In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mamie Phipps Clark

  • Introduction
  • Autobiographical and Biographical Works and Obituaries
  • Archival Resources
  • Clark’s Research on Development of Mental Abilities, Self-Concept, Racial Identification, and Racial Preference
  • Brown v. Board of Education Decision
  • Northside Center for Child Development
  • Assessment, Replications, and Critiques of the Doll Tests
  • History of Race, Racism, and Civil Rights in Psychology
  • Children’s Literature
  • Legacy

Psychology Mamie Phipps Clark
by
Amanda Nkeramihigo, Danielle Christie, Desiree Salis, Alexandra Rutherford
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0320

Introduction

Mamie Phipps Clark (b. 1917–d. 1983) was a psychologist who focused on identity development, racial self-consciousness, education, and counselling psychology. She was the second Black person (her husband being the first) and the first Black woman to earn a psychology doctorate at Columbia University in New York City, an impressive feat at a time when many schools and colleges in the United States were racially segregated. Black women, in particular, encountered numerous barriers to success. Born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Clark attended a segregated school and became aware of the separation of Blacks and Whites early. Her father, Harold H. Phipps, was a well-respected physician, and this afforded them some privileges and access to spaces usually restricted to Whites. Nevertheless, in a 1976 oral history interview, she recalled being aware of lynching at age six; there was always an awareness of what lines not to cross. After high school, Clark attended Howard University in Washington, DC, on a scholarship. There, she met her future husband, Kenneth Clark, who was studying psychology. Her interest in abnormal and educational psychology, and persuasion from Kenneth, led her to switch from math to psychology in her third year of studies. Clark pursued her master’s at Howard University. Her thesis investigated Black children’s awareness of themselves and their racial belonging, and found that this awareness developed quite early. This research catalysed subsequent controversial studies, co-authored with her husband and famously known as the doll studies. These became instrumental in the 1954 unanimous US Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned the 1896 “separate but equal” doctrine, making racial segregation unconstitutional in American public schools. Mamie was called as a rebuttal witness to the testimony of her former doctoral advisor who had testified to the inferiority of Black students. Subsequent to her PhD, Mamie was unable to find a university-based research position, noting the difficulty of securing such a position given the double jeopardy of being Black and female. Thus, she conceived of, founded, and directed the Northside Center for Child Development for the rest of her career. There, she oversaw a multiracial staff who provided comprehensive and innovative psychosocial services to disadvantaged children in the Harlem area. She retired as its director in 1979 and died in 1983. Despite some recovery efforts, Mamie Clark’s contributions to psychology, social change, and the well-being of children, families, and communities continue to be overlooked by history and overshadowed by her husband’s status as a prominent social scientist and public intellectual.

Autobiographical and Biographical Works and Obituaries

This collection includes sources that place Mamie Phipps Clark in the historiography on women in US psychology, a historiography that began in the early 1970s due to the work of feminist historians. A particularly important effort to document women’s contributions to psychology was the Models of Achievement series, which solicited autobiographical chapters from prominent female psychologists. Clark’s contribution to the first volume of this multi-volume series, Clark 1983, published the year she died, is one of only a handful of sources that give Clark’s story in her own words. Not surprisingly, the double jeopardy of racism and sexism that she experienced in her career is mentioned. Clark’s biography is also featured in compendia of prominent women in US psychology and US history, including Guthrie 1990, Phillips 2005, and Rutherford 2014; in anthologies of important Black women in the United States, such as McLean 2005; and in a collection on Black women scientists, Warren 1999. Her biography is also explored in relation to developmental and child psychology in Lal 2002 and Rutherford 2012, and in relation to counseling psychology in Rutherford and Pickren 2008. Her biography is also given in her New York Times obituary, Smothers 1983, and in a short article published by Howard University in their newsletter, The Dig, MAMIE PHIPPS CLARK 2022.

  • Clark, M. P. 1983. Mamie Phipps Clark. In Models of achievement: Reflections of eminent women in psychology. Edited by A. N. O’Connell and N. F. Russo, 267–277. New York: Columbia University Press.

    An important autobiographical essay in the first of a series of edited volumes documenting the contributions of women in psychology. Clark describes her educational experiences and summarizes her research on the development of racial identity in “Negro” children. She describes the founding of the Northside Center for Child Development. She gives observations about the double jeopardy of being among the very few Black women with a PhD in psychology in the early 1940s.

