yes, therapy helps!
The 10 essential women in the history of Psychology

The 10 essential women in the history of Psychology

February 8, 2023

Throughout history there have been many psychologists who have influenced the development of the science of mind and human behavior. It is usual to talk about Watson, Skinner, Bandura, Freud, among others, the great majority of men. Unfortunately, the voice of the woman has been silenced for many years , and their contributions were minimized or excluded from scientific circles.

But as Ann Johnson says of St. Thomas University, this changed from the 60s and 70s and, in recent years, the new generations of female psychologists have begun to receive more recognition .

The psychologists have not had an easy way

Nowadays it seems impossible to think that psychology was a profession exclusively of men, because at present it is a career studied by more women than men. The truth is that psychology was considered a male domain, and women who wished to carve out a professional future as psychologists had to find a place in a discipline that only accepted men.


Luckily, lThe social and economic changes of this last century have allowed the growth of "feminine psychology" . As in other fields, women have struggled to obtain the same rights as men. In the United States, the data show that the number of female psychologists has been increasing over the years: in 1901 only 20 women obtained their doctorate in psychology, in 1974 22% of the doctorates in psychology were for women, and in 1983 they obtained a doctorate 56% of psychologists.

The 10 most influential women in Psychology

It may now seem normal, but many of these women had to face the discrimination, obstacles and difficulties that were presented to them for a long time. In today's article, and in honor of all these women, we have developed a list of psychologists who have made important and innovative contributions in the field of psychology .


These women deserve to be recognized for their pioneering work and for being leaders in the struggle for equality. Despite all the difficulties, they left us an invaluable legacy that we will detail today.

1. Brenda Milner

The neuropsychologist Brenda Milner (1918), born in Manchester (United Kingdom), is considered the founder of neuropsychology and is one of the most important figures in the study of memory. For 60 years it has contributed to the knowledge of brain functioning. She continues to teach and direct research at the Neurological Institute of Montreal (Canada) and is also a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University.

Brenda Milner is famous for her study in the case of the patient H.M. This was a young man who had suffered from very serious epileptic seizures since he was 10 years old. Desperate, he went to consult with Dr. Scoville and agreed to undergo experimental surgery in which his medial temporal lobes on both sides were excised. His epileptic seizures were significantly reduced, but he was affected antegrade amnesia, the inability to keep new events in long-term memory. Brenda Milner began working with H. M., carrying out a series of experiments designed to evaluate her memory and ability to learn. What he was observing, eventually led to a revolutionary discovery: he found that H. M. was constantly improving from one day to the next in the tests, despite the fact that he had no memory of having done those things before. In other words, the patient was learning new skills effectively despite having no memory of having done so before .


This indicated that the brain is not governed by a solitary memory system and caused a change in the direction of memory research from that moment. In addition to this monumental finding, Milner identified the role played by the hippocampus and the medial area of ​​the temporal lobe in explicit memory and provided the first data of implicit memory storage.

2. Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir ( 1916 - 1988) is known for her work as an exceptional therapist, and is one of the most important people in Systemic Family Therapy. Virginia Satir thought that people are equipped with the capacity for growth, transformation and continuing education. His methodology not only combined the interactive and intrapsychic elements of modern therapy, but also strived to create an improvement in the quality of communication and relationships within the family structure.

Systemic Transformation Satir Therapy works to address actions, emotions and perceptions of a client that are related to their dynamics in the family unit. As a highly qualified and qualified therapist, she worked with patients to allow them to find their sense of harmony and unity, and to hold them accountable for the direction and acceptance of traumas and wounds that ultimately lead to an inner sense of peace and joy.

3. Mary Ainsworth

Mary Ainsworth (1913) was born in Ohio, United States and developed an extensive and fruitful career. She was a pioneer in the psychology of development and is perhaps best known for her research on the behavior of babies in the "strange situation" and their contribution to the Theory of Attachment.

This theory, first developed by John Bowlby, is essential in any introductory book on developmental psychology. Ainsworth identified three attachment styles that children have with their parents and their caregivers. In a ranking that was elaborated in 2002 on the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Ainsworth was ranked 97th out of the most frequently cited psychologists .

