Margaret Floy Washburn ’91, the country’s first woman PhD in psychology, was appointed assistant professor of philosophy, in charge of psychology. In 1908 she became professor of psychology and the first chair of that department, one of the earliest in women’s colleges. From the first, her students were urged to undertake independent research in experimental psychology, and in addition to her own prolific publication, some 40 papers undertaken with her students appeared as “Studies from the Psychology Laboratory at Vassar College” in The American Journal of Psychology.
A major figure in psychology in the United States in the first quarter of the 20th century, Washburn served as president of the American Psychological Association and was the first woman psychologist and the second woman scientist—after the discoverer of the origin and processes of the lymphatic system, Florence Rena Sabin—to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Washburn died on October 29, 1939, and at a memorial service at Vassar the following April, her accomplishments were praised by Dr. Leonard Carmichael, the president of Tufts University and of the American Psychological Association, and by President MacCracken, who hailed her as “the philosopher in science.”