  • Guthrie, R. V. 1990. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983). In Women in psychology: A bio-bibliographic sourcebook. Edited by A. N. O’Connell and N. F. Russo, 66–74. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    A biographical essay on Clark written by African-American psychologist and historian of Black psychology Robert Val Guthrie, in a valuable compendium of women’s contributions to psychology. It provides detail on the methodology of the coloring test and the dolls test that Mamie Clark devised, as well as a summary of some of the criticisms of the use of the tests in the Brown decision. Additional information was supplied by Kenneth Clark.

  • Lal, S. 2002. Giving children security: Mamie Phipps Clark and the racialization of child psychology. American Psychologist 57.1: 20–28.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.57.1.20

    Examines the historical context of Clark’s early life, her academic and career trajectory within the discipline of social psychology, her interests in the development of children’s racial identity, as well as her personal, political, and legal interests in social justice. Highlights her role working with homeless Black girls at the Riverdale Home for Children and her founding of the Northside Center, and shows her influence on the history of psychology.

  • Mamie Phipps Clark: The Pioneering Psychologist Behind the Famed “Dolls Test”. 2022. States News Service, NA. 10 March.

    A short article released by Howard University and also published online in their newsletter, The Dig, that gives a concise overview of Clark’s life and career. It reports Kenneth Clark’s statement in an earlier interview that the dolls test was Mamie’s primary project, which he “crashed.”

  • McLean, J. 2005. Mamie Phipps Clark. In Black women in America. 2d ed. Vol. 1. Edited by D. C. Hine, 257–259. New York: Oxford University Press.

    A biographical entry in the second edition of an important three-volume reference work (also available online) that comprehensively documents the contributions of Black women in the United States. The publication of the first edition in 1994 was hailed as providing a building block for Black women’s studies.

  • Phillips, L. 2005. Mamie Phipps Clark. Notable American Women. Vol. 5. By L. Phillips, 125–126. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    A one-page overview of Clark’s early life and influences, her educational trajectory, her career experiences, and her marriage and academic relationship with Kenneth Clark. Mentions the doll test and its use as evidence in Brown v. Board of Education, the establishment of the Northside Center for Child Development in 1946, and provides information about her death. Includes a short bibliography, including where to find her archived papers.

  • Rutherford, A. 2012. Mamie Phipps Clark: Developmental psychologist, starting from strengths. In Portraits of pioneers in developmental psychology. Edited by W. E. Pickren, D. A. Dewsbury, and M. Wertheimer, 261–275. Washington, DC: Psychology Press.

    A chapter-length biographical account that places Clark alongside other pioneers of developmental psychology. It highlights her emphasis on the strengths and resilience of children, even under conditions of structural disadvantage, and the need to challenge this disadvantage and leverage strengths. It describes the influence of her own family upbringing on her philosophy, and her explicit rejection of the cultural deprivation hypothesis in her work with children, families, and communities at the Northside Center for Child Development.

  • Rutherford, A. 2014. Clark, Mamie Phipps. American National Biography online. Edited by Susan Ware. New York: Oxford University Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/anb/9780198606697

    A twelve-hundred-word biographical overview of Clark’s life and career in an extensive online reference work devoted to major figures in the history of the United States. It includes a short bibliography with sources.

  • Rutherford, A., and W. E. Pickren. 2008. Clark, Mamie Phipps (1917–1983). In Encyclopedia of counseling. Vol. 3. Edited by F. T. L. Leong, E. M. Altmaier, and B. D. Johnson, 1052–1054. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    A biographical profile of Clark in an electronic volume on cross-cultural counselling. Includes brief sections on her early life, training in psychology, the founding of Northside, her treatment philosophy, and her community activism.

  • Smothers, R. 1983. Mamie Clark dies: Psychologist aided blacks. New York Times (12 August), 15.

    Provides an overview of Mamie Phipps Clark’s contributions to psychology and her contributions to Black psychology in and outside the academe. Includes information about Clark’s academic trajectory, her research program, and involvement in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled public school segregation by race as unconstitutional. The article also describes her role in the establishment of the Northside Child Development Center based in Harlem, 1946, which provided psychosocial support to black families.

  • Warren, W. 1999. Black women scientists in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    A valuable reference work that profiles over one hundred Black women scientists in various fields to increase awareness of the participation of minorities in the sciences. In addition to a profile of Mamie Phipps Clark, the author also profiles two other Black female psychologists who preceded Clark, Ruth Winifred Howard and Inez Beverly Prosser.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down