October 29, 1939
Professor Emeritus of Psychology Margaret Floy Washburn ’91, who had retired 1in 1937 after suffering a stroke, died after a long illness. At graduation, she hoped to study in the new field of experimental psychology at Columbia, under America’s first professor of psychology, James McKeen Cattell. Allowed only to audit Cattell’s courses, on his recommendation, she gained admission to the new Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell, where she was the first graduate student of British pioneer E. B. Titchener. Vassar certified her work at Cornell for a master’s degree in absentia in 1893, and her Cornell PhD in 1894 was the first doctorate to a woman in psychology. The “father of experimental psychology,” Wilhelm Wundt published her doctoral thesis on the influence of visual imagery on judging distance and direction in Philosophische Studien in 1895.
Washburn joined the Vassar faculty in 1903, and she became a major figure in American psychological research and theory as well as a much-admired teacher and colleague. A past president of the American Psychological Association, in 1932, she was the first woman psychologist and the second woman scientist to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.