5 Phenomenal Women of Color Who Changed Psychology Forever and Will Inspire You to Do the Same — Psych Learning Curve

5 Phenomenal Women of Color Who Changed Psychology Forever and Will Inspire You to Do the Same

Not too long ago, psychology was a discipline dominated by white males. Change came slowly in the wake of the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. But even before then, a few intrepid women of color entered the field of psychology and strove to change it (and the world) for the better. And women of color continue to break barriers and contribute to psychology as scientists, practitioners and policymakers to this day.

We’re recognizing their accomplishments in honor of our I am Psyched!” Tour: a multimedia pop-up exhibit and we want you to join us. But more on that later.

First, let’s name names.

1. Inez Beverly Prosser (1895-1934)

(Image source: Goodtherapy.org)

The first African American woman to complete a PhD in psychology in 1933, she had to leave Texas to pursue her degree because no graduate schools there accepted African Americans. She studied how racially integrated and racially segregated schools impact African American youth.

Image source: Goodtherapy.org

2. Martha Bernal (1931-2001)

Martha Bernal

The first Latina to earn a PhD in psychology in the United States, she studied ethnic identity and made clinical training more relevant for minorities. She also mentored Latino/a psychologists and founded the National Hispanic Psychology Association.

Image source: palantelatino.com/


3. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983)


She and her husband, Kenneth Clark, studied racial preferences and identity in Black children in integrated schools compared to segregated schools. In the famous Doll Studies, children were presented with four dolls, two black and two white. They were asked which doll they liked best. More than 65% of the kids chose a white doll. These findings were used in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that dismantled school segregation.

Image source: feministvoices.com

4. Reiko True

Reiko True

Born in Japan, she attended university in Tokyo, one of only 3 women in a class of 80. She remains passionate about equal access to mental health care and lobbied to create the first mental health center in California to serve Asian Americans. She then led the center, ensuring staff were trained in Asian languages and culture.

Image source: apa.org


5. Jennifer Eberhardt

2014 MacArthur Award Winner Jennifer Eberhardt, Stanford University.

Her research shows how subliminal images activate racial stereotypes, changing what and how people see. She investigates the largely unconscious yet deeply ingrained ways that individuals racially code and categorize people, with a particular focus on associations between race and crime. She uses these findings to raise awareness about stereotypes in the criminal justice system and in education. In 2014, she received a MacArthur Foundation award for her groundbreaking work.

Image source: www.macfound.org

Diversity doesn’t just mean including people who look different. It means bringing people with a variety of ideas and experiences together to enrich the processes by which we solve problems and make change. No one group has a monopoly on innovation. The achievements of these women demonstrate what is lost when psychology or any other field only speaks with one voice. They also show the good that can happen when scientists work to give voice to the voiceless. Maybe you are the next Mamie Phipps Clark, Martha Bernal or Reiko True who will transform psychology and the world for the better.

I am Psyched! National Tour

The I am Psyched! National Tour was launched with remarks from APA President-elect Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, ABPP, for a three-day installation at Howard University (HU) in Washington, DC. The event celebrated both APA’s 125th anniversary and HU’s 150th anniversary. The tour will continue around the country, featuring women psychologists and discussions on how they have used psychology to make positive social change. I Am Psyched! originated as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Day Live! in 2016. The APA Women’s Programs Office created a pop-up exhibit to engage young women of color in the museum experience and show how psychology benefits daily life.

Join the conversation

All you need to do is use any of these hashtag – #IamPsyched to share your comments and photos. Tell us why you are psyched to go into the field of psychology as a career. We can’t wait to hear what you think.


About the Author

APA’s Women’s Programs Office (WPO) works to improve the health, education, well-being, and status of women psychologists and consumers of psychological services. WPO activities span the science, practice, education, and policy arenas. Find out more at http://www.apa.org/pi/women.

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