The name of Ruth Winifred Howard is one we should all
know. Earning her place in history as
the first African American woman to complete a doctorate in psychology, Ruth
Howard had a long career that encompassed social work, nursing education, and
developmental and clinical psychology.
Imbued from childhood with an appreciation of cultural diversity and
respect for all people, Howard was well prepared to “serve the needs of thickly
populated communities of differing cultural and economic strata,” as she
described her work at the
Ruth Winifred, born in 1900, was the eighth and youngest
child of the Reverend and Mrs. William James Howard of
Upon graduation in 1921, Ruth Howard began social work practice through the Cleveland Urban league and soon after accepted a position with the Cleveland Child Welfare Agency where she worked with children living in dysfunctional family situations or foster homes. Her work involved meeting representatives from schools and medical and child clinics, many of whom “didn’t understand or sympathized with cultural groups other than their own. This was markedly true about Negroes for whom they had firmly fixed preconceived ideas…” (Howard, 1983, p.58). Only the chief psychologist of the Cleveland Board of Education seemed to have some understanding of the needs of the black community. This unnamed woman spurred Howard to pursue a career in psychology.
Through a Laura Spelman
Rockefeller Fellowship for Parent Education, Howard studied at
clinical practice grew, she also pursued postdoctoral studies at the
was also active in numerous professional and community organizations. She helped organize the National Association
of College Women, and joined the American Psychological Association, the
International Psychological Association, the International Council of Women
Psychologists, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the
Friends of the Mentally Ill. In
addition, she was a long time volunteer for the Young Women’s Christian
Association and Bartelme Homes, named for Judge Mary Bartelme, the first woman judge in
In 1964, Ruth
Howard lost her life-long partner, Albert Beckham. Remaining in
According to a
great-niece of Dr. Howard’s, Ms. Bertha French, her great-aunt died on
At the end of her 1983 autobiographical essay Howard paid tribute to the women psychologists who have contributed to the growth and development of psychology. She closed by stating, “I salute women psychologists as they receive recognition within their field and when they help other women attain their potential” (p.67). It is fitting, then, to close this biographical piece by saluting Ruth Winfred Howard, who rightly deserves recognition for her pioneering status, her many accomplishments, and for paving the path that generations of women have since followed.
Guthrie, R. V.
(1998). Even the rat was white: A
historical view of psychology (pp. 178-180).
Howard, R. W. (1944). Fantasy and play interview. Character and personality, 13, 151-165.
Howard, R. W. (1946). Intellectual and personality traits of a group of triplets. Journal of Psychology, 21, 25-36.
Howard, R. W. (1947). The developmental history of a group of triplets. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 70, 191-204.
Howard, R. W.
(1983). In A. N. O’Connell & N. F. Russo (Eds.), Models of achievement: Reflections of eminent women in psychology
*Originally published in The Feminist Psychologist, Newsletter of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association, Volume 28, Number 2, Spring, 2001. Appearing with permission of the author.