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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Carolyn Robertson was born on May 13, 1925, in Norfolk, Virginia, to Leroy and Bertha Robertson. Her father was a chef and her mother was a homemaker. She had one older sister, Jean.

Although Carolyn grew up during the Great Depression, she did not experience some of the hardships others endured, because of her family's relatively comfortable status. She was, however, as a young African-American girl, deeply affected by racism. Both her neighborhood and her school were segregated, but she was aware of the concept of equal rights from a young age, and she fought for those rights and for racial equality throughout her life.

Because her family strongly advocated education, it was expected that Carolyn would go on to college after she finished high school. Carolyn wanted to attend Hampton Institute but, instead, she enrolled at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1941, which was her father's choice due to its reputation for being the place where "discriminating parents sent their distinguished daughters". Bennett was a predominantly Black women's college, and Carolyn majored in home economics. While at Bennett, Carolyn met many women, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who would later become influential in her life because of their work on civil rights issues.

Upon graduating from Bennett College in 1945, Carolyn began to look for a place to pursue a graduate degree. At that time, the separate-but-equal doctrine in educational institutions was in place in Virginia, which meant that "if a course of study was available to whites at the white state-supported institutions, but not available to blacks at the black state-supported institutions, the state would pay all the expenses the student would incur by having to attain an education elsewhere" (Keita & Muldrow, 1990, p. 267). Carolyn ended up choosing psychology as her course of study because it met these conditions. In 1945, Carolyn entered the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and in 1948, she earned a Master of Science degree in clinical psychology.

While in Wisconsin, Carolyn was married to Raymond Rudolph Payton, a police detective, but the marriage lasted less than four years. The two divorced in 1951 (Notable Black American Women, 1992).

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Carolyn looked for a teaching position in a historically all-Black college, because she thought that to be her only option for a career. She was hired at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, as a psychology instructor. She was the only psychologist on the faculty, which allowed her freedom to structure the program and develop her interests as she saw fit.

After five years at Livingstone, Carolyn accepted a position at Elizabeth City State Teachers College in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as a psychology instructor and the dean of women. Carolyn enjoyed this job because of her new administrative responsibilities and the opportunity to be a role model for students.

In 1956, Carolyn became an associate professor of psychology at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia. She was drawn to this position because it allowed her to spend half of her time teaching and half of her time providing clinical counseling to students.

In 1958, she took a leave of absence to work towards her Ed.D. in counseling and school administration at Teachers College, Columbia University, which she received in 1962.

In 1959, Carolyn became an assistant professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. At Howard, she had access to a primate laboratory, which she used to study perception. She hoped to eventually expand this research to investigate racial perception in young children.

When President John F. Kennedy was elected, Carolyn Payton was chosen to help in developing the procedures that would be used to select trainees to serve in the Peace Corps. Later, she became a field assessment officer, responsible for evaluating trainees1 likelihood of success overseas by administering psychological tests, conducting personal interviews, and analyzing clinical observations, "faculty grades and assessments, peer reviews, and other pertinent information" (Keita & Muldrow, 1990, p. 269). In 1967, Carolyn became the director for the Caribbean region of the Peace Corps, after spending a lot of time overseas observing volunteers and trying to determine what kinds of things could be done to enhance their experiences.

In 1970, Payton returned to Howard University and became the director of the University Counseling Service there. She expanded the small service in order to serve both students and community clients, and she focused on the importance of group therapy and on training therapists. She also developed methods and promoted the need for special training for therapists for work with ethnic minority clients. Payton was also largely responsible for the University Counseling Service gaining APA accreditation as an internship site. Howard was one of the few predominantly all-Black institutions to earn this distinction.

In 1977, Carolyn Payton was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be director of the United States Peace Corps. She was the first woman and the first African-American person to hold the position.

In November of 1978, she resigned as director of the Peace Corps after serving only thirteen months, due to policy disputes with Sam Brown, who was the director of an agency called ACTION that oversaw the Peace Corps and domestic volunteer programs (Martin, 2001). Brown wanted to "send volunteers for short periods to developing countries and then bring back the skills they had learned to fight poverty in the United States" (Martin, 2001). According to Payton, this proposed policy went against the original goals of the Peace Corps as set up by President Kennedy. She stated that Brown was "trying to turn the corps into an 'arrogant, elitist' political organization intended to meddle in the affairs of foreign governments" (as cited in Martin, 2001). She thought that "the Peace Corps [had] strayed away from its mission" (as cited in Martin, 2001). She said "as director, I could not, because of the peculiar administrative structure under which the Peace Corps operates, do anything about this situation. As an ex-director, I am free to sound the alarm" (as cited in Martin, 2001). Thus, she resigned as director in order to gain the opportunity to act against what she saw as injustice within the organization.

In 1979, Payton returned to Howard as dean of counseling and career development, where she continued to work until her retirement in 1995 (Martin, 2001).

In 1984, Payton published one of her most famous articles, "Who Must Do the Hard Things?", in which she emphasized the necessary and social implications and responsibilities of psychology. She felt that APA and psychology in general, as a discipline, should take stands on social issues (Payton, 1984). She worked to include women, African-Americans, and other minority groups in the governance structure of APA in order to facilitate social advocacy within the organization (Payton, 1984). Her article was an attempt to respond to and refute the general feeling that being involved with social issues would demean psychology's credibility as a science (Payton, 1984).

Throughout her career, Payton was extremely active in the American Psychological Association as a member in the Division of the Psychology of Women, serving on many committees and task forces, including the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct (1971-1977, as chair in 1975 and 1976), the Task Force on Sex Bias and Sex Role Stereotyping in Psychotherapeutic Practice (1974-1976), the Committee on Women in Psychology (1980-1982, as chair in 1981), the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns (1983-1985), and the Policy and Planning Board (1985-1987). She also became a fellow of APA in 1987.

Payton won several awards and gained much recognition for her work, including the Distinguished Professional Contributions to Public Service Award from APA in 1982, the Committee on Women in Psychology Leadership Citation from APA in 1985, and the Peace Corps Leader for Peace Award in 1988.

Carolyn Robertson Payton died in her home of a heart attack on April 11, 2001. She was 75 years old (Martin, 2001).


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