenneth traveled to various northern and southern states to collect data for their research. Dr. Henry E. Garrett was Mamie's advisor at Columbia (Warren, 1999). Dr. Garrett strongly believed that whites and blacks had different mental abilities and he assumed that Mamie would return to the South to become a high school teacher after receiving her doctorate (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). Despite Dr. Garrett's beliefs, Mamie was able to work with him and received her doctorate in 1943. Mamie's second child, Hilton was born that same year. During Mamie's studies at Columbia, Mamie was the only black psychology graduate student. In addition to Dr. Garrett, the entire faculty was white. Mamie Phipps Clark was the second black person (her husband, Kenneth, was the first) and the first black woman to earn a psychology doctorate at Columbia University.


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One of the early jobs that Mamie held that influenced both her own self-esteem and her later work was a summer position as a secretary at the office of William Houston (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). William Houston's law firm was involved in the planning of litigation that challenged segregationist laws. Mamie found the experience of learning about desegregation cases and meeting prominent Civil Rights attorneys exciting and educational.

Dr. Clark's work with children's race-recognition and self-esteem began while she was completing her master's program and continued with her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, during and after her doctoral studies. Their work was funded by a Rosenwald grant from 1939-1942 (Warren, 1999). Their research showed that black children became aware of their racial identity at about three years old. Concurrently, these children began to see themselves negatively, reflecting the views that society held about them (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). The Clark's work was published, was well-regarded, and was replicated by other psychologists.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark presented her results at a Virginia school desegregation trial with her husband (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). Dr. Kenneth Clark presented the results at school desegregation trials in South Carolina and Delaware. In 1953, Kenneth Clark worked with other social scientists to create a brief showing the results of Mamie and Kenneth's work and other relevant social science findings on the effects of segregation. This brief was given to lawyers for the NAACP and presented to the United States Supreme Court. In it's 1954 decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged the work presented in the brief by noting the following about the effects of segregation on black children:

"To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone...." (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001, p. 271)

Even after conducting, publishing and presenting significant research and earning her Ph.D., Mamie had difficulty finding work as a psychologist. In Models of Achievement: Reflections of Eminent Women In Psychology, Dr. Clark (2001) explains her frustration: "Although my husband had earlier secured a teaching position at the City College of New York, following my graduation it soon became apparent to me that a black female with a Ph.D. in psychology was an unwanted anomaly in New York City in the early 1940's." (p. 271). In 1944, through a colleague of Kenneth's, Mamie was finally able to get a job at the American Public Health Association (Warren, 1999). Her job was to analyze research data on American nurses. Dr. Clark was the only black person in the office and the only one to have a Ph.D., besides the Association's director. She stayed at this position for one year to acquire research and employment experience but she found the job "humiliating and distasteful" (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001, p. 271). Her second job, as a research psychologist at the United States Armed forces Institute more clearly fit her considerable abilities, but Mamie still felt as if she was stuck in a career "holding pattern" (Warren, 1999, p. 33).

The Northside Center

Finally, Dr. Phipps Clark found a position as a testing psychologist at the Riverdale Home For Children, a refuge for homeless black girls (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). Her work at the Home provided for great professional growth and made her aware of the lack of psychological services available for black children in the Harlem area. She began, along with Kenneth, to petition existing service agencies to offer minority children these necessary psychological services. Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Clark even offered to donate their own time and expertise. After being met with apathy or resistance from existing agencies and churches, they decided to create their own agency.

Mamie's family provided the funding to furnish the center and several psychologist and social worker friends of the Clarks offered to volunteer. In March of 1946, The Northside Center for Child Development was opened (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). The Center, originally called the Northside Testing and Consultation Center, was "the first full-time child guidance center offering psychiatric, psychological, and casework services to children and families in the Harlem area" (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001, p. 273). Community residents were initially afraid to make use of the Center due to the stigmatization of mental illness. Growing awareness in American culture about mental illness and the needs of the mentally ill began to change this perception. However, the biggest draw for community residents became the Center's intelligence testing services.

In the 1940's, many minority children in the public schools were being placed in programs for the mentally retarded despite the objection of their parents (Clark in O'Connell & Russo, 2001). A group of these parents appealed to the Center for help in providing outside testing of their children. The Center staff was able to determine that the majority of the children had IQ's exceeding mental retardation. The Center staff advocated for the correct placement of these children and made the schools' illegal practice known to members of the minority community. Many other parents brought their children in for testing and the reputation of the Center as a valuable community resource was secured. As a result of this interaction with the community and from seeing the lack of educational support provided to minority children, Dr. Clark instituted a remedial math and reading program at the Center during its first year of service.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark served as the executive director for the Northside Center from 1946 until her retirement in 1979 (Warren, 1999). In addition to her work at the Center, she served on the Board of Directors of the American Broadcast Company, Mount Sinai Medical Center, The Museum of Modern Art, and the New York Public Library, as well as other, organizations. She was also an advisor to Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited and the National Headstart Planning Committee.

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Guthrie, R. (1998) Even the rat was white: A historical view of psychology (2nd ed.)

Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Mamie Phipps Clark. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2002,

from University Of Georgia web site: http://www.arches.uga.edu/~acrobert/
O'Connell & Russo, A., N. (Ed.) (2001) Models of achievement : reflections of eminent

women in psychology
. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Warren, W. (1999) Black women scientists in the united states.

Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
List Of Known Works by Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark
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Clark, M.P. (1944). Changes in primary mental abilities with age.

Archives of Psychology, 291.
New York, NY: Columbia University.
Clark, M.P. & Karp, J. (1961). A report on a summer remedial program.

Elementary School Journal, 61.
Clark, M.P. (1970). Changing concepts in mental health, a thirty-year review.

Conference Proceedings, Thirtieth Anniversary Conference, May 7.
New York: Northside

Center for Child Development

Publications with Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939). The development of consciousness of self in Negro

pre-school children. Archives of Psychology. Washington, D.C.: Howard University.
Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence

of racial identification in Negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 591-599.
Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939). Segregation as a factor in the racial identification

of Negro pre-school children. Journal of Experimental Education, 8, 161-165.
Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1940). Skin color as a factor in racial identification of Negro

preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, 11, 159 -169.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children.

In T.M. Newcomb & E.L. Hartley (Eds.), Reading in social psychology. New York: Holt,

Rinehart & Winston.
Clark, K.B. & Clark, M. P. (1950) Emotional Factors in Racial Identification and Preference

in Negro Children. Journal of Negro Education, 19, 506-513.
Clark, K.B. & Clark, M. P. (1980) What do blacks think of themselves?

Ebony, Nov. 1980

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