Women in Psychology- Florence Denmark

Psychology is a young science in and of itself. Women in psychology have only been credited for significant contributions for the last 150 years or so. Although there have been many women who have paved the way for future female generations in the field of psychology, Frances Denmark has not only contributed significantly in the past, she continues to do so today.

Florence Levin Denmark was born on January 28, 1931 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Morris Levin was an attorney, and her mother Minna, was a musician. Florence grew up living with her older sister, her grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Florence credits her mother for helping her succeed in her accomplishments. Florence was an A student, in the honor society, and graduated as class valedictorian in 1948. She wrote the sports column for her high school newspaper. Florence considered it as a career, but felt discouraged by the lack of jobs available for women in the field at the time (Weiss, 2008).

Florence went to the Women’s College of the University of Pennsylvania. She majored in history at first. She became interested in psychology when she took an introductory class. Florence later became a double major. She was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa. Her history thesis was on Amelia Bloomer, and her psychology thesis was on research she did on gender and leadership styles. In 1952, she graduated with honors in both departments. She was the first student at the college to receive honors in two majors (Psi Chi, 2009).

In 1953, she began graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned an A.M. in psychology, and a Ph.D. in social psychology in 1958. After graduate school, Florence moved to New York City. She took a position at the Queens College of the City University of New York as an adjunct professor. CUNY had a counseling center, and Florence worked there as well. It was during this time that Florence began studies with her colleague Marcia Guttentag. They did work in areas like the effects of college on women, effects of psychiatric labeling of immigrants, and the effects of racial integration in preschool programs (Weiss, 2008).
Being a student of psychology in the 1950s, Denmark was highly influenced by the Freudian psychoanalytic perspective of the time. However, in more recent years she has also taken a cognitive approach to helping to heal abused women and children (Weiss, 2008). Often the victims in these scenarios feel as though they cannot leave the situation and somehow they feel they deserve the treatment to begin with. With behavioral-cognitive therapy, clients are taught to see things in a new light; therefore they are able to change the way they think about them and the way they react to them.

At Queen’s College, Mary Reuder became a mentor who facilitated her involvement and development as a teacher. In 1964, after six years post-doctoral experience, Florence obtained a faculty position as instructor at Hunter College in the Bronx. At both Queens and Hunter, Florence experienced the discrimination against women that was typical in academia at the time: lower pay and lower rank. Nevertheless, Florence remained at Hunter where she continued her research on the psychology of women and sex roles. Her hard work and accomplishment led to her being named to a distinguished professorship at Thomas Hunter Professor of the Social Sciences in 1984. At Hunter, Florence met her other major mentor, Virginia Staudt Sexton. Sexton mentored Florence through all the political ropes of how to be an effective leader in organizations. Out of this mentoring experience, Florence became a leader on the state, national, and international levels, leadership that she maintains to this day. She has been president of the New York State Psychological Association, the American Psychological Association, Division 35 of the APA, and the International Council of Psychologists. Her research on women produced a number of significant publications, including the Hunter College Women’s Studies Collective, which published the seminal, Women’s Choices, Women’s Realties (1983), now in its second edition. Florence has also contributed to and edited several psychology texts over the years (Weiss, 2008).

Florence L. Denmark is a Robert Pace Distinguished Research Professor and adjunct professor at the graduate school in the City University of New York. She is a fellow of 13 divisions of the APA. She has received awards for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the public interest and the APA Gold Medal Award for lifetime achievement (Psi Chi, 2009).
Florence is a big advocate on many women’s issues, the most prevalent being the victimization regarding violent acts on women and children. She has written many articles and books on the subject and is considered an authority on women’s psychological issues (Weiss, 2008) Florence is considered to be the pioneer in the psychology of women. With her leadership, psychology of women became a respected and well-recognized field of study. Her research became the guideline of new programs popping up in colleges across the country. Denmark documented cases of discrimination and the disadvantaged status of women in psychology. Florence wrote many papers on the role of women in the history of psychology, so their many contributions would not be forgotten. In 1975, she and Julia Sherman chaired the first conference on psychological research on women.

Florence worked on such topics as racial integration in preschool, and the effects of college on women. She developed curriculum on the psychology of women. Denmark was, in fact, the first to integrate psychology of women in introductory psychology courses. In 1983, she published the first widely used textbook called Women’s Choices, Women’s Realities. Her research has fueled many psychology departments to create a psychology of women curriculum. Florence was successful in convincing the American Psychological Association to create its 35th division-the Psychology of Women (1973). In 1969, she helped to found the Association for Women in Psychology. In 1976, she served as an editor to the Psychology of Women Quarterly. Florence also helped edit the journal Sex Roles (Psi Chi, 2009). In 1981, Florence established the International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in Israel. She continued to serve on the congress board, and in 1990, Hunter College was chosen as the next site. From 1980 to 1981, Florence Denmark served as the APA’s fifth woman president. At this time she also served as president of Psi Chi, the psychology honor society. Her presidencies led to cooperation between the two organizations. She advocated increased support of ethnic minorities and women. An APA convention symposium was devoted to autobiographical presentations by eminent women psychologists. From 1971 to 1984 Florence served as an associated editor for the International Journal of Group Tensions. From 1985 to 1988, she was on the committee for Lesbian and Gay Concerns.

Florence Denmark has received many awards and honorary degrees for her numerous contributions in every area she worked. The APA’s committee on women in psychology gave her its Distinguished Leader Award. She was recognized in 1983 as APA division 35’s Outstanding Leader. In 1986, she received the Association of Women Psychologists Distinguished Career Award for her contributions to mentoring, policy, and scholarship. In 1980, the Association for Women in Science recognized her as an Outstanding Woman in Science.
The limitless contributions of Frances L. Denmark to the field of psychology in general are enough to put her in the history books. The fact that she did it in a time when women were struggling to earn a place in science and psychology makes it even more monumental. Denmark continues to teach, tour colleges and speak on women’s issues, and make significant contributions to both society and psychology today.


Psi Chi. (2009). Florence L. Denmark Accomplishments. Retrieved December 13, 2009, from The International Honor Society in Psychology: http://www.psichi.org/pubs/eye/vol_7/denmark.aspx
Weiss, A. (2008). Florence Denmark. Retrieved December 13, 2009, from About.com: http://womenshistory.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ/Ya&zTi=1&sdn=womenshistory&cdn=education&tm=120&gps=141_376_1020_560&f=00&tt=14&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.webster.edu/%7Ewoolflm/florencedenmark.html