It may interest you: "The 10 most important and influential psychologists in history"

4. Elisabeth Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus (1944) is one of the most influential and at the same time controversial psychologists. She is famous for her research on the reliability of repressed memories and is a fundamental figure in cognitive psychology. With his work he has made an enormous contribution to psychology and opened the debate in a controversial aspect of psychology and memory. During the 70s, Loftus published a collection of influential studies on the fallibility of witness testimony in the judicial field . At first their contributions did not have much impact, but at present their work is beginning to leave its mark.

The controversial side of his investigations is based on the role he has played in the cases of accusation of sexual abuse in childhood based on the recovery of memories, which made his person the object of demands and death threats. His research on the use of false memories to modify behavior is considered by some to be very unethical.

5. Laura Perls

Laura Posner (1905 - 1990), better known as Laura Perls, is one of the most influential psychologists of this century. Together with her husband Fritz Perls and Paul Goodman, she developed Gestalt Therapy in the 40s, a humanistic-existentialist therapeutic model that was originally designed as an alternative to conventional psychoanalysis. Gestalt therapy experts use experiential and creative techniques to improve the patient's self-consciousness, freedom and self-direction.

If you want to know more about Gestalt Therapy, you can visit our article: "Gestalt Therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?"

6. Leda Cosmides

Leda Cosmides (1957) is best known for his pioneering work in the field of evolutionary psychology. He developed his interest in this field while studying biology at Harvard University, and in 1985 he obtained his doctorate in cognitive psychology. Cosmides was a member of the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences, before moving to the University of California, Santa Bárbara, where he has been in the faculty since 1991.

In 1988 he won the Research Prize in Behavioral Sciences of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1993 he was awarded the Distinguished Scientist Prize of the American Psychological Association. In 1992 he published his well-known book called "The Adapted Mind" together with J. H. Barkow and J. Tooby. This text is recognized as one of the most important at the moment in its field , both for establishing the theoretical and methodological principles that serve as the basis for evolutionary psychology, and for its importance in the field of application.

7. Anna Freud

Anna Freud (1895 - 1982) was born in Vienna at the end of the 19th century. She is the daughter of Sigmund Freud but, far from staying in the shade, was also important in the theory that his father originated, because was a pioneer in the field of child psychoanalysis and extended the concept of defense mechanisms that are put in place to adjust the drives of the id to the demands of the superego.

He was especially interested in the problems of communication between therapists. His contributions were eminently practical, fruit of his experience the Child Therapy Clinic of Hampstead in London. He did many scientific works and helped to found the annual publication of the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child in 1945. His main work is "The Self and the Defense Mechanisms" (1936), which has become a classic of psychoanalysis.

8. Mary Whiton Calkins

Mary Whiton Calkins (1863 - 1930) was an American psychologist who became the first female president of the American Psychological Associations (APA).Despite graduating in philosophy, he became an influential figure in the development of early psychology, especially ego psychology, and trained many students through his teaching position at Wellesley College.

At the time, women could not study psychology, and even though she was invited to a seminary at Harvard University, the center refused to grant her the title because she was a woman.

9. Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein (1882 - 1960) was born in Vienna in and was an Austrian psychologist known for creating a therapeutic technique called "Game Therapy". His initial intention was to attend medical school, but she became a well-known psychoanalyst .

He met Sigmund Freud for the first time in 1918 at the International Psychoanalytic Congress in Budapest (Hungary), and inspired him to write his first article on psychoanalysis called "The Development of a Child." This experience was a motivation to remain linked to this current of psychology and began to devote himself to psychological therapy. It is one of the most famous in the school of psychoanalysis.

10. Margaret Floy Washburn

Margaret Floy Washburn (1871 - 1939) was a pioneer in her time because she will always be remembered for being the first woman to get a PhD in psychology .

He received his doctorate in 1984 and his contributions to psychology were many. This psychologist spent long years of her life doing research with animals. It should be noted that Washburn was the second woman to preside over the American Psychological Association (APA) after Mary Whiton Calkins.


7 Essential Psychology Books (February 2023).


Similar Articles