At Galen Hope, we recognize that the contributions of Black psychologists, psychiatrists, and other scientists in our field are all too often underrecognized and overlooked. Since February is Black History Month, we wanted to talk about some of the pioneers of psychology who were also people of color. And, since Galen Hope is a woman-owned business, we decided to celebrate three Black Women who shaped our field forever.
Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D.: Dr. Prosser was the first Black woman to ever earn a Ph.D. in Psychology (in 1933). Her psychological career was cut tragically short when Dr. Prosser was killed in a car accident in 1934, but, as the American Psychological Association explains, “during her career she encouraged many Black students to pursue higher education and her work was influential in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that later took place in 1954.”
Kitch Childs, Ph.D.: Dr. Childs was a Feminist psychologist whose work focused on the psychological needs of women, and the LGBTQ+ community. Dr. Childs helped to found the Association for Women in Psychology. Mental Health America summarized Dr. Child’s career saying, “In addition to being a leader for women in psychology and the LGBTQ+ community, she also owned her own practice in which she provided therapy to LGBTQ+ folks, people living with HIV/AIDS, and other marginalized members of her community.”
In a 1990 article in Feminist Ethics in Psychotherapy, addressed to “women, white and Black, and to men white and Black, who wish to include Black women as clients,” Dr. Childs sought to help clinicians understand some of the unique challenges facing Black women in getting quality mental health care. In the article, Dr. Childs lamented the fact that by 1984, there were only 10 clinical psychologists who had listed themselves in the records as both Black and interested in women’s issues. She strongly believed that this lack of knowledge, interest, and insight was just one of many problems Black women faced—another being a general lack of understanding. “The reality of Black women’s lives incorporates racism, classism, and the host of other negative attitudes held toward Persons of Color in America…Abuse, stereotyping, and vilification about skin coloration, sexuality, ugliness, and stupidity remain rampant in contemporary American life” (Childs, 1990, p. 196). She encouraged clinicians to take a Feminist approach to treating Black women, and to endeavor to address any entrenched “stereotypical thinking” (p. 197).
Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D.: Dr. Phipps Clark was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University (in 1943). Her work is generally discussed in relation to that of her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark (himself the first Black person to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University). Indeed, Dr. Phipps Clark did work closely with her husband in their joint practice, but the reasons went somewhat beyond the fact that they shared clinical interests. As Dr. Phipps Clark explained “Although my husband had earlier secured a teaching position at the City College of New York, following my graduation it soon became apparent to me that a Black female with a Ph.D. in psychology was an unwanted anomaly in New York City in the early 1940s” (p. 86)
Together, Dr. Phipps Clark and Dr. Clark conducted research tied to the conception of self by Black children. Their research became crucial evidence in support of ending school segregation in Brown Vs. the Board of Education.
At Galen Hope, we remain indebted to, and grateful for, these powerful and courageous Black women, whose trailblazing paved the way for so many others.
To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today