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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Woman of the Week – Mamie Phipps Clark

Posted June 12, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Mamie Phipps Clark was an American social psychologist who focused on the development of self-consciousness of pre-schooled black children. Her work was highly influential to the notable court case Brown vs. Board of Education, as her work brought racial segregation to light in schools.

Clark graduated from Langston High School at seventeen, and despite the extremely rare opportunities available to black students, she was offered several scholarships to pursue higher education. Among those scholarships were offers at two of the most prestigious black universities in the country - Fisk University in Tennessee and Howard University in Washington D.C. She chose to attend Howard University where she began her university career in 1934 as a math major minoring in physics. At Howard University, Clark also met her future husband, Kenneth Bancroft Clark, a master's degree student in psychology who later became famous for his involvement in Brown vs. Board of Education.

It was Kenneth who eventually convinced Mamie to pursue psychology because the field appeared promising in terms of employment, and would allow her to explore her interests in children's development.

In 1938, Mamie Clark Phipps graduated magna cum laude from Howard University. After her graduation, Phipps worked as a secretary in the law office of William Houston. She was about to witness the work of William Hastie, Thurgood Marshall, and others in preparation for Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. This had an influence on her master's thesis, "The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children."

In her thesis she investigated when black children became aware of themselves as having a distinct "self," and when they became aware of belonging to a particular racial group. It was the beginning of a line of research that became historic when it was used to make racial segregation unconstitutional in American public schools. She defined "race consciousness" as a consciousness of self as belonging to a specific group which is differentiated from other groups by obvious physical characteristics. She concluded that children became aware of their skin color very early in their childhood (likely by age 4 or 5), and it was precisely this conclusion that became the foundation and the guiding premise for the Clarks’ famous doll studies.

She continued school and earned her Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1943 from Columbia University.

Concurrent with her doctoral research, Clark worked with her husband on their Rosenwald-funded studies of racial preference in African-American children. Although they completed the studies by 1943, reports did not begin to appear in print until 1947. The Clarks presented the "dolls test." In this test black children ages three through seven were presented with four dolls: two of the dolls had brown skin and black hair, and two had white skin and yellow hair. The children responded to a series of requests by choosing one of the dolls. The children were asked to make racial identifications ("Give me the doll that looks like a colored child") and self-identifications ("Give me the doll that looks like you").

In terms of overall racial preference, the majority of the children chose the white doll as the doll they wanted to play with, indicated that the white doll was the nice doll and that the brown doll looked bad, and chose the white doll as having the nice color. The Clarks then compared the doll preferences of northern children with southern children. This work received attention from many NAACP lawyers and the work was used as fuel for expert testimony in school segregation trials.

This research is perhaps what she is most known for, but she also spent many years working with an organization she founded with her husband. The Northside Center for Child Development was created to give psychological and educational services to minority children. She also volunteered and sat on many community advocacy and advisory boards in Harlem. She retired in 1980 and passed away at her home in Hastings-on-Hudson, a few miles up the Hudson River.



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