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Re-entry pioneers in psychology: “Six Weeks with the Girls” The Life and Times of Eleanor Rowland

A look at the pioneer who founded the history of clinical psychology in corrections.

By Ashley Nicole Miller, Tracy Joseph, PhD, and Philip R. Magaletta

Have you ever wondered, from the services delivery perspective, where the history of clinical psychology in corrections began? If you did know, you might join us in our centennial celebration. The history of psychology in corrections began where most inmate sentences end. At the interface of re-entry, assessment, and programming, 1913 was the year when the first clinical psychology re-entry study was published.

Eleanor Harris Rowland Wembridge (1882 – 1944)

Eleanor Harris Rowland WembridgeBorn to Reverend Lyman Sibley and Elizabeth McClellan Gould Rowland in Lee, Mass., in 1882, Eleanor Harris Rowland paved the road for literature on adult clinical psychology in correctional settings, as well as introducing psychometric classification of adult offenders as a core re-entry practice in U.S. corrections (“Wembridge, Eleanor Harris Rowland,” 1997). Truly a pioneer, Eleanor achieved these aims while studying female offenders – a research focus that that was to remain mostly dormant during the preceding seventy years.

Eleanor attended Oberlin College in Ohio and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, the former coordinate institution of all-male Harvard College for female students (Moore, 1944). While at Radcliffe, she studied under William James, the Father of American Psychology. As an indicator of her intellectual acuity and giftedness, Eleanor received the prestigious Wilby Prize for her doctoral dissertation on the Aesthetics of the Repetition of Visual Space Forms when she was awarded her PhD at the young age of 21. Dr. James' influence upon Eleanor's ideology was mostly reflected through his considerations on the Varieties of Religious Experience. In fact, it was his religious philosophy that inspired and formed the theoretical basis for her book. Published in 1909, The Right to Believe, examined the choice of religious beliefs: to believe or not to believe. Eleanor concluded that the outcome of either belief cannot be proven, and therefore individuals must choose that which fosters their own happiness and development (Woodbridge & Bush, 1910; “ Views and Reviews,” 1910 ).

After receiving her PhD in psychology from Radcliffe in 1905, Dr. Eleanor Rowland Wembridge ventured to Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts for her first collegiate post. It was during this time that she furthered her understanding of psychometrics, gender issues, and the rights of individuals, which lead to consideration of her ideas within the correctional setting. In 1910, at age 26 Eleanor spent six weeks conducting psychological tests at the State Reformatory for Women at Bedford in New York  (Moore, 1944) . This study of female offenders was the first psychometric classification study on adult offenders to be published in the literature. Eleanor sought to determine, “if it would be possible to frame a practical set of tests which would, upon application to a given girl, determine whether she represented the grade of normality necessary to receive benefit from the educational work of the institution, or to be safely set free to earn her living after her terms was over” (Rowland, 1913; pp. 245). She concluded that the assessment battery used “accomplished the purpose by classifying eleven subnormal girls by an objective standard in a relatively short space of time” (p. 249). Published in 1913, this study of female offenders was the first psychometric classification study on adult offenders, thereby blazing the trail for future psychometric classification studies, such as those conducted by Edgar Arnold Doll and Henry Herbert Goddard. The results of her research were so impressive that the authorities at Bedford subsequently added a resident psychologist to their ranks upon completion of the study. Eleanor then returned to Mount Holyoke for a brief time before venturing to Reed College in Oregon in 1911 for her second collegiate post as Professor of Psychology, and eventually becoming the Dean of the College for Women until 1917 (Moore, 1944).

After marrying Harry A. Wembridge in 1917, the two began a series of geographic moves and career advancements that led them through Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Ohio and its suburbs. During this time Eleanor's gift for elucidating and embodying the competencies of clinical psychology continued to flourish at the intersection of social advocacy, criminal justice systems, and the need for a public health response to underserved populations. Only one of two individuals to have achieved as much distinction as some of the Cleveland judges of her time, Eleanor's writings and work popularized the scientific work done by the psychological clinic in helping juvenile delinquents make adjustments needed for their success in society. This work established her as a nationally renowned author on juvenile delinquency (Kinneman, 2006, p. 493).

In 1935, the Wembridge family moved to California. Eleanor Harris Rowland Wembridge died in Santa Monica less than a decade later in 1944, but not before becoming the pioneer of literature on adult clinical psychology in correctional settings, and the psychometric classification of adult offenders as an arena of research and practice. Buried in Lee, Massachusetts, Eleanor's enduring legacy is illustrated by her photo among the “Prominent Clevelanders of the 1930s,” as well as the Eleanor Rowland Wembridge Memorial Scholarship available to psychology students of Reed College in Oregon.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

About the Authors

Ashley Miller is a student at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., where she participated in an internship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Phil Magaletta is chief, Clinical Education and Workforce Development, Psychology Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Prisons; Tracy Joseph is National Employee Assistance Program Coordinator, Psychology Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Prisons.

References

Eleanor Harris Rowland Wembridge: 1883-1944. Psychological Review,51 (5), 326-327.doi:10.1037/h0057140

Kinneman, J. (2006). The early sociology of education: Society and education. Thompson, K. (Ed.) New York: Routledge. Moore, K. G. (1944).

Rowland, E. (1913). Report of experiments at the state reformatory for women at Bedford, New York. Psychological Review, 20 (3), 245-249. doi:10.1037/h0075385

Welshimer, H. (1931, May 29). Former woman professor finds juvenile court she now heads is the best “classroom” of all. Jefferson City Post-Tribune , p. 8

Wembridge, Eleanor Harris Rowland. (1997). In The encyclopedia of Cleveland history . Retrieved from http://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=WEHR