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Celebrating Women’s History Month

Reading Time: 5 Minutes
Women of multiple generations working together

Established in 1987, Women’s History Month is recognized throughout the month of March across the U.S. This annual celebration is a tribute to women who made significant cultural contributions over the course of American history. Let’s take a look at five women who left an indelible legacy on the therapy industry.

Mary Ainsworth (1913 – 1999) 

Mary Ainsworth was a renowned developmental psychologist who pioneered the technique called “Strange Situation” assessment. Ainsworth is also well known for her contribution to the research on attachment theory. Hailing from Ohio, Ainsworth studied psychology at the University of Toronto and after earning her Ph.D. in 1939, spent some time teaching at the university. In 1942, Ainsworth joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corp and settled in London with her husband in the 1950s. Following time abroad, Ainsworth traveled to the United States to take a position at Johns Hopkins University and spent the remainder of her career at the University of Virginia. 

“Strange Situation” Assessment 

While working at Johns Hopkins University, Mary did formidable research on the attachment theory, exploring attachments between mothers and children. During that time, she developed the “Strange Situation” assessment. The assessment consisted of placing a mother and a child in eight different situations, each lasting about three minutes. During these episodes, a mother (or caregiver), child, and a stranger were introduced, separated, and brought back together again. The assessment measures the security of children’s attachment to their caregiver, which has been proven to have an impact on a person’s further social and emotional development. Mary Ainsworth’s work didn’t just help thousands of people, it inspired further research into childhood psychological conditions.  

Mary McMillan (1880 – 1959) 

In the United States, Mary McMillan is considered the “founding mother” of physical therapy. Born in Boston but raised in Scotland, Mary lost her mother at an early age and was sent to live with her aunt in Liverpool, where she studied how movement affected the body. McMillan worked at Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, helping children with polio and spastic paralysis.  In 1917, McMillan returned to the United States, where one year later, she began her impressive career as a reconstruction aid — the first one in the U.S. Army’s history. Her understanding of the way the body worked, and her knowledge of therapeutic massage proved priceless for war survivor rehab. McMillan served in Walter Reed Hospital, tending to the wounded, and designed the very first physical therapy protocols for the army hospital.  In 1920, she published her first book Massage and Therapeutic Exercise, which described a variety of pioneering physical therapy treatments. In the early 1920s, McMillan helped establish the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association (later renamed American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and became its first president. 


When McMillan helped establish APTA, the organization had 274 members. In the 1940s and 1950s, during WWII and a national polio epidemic, APTA membership increased to 8,000 people. This year, APTA celebrates its Centennial and represents more than 100,000 members across the United States. 

Mary Whiton Calkins (1863 – 1930) 

Mary Whiton Calkins was the first female president of the American Psychological Association. Calkins invented paired-associate learning, established one of the first psychological laboratories in the United States, and published numerous books and papers on psychology. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Calkins and her family established a home base in New York. In 1884, Calkins graduated from Smith College where she studied classics and philosophy. Before starting her psychology studies, Calkins worked in the Greek department of Wellesley College. After studying at Harvard (where she learned from the pioneer of applied psychology, Hugo Münsterberg) Calkins returned to Wellesley College and became an associate professor of psychology. Two years later, she became a professor of psychology and philosophy. 

Paired Associate Learning and Harvard Ph.D. 

In 1894, Calkins invented paired-associate learning, which is an episodic memory paradigm. The system involves a pair of two items (usually words) with one being a stimulus and the other being a response. The person memorizes two words as a pair and the next time they hear the first word, their memory serves up the second. Paired-associate learning was part of Mary’s dissertation at Harvard. A committee of six professors voted that Calkins satisfied all the requirements for a doctoral degree. However, at that time, Harvard didn’t accept women, so Calkins never received her Ph.D. Later on, Mary was offered a similar degree from Radcliffe College (a women’s college), but she refused to accept it. 

Dr. Temple Grandin (1947-)

Dr. Temple Grandin, born Mary Temple Grandin, was raised in Boston Massachusetts. Due to lack of knowledge around autism, Grandin was deemed to have “brain damage” due to her different mental development and special needs. Grandin is well known to many for her pioneering work with people on the autism spectrum and her incredible studies on animal behavior. Dr. Grandin has worked at Colorado State University (CSU) for over 25 years and is referred to as the “most famous person working at CSU” by her peers. Her legacy has been to understand and communicate to others about the autistic mind, in an effort to normalize the diagnosis and increase public knowledge about Autism. Dr. Grandin is one of the most respected experts in both autism and animal behavior in the world. 

The “Hug Box”

In her formative years, Grandin spent time at her aunt’s cattle ranch and connected with the animals on the farm, specifically cows. Inspired by how cattle were calmed while in a squeeze chute, she was inspired to create a “hug box,” also referred to as a “squeeze box.” This device has become a best-practice tool to reduce stress for people with Autism.

Celebrating Renowned Women in American History 

Therapy Brands celebrates these women pioneers and the many others who’ve made an impact in our industry. Through their efforts, we are educated and gain valuable inspiration that helps us propel our mission forward– to provide purpose-driven solutions that serve practitioners across the country.



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