Maud A. Merrill (1888 - 1978)

by Jessica Richmond, Radford University

Maud Amanda Merrill was born in Owatonna, Minnesota, on April 30, 1888. As a child, she lived in an orphanage where her father was the director (Sears, 1979).  Unfortunately, information about her childhood is limited, and little is known about her early life.  In 1911, Merrill earned her BA in psychology from Oberlin College.  After graduation she worked for the Minnesota Bureau of Research, where she was an assistant to Fred Kuhlmann, who served as head of the Bureau.  Merrill was employed by the Bureau to work at the Faribault Minnesota State Home for the Feeble Minded, an institution serving individuals, particularly children, who were deaf, blind or “feeble minded” (as children with mental retardation were then called).  Merrill was employed as a research assistant until 1919, when she applied to the psychology program at Stanford University with the hope of earning her PhD with Lewis Terman.  Her initial contact with Frank Angell, the head of the psychology department, was not encouraging.  Angell responded to Merrill’s letter of inquiry asking her “why she wanted to travel so far when there were so many other universities close by” (Minton, 1988, p. 129).  After reading Angell’s response, Kuhlmann wrote a letter directly to Terman on Merrill’s behalf.

Merrill was accepted into Stanford’s education program.  At the time of her acceptance, Terman held an educational psychology professorship in the department of education, though he was soon promoted to head of the psychology department in 1922.  Merrill completed her master’s thesis, “The relation of the ‘three Rs’ in the case of retarded children,” under Terman in 1920 and thus received her MA in education (Seagoe, 1967).  Angell then appointed Merrill to an instructorship in psychology (1920-1924), for which she taught psychology courses that were similar to education courses.  In 1923, she completed her doctoral dissertation on the relation of intelligence to achievement in the case of mentally retarded children, also under Terman, and was awarded her PhD in psychology.  When she earned her PhD, Merrill was promoted to assistant professor at Stanford (1924-1931), and in 1931 she became an associate professor.

The 1920s were extremely busy years for Merrill.  During the 1920s she was a regular consultant for the juvenile court in San Jose (Sears, 1979).  It was her work as a consultant for the courts that influenced Merrill to write her well received book about delinquency, Problems of Child Delinquency (1947).  As a consultant, Merrill worked closely with Judge William Francis James, a strong advocate for the psychological study of children.  In fact, she worked with him so closely and got to know him so well that they were married in 1933 (Farnsworth, 1970).  Merrill also established a small psychological clinic for children at Stanford University.  Both her connections with the Juvenile Court in San Jose and the children’s psychological clinic provided Stanford students the opportunity to gain experience working with disturbed children.

Merrill is most well known (if not exclusively known) for the work she did with Terman revising the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.  When she arrived at Stanford in 1919 and met Terman they began a relationship that would last until Terman’s death in 1956 (Seagoe, 1967).  Their relationship developed and changed many times over the years.  It began as student-teacher, then progressed in 1926 to part-time assistant and employer when Terman hired Merrill (at his own expense) to assist him in revising the Stanford-Binet scale of 1916.  When she was appointed to associate professor the relationship shifted again, and they became colleagues.  Eventually, after years of working with Terman on the revisions for the Stanford-Binet, the relationship evolved once more.  In 1930, Terman and Merrill became collaborators and coeditors of the Stanford-Binet Project.

The administration of the Stanford-Binet was an area in which Merrill particularly excelled.  She became an authority on the topic and one of the main elements of her job while working at Stanford was the training of undergraduate and graduate students on how to properly administer the newly revised Stanford-Binet Intelligence scale.  Several of her former students, upon recalling the education they received from Merrill, have remarked that although she was at times quiet and reserved, she was an influential instructor with a powerful style of teaching (Robinson, 1992).

Merrill was more than just an assistant to Terman.  She was a child clinical psychologist, an authority on the administration of the Stanford-Binet, a dedicated juvenile court consultant, and an expert on child delinquency.  Merrill’s entire teaching career (1920-1953) was spent at Stanford University and she was a resident on campus for 59 years.  She lived there, first as a student, then with her husband, then as a widow when Judge James passed away in 1966, until she passed away in her home on January 15, 1978, at the age of 90.  To those who knew her, Merrill was a hard-working, gentle and well-liked woman dedicated to the field of psychology.  She deserves to be acknowledged and remembered on her own terms, and for her own contributions. 

References

Farnsworth, P. (1970). Transcription from the dedication of the David Starr Jordan Hall. Hilgard Papers. (M94). The AHAP, Akron, OH.

Merrill, M. (1947). Problems of child delinquency. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Minton, H. L. (1988). Lewis M. Terman: Pioneer in psychological testing. New York: New York University Press.

Robinson, N. M. (1992). Stanford-Binet IV, of course! Time marches on! Retrieved on January 23, 2005, http://print.ditd.org/floater=150.html

Seagoe, M. V. (1975). Terman and the gifted. California: William Kaufman Inc.

Sears, R. R. (1979). Obituary: Maud Merrill James. American Psychologist, 34, 176.