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Leta Hollingworth (25 May 1886 – 27 November 1939) was an American psychologist who conducted pioneering work in the early 20th century. She was a psychologist, educator, and feminist. She was part of the Heterodoxy Club.
Hollingworth made significant contributions in psychology of women; clinical psychology; and educational psychology. She is best known for her work with exceptional children.
On May 25, 1886, Leta A. Stetter was born in Dawes County, Nebraska near the town of Chadron. She was the first of three children born to Margaret Elinor Danley (1862–1890) and John George Stetter (1856–1943).
Her childhood consisted of multiple hardships. At three years old, her mother died after giving birth to her third child, and her father deserted the family. Leta and her sisters were then raised by their maternal grandparents — Samuel Thomas Danley (1833–1898) and Mary (1838–1904) — on their farm. After ten years of absence, Leta's father remarried and forced the children to leave their grandparents and move to Valentine, Nebraska to live with him and their stepmother. Leta described the experience of living there as a "fiery furnace" due, in part, to the alcoholism that plagued the household and the verbal and emotional abuse inflicted upon the children by their stepmother. School was her only refuge from this abusive home life. In her early education, Leta described her education as a one-room school where she received excellent education which was individualized. Leta attended Valentine High School where she excelled in the classroom and discovered her talent and passion for writing. Her overall intelligence, wit, and humor were made evident when she was hired at age fifteen to write weekly columns in the town newspaper, The Valentine Democrat. She was able to make her final escape from home in 1902 when she graduated from Valentine High School.
When she was just 16 years old, she enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where she blossomed academically. She originally studied literature and writing as she aspired to be a writer. However, her series of short stories were never published due to her being female. She was the literary editor of the Daily Nebraskan, associate editor of The Sombrero, and assistant editor of The Senior Book. During her time at the University of Nebraska, she met and became engaged to Harry Hollingworth and the two would wed on December 31, 1908. Harry Hollingworth moved to New York to do graduate work at Columbia University and completed his doctorate under James Cattell. Stetter stayed behind in Nebraska to finish her undergraduate studies. She graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1906 and received her Bachelor of Arts degree, along with a State Teacher's Certificate. This qualified her to teach English Language and Literature in any Nebraska public high school.
Leta's professional career began as a teacher at two high schools in Nebraska. The first of these was in DeWitt, Nebraska, Harry Hollingworth's hometown. She was the assistant principal of the high school for one year. Her second teaching position was in the town of McCook. This position lasted for two years. She flourished at these jobs until she moved to New York where her fiancé was finishing up his doctorate under Cattell. When he obtained an assistant professorship at Barnard College, Harry was able to afford to move Leta to New York with him. They were married on December 31, 1908. Leta Hollingworth intended on teaching in New York, but soon discovered that the city had a policy stating that married women were not allowed to teach. She continued writing and busied herself with housework, yet this proved to be unrewarding and she found herself bored, frustrated, and began to develop depression. It was difficult to bear the fact that, despite her training, she was unable to contribute financially. She tried to go on to graduate school but was barred due to gender discrimination at the time. She began to question the role society expected of women and the inequality of women's opportunities. As a result, her career interests changed to education and sociology. In 1911 she was able to begin graduate school thanks to a research grant her husband received from Coca-Cola. In 1913 she received her master's degree in education at Columbia  and began working for the Clearing House for Mental Defectives to administer Binet intelligence tests in 1914. Quickly she became the top scorer and New York City's first civil service psychologist while filling a post at Bellevue Hospital as chief of the psychological lab. Hollingworth continued on her academic journey to study educational psychology under the supervision of Edward L. Thorndike.
After receiving her M.Ed., she began part-time work at the Clearing House for Mental Defectives. It was her job to administer Binet intelligence tests. She had to teach herself how to administer them due to a lack of experience. The Civil Service began to supervise the administration of the tests in 1914 and demanded that examiners take competitive exams to determine their capability. Leta Hollingworth scored well and filled the position as the first psychologist under Civil Service in New York. From there she went on to work at the Bellevue Hospital Center. She was offered the position of chief at the psychological lab. She completed her doctoral work at Columbia under Edward L. Thorndike while maintaining the position of consulting psychologist for the New York Police Department. In 1916 she received her Ph.D. She was promptly offered a teaching position at Columbia Teacher's College. She remained there for the rest of her life.
Although Hollingworth began teaching, she continued to devote at least one day out of the week to work at Bellevue Hospital. There, she helped establish the Classification Clinic for Adolescents, as well as, the American Association of Clinical Psychologist. She was involved in developing the ethical guidelines for clinical psychologist and in promoting universal standards for training in clinical psychology. Along with her teaching duties she also trained clinical psychologists and was the principal of the School of Exceptional Children at Bellevue.
Leta Hollingworth died on November 27, 1939, at the age of 53 of abdominal cancer at the Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, New York City.
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