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Mary Louise Northway (1909 - 1987)

by Barry Dilouya, York University

Mary Louise Northway was born on May 28, 1909, in Toronto, the only child of Lucy (MacKellar) and Arthur Garfield Northway.  Her grandfather, John Neathern Northway, had become a prosperous merchant and master tailor by the end of the 19th century.  He eventually founded of the Northway Clothing Company, which successfully operated multiple stores across the province of Ontario.  A few months after Mary Northway’s birth, her mother died of tuberculosis and Mary moved in to her grandfather’s home.  He was an avid proponent of the benefits of education, and as a result of her constant exposure to reading materials, Northway recalled, “I read when I was younger than all the kids at school” (Northway, 1975, p. 5).

Due to her family’s social status and wealth, Northway’s formal education began at the age of five at Toronto’s prestigious Branksome Hall, Rosedale Public School and then at Bishop Strachan School. In 1933, she received her BA in psychology from the University of Toronto.  In 1936, she completed her MA in psychology at the same institution.  In 1935-1936, Northway travelled to Cambridge, England, to study under Sir Frederic Bartlett.  This trip was most likely prompted by her exposure to Bartlett’s published work. In her senior year, Northway had read Bartlett’s Remembering for a seminar course.  She recalled that the subject matter “fascinated [her]” (Northway, 1975, p. 24).

Northway obtained her PhD from the University of Toronto in 1939.  Her dissertation was titled “Bartlett’s Concept of the Schema” and was published in the British Journal of Psychology in 1940.  Northway joined the faculty of the psychology department at the University of Toronto in 1939, but left the department in 1963 to devote more time to her position at the Institute of Child Study (ICS). She lectured at the ICS from 1938 to 1968 and served as supervisor of research from 1951 to 1968.

At the ICS, Northway began to examine the casual social groups of children in school and camping contexts.  Her postdoctoral research incorporated Jacob Moreno’s ideas regarding sociometry. During the course of her research, she would come to refine and broaden the application of sociometry to provide critical information about group structure and function, as well as the individuals’ adjustment within a group dynamic.

Her sociometric research soon connected with a great passion in her life — camping. Northway had attended Glen Bernard Camp in Ontario during the summers of her adolescence and had many fond memories of her experiences there. She recalled that “it was the first time away from parental care and the wider family” (Northway, 1975, p. 12).  As a result of camping experiences during her youth, Northway became a counselor and later the program director at Glen Bernard from 1930-1939, then co-founded and directed her own girls’ camp, Windy Pines Point, from 1941-1950. She was an active member of the Ontario, Canadian and American camping associations. She authored an educational guide for camp counselors titled, “Charting the Counsellor’s Course” in 1940 and coauthored “The Camp Counsellor’s Book” in 1963.  More than three decades of extensive research led to dozens of publications in the field of child study, sociometry (e.g., Northway, 1952) and camping.

Northway was a strong advocate of the value of longitudinal developmental research.  In the early 1960s, with the aid of new computer technology, the coordinated longitudinal study at the ICS gained a great deal of renown. Northway stimulated joint research projects of a longitudinal nature among many of her colleagues at the ICS (see Northway, 1954).  During the late 1960s, however, longitudinal research methodology fell out of favor with various funding agencies.  The difficulty created by a lack of funding was compounded when, due to economic and political shifts at the University of Toronto, cutbacks in the educational and research programs at the ICS were made.  As a result, and on the basis of principle, Northway resigned her post as supervisor of research in 1968.  She went on to establish the Brora Centre to provide a place for colleagues retiring from the ICS to continue their child development research. The center operated until 1978. During its nine years, the Brora Centre was funded primarily by the remaining assets of the Northway Company, which Northway used to create the Neathern Trust.  The Neathern Trust would serve as a source of funding for various program development and research efforts in the field of child study for many years to come.

Mary Northway died on February 27, 1978, at the age of 69.  During her final years she made an effort to preserve her important experiences. She agreed to give several interviews that were recorded and placed in various archives. Among the most significant to her were: “Experience of a Psychologist” for the Canadian Psychological Association archive and “Life at the University of Toronto” for the University of Toronto archive.  She also willed all of her professional documents, including the Northway family papers, the Ontario camping archives, the Blatz research papers and her own personal and academic papers to be placed in various archival centres.


de La Cour, L. 1987).The 'other' side of psychology: Women psychologists in Toronto from 1920 to 1945. Canadian Woman Studies, 8(4), 44–46.

Grover, R. (1990) Northway (Mary L) Papers. University of Toronto Archives, Toronto, Canada. Retrieved from   

Northway, M. L. (1975) An oral history with Dr. Mary Louise Northway/Interview by C. R. Myers. [Interview transcript]. Oral History Project of Canada, Canadian Psychological Association Collection. National Archives, Ottawa, Canada.

Northway, M. L. (1954). A plan for sociometric studies in a longitudinal programme of research in child development. Sociometry, 17, 272-281.

Northway, M. L. (1952). A primer of sociometry. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Quarrington, B. (1989). Mary L. Northway (1909-1987). Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 30(1), 98. doi:10.1037/h0084579

Date created: 2013