Photo of Franziska Baumgarten

Franziska Baumgarten





Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Berne (1929)

PhD, University of Zurich (1910)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of Berlin (1910-1924)

University of Berne (1924-1959)

Career Focus:

Applied psychology; industrial psychology; war and trauma; personality; aptitude testing


Franziska Baumgarten was born on November 26th 1883 in the industrial city of Lodz, Poland (then a part of Russia). Her father was a textile manufacturer as well as an intellectual who placed a high value on education. Thus, Baumgarten and her siblings received private tutoring in addition to attending regular school. She described spending a lot of time in her father’s extensive library, reading works of philosophy, poetry, and history. She began her writing career with an ode she wrote at the age of 14.

In 1905, Baumgarten enrolled at the University of Krakow to study literature and philosophy. During her first couple of years of studies, she wondered why these philosophers and academics discussed abstract ideas, yet didn’t include considerations of human feelings, desires, and hopes. This sparked her original interest in the field of Psychology. She moved to Paris, and then back to Krakow, where she worked with Władysław Heinreich, the founder of the first experimental psychology laboratory in Poland.

Continuing her studies in Zurich, she completed her PhD on Maine de Biran’s theory of knowledge in 1910. The following year she began to study under Hugo Münsterberg, who was pioneering the field of psychotechnics, a field combining modern psychological laboratory methods with industrial applications.

Baumgarten traced her interest in industrial and applied psychology to having grown up surrounded by factories and workers. When she began to read Marxist and revolutionary political literature, this also contributed to her passion for workers’ rights. While studying with Münsterberg she was inspired to advance the workers’ cause through her work in Psychology rather than through direct political action. She brought Münsterberg’s ideas back to Lodz where she remained for the next few years, until moving to Berlin.

While living in Berlin she became more involved in the arts and politics, even writing a few plays. Here she was a member of several psychological institutes and participated in a number of invitation-only conferences for experimental and vocational psychology. She was particularly interested in gifted schoolchildren and aptitude testing. In 1922 she became a board member of the International Psychotechnical Association and invented three aptitude testing devices: the Tremometer, which measured steadiness of hand, the Zeitmebanordnung, which measured time, and the Bewegungsprufer, to measure hand movements. These instruments were developed and manufactured in Leipzig and Berne as objective experimental ways to standardize vocational testing.

In 1924, Baumgarten married Moritz Tramer and they moved to Berne, Switzerland, where she continued her studies and became a professor. She completed a thesis on scientific testing methodology in 1929. While at Berne, she lectured on Applied Psychology, and wrote on several areas in the field of Psychotechnics, including vocational selection, the psychology of insurance agents, and the learning processes in gifted schoolchildren. In 1931, she was a member of the Work Society for Practical Psychology, which endeavoured to protect the term “psychopracticing.”

Baumgarten was the second woman to hold a faculty position in the History of Philosophy department at the University of Berne, and only the third woman in the whole university. She encountered discrimination on account of being a woman, as well as being Jewish and a foreigner, during her time in Switzerland. For instance, she received very little funding and no assistant to aid her in carrying out her research. Despite these challenges, she conducted research on diagnostic and methodological issues, examining thousands of individuals at a time. She also published extensively and was granted an honourary degree upon leaving the university in 1954.

In the 1930s, when Baumgarten was researching and writing, it was still unusual for applied psychologists to evaluate individuals’ personalities. There was also a tendency to emphasize a general overall intellectual or personality factor. In contrast, Baumgarten was interested in the traits and qualities that make up the whole personalities of individual people.

Upon examining gifted children, Baumgarten found that they typically excelled in one or two specific areas and performed at poor or average levels on others. Therefore, she reasoned that it was necessary to examine individual aptitude factors as opposed to overall intelligence. She proposed that to better understand individuals and their unique characteristics, we need to look at the social context of their actions. The “human factor,” defined as the emotional and volitional abilities that make up a person, must also be considered when performing vocational selection.

Baumgarten was an activist and peace psychologist. Reflecting on her experiences, she criticized her contemporaries for being overwhelmingly pro-Nazi. At the same time, there were several psychologists, most of them women as well, whose resistance to Nazism and anti-war activities she believed should be celebrated. Her work in this area focused on the lasting psychological effects of war and the German occupation on children. In the 1940s, she argued that the glorification of soldiers, which she found expressed in young children’s depictions and knowledge of soldiers, was a cause of war. She argued that this phenomenon can be prevented by teaching and demonstrating democratic values and character development to children and youth. As well, Baumgarten conducted research on refugees and the effects of trauma, and demonstrated that it is crucial for refugees from violent conflicts to have their trauma be recognized publicly.

Throughout her career, Baumgarten contributed to the study and measurement of personality, by developing and utilizing tests that utilized psychotechnical and social factors. She continued her research after resigning from the university in 1959, and died on March 1, 1970.

By Mira Goldstein (2018)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

By Franziska Baumgarten

Baumgarten, F. (1910). Die Erkenntnislehre von Maine de Biran [The theory of knowledge of Maine de Biran]. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Zurich.

Baumgarten, F. (1940). Was ist ein Soldat? [What is a soldier?]. Schweizer Erziehungsrundschau, 12, 217-222.

Baumgarten, F. (1946). Uber die Wirkung des Krieges auf Kinder [Concerning the effect of war on children]. Schweizer Erziehungsrundschau, 19, 77-80.

About Franziska Baumgarten

Daub, E. (1996) Franziska Baumgarten: Eine Frau zwischen akademischer und praktischer Psychologie (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Psychologie) (German Edition). Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften.

Sinatra, M. (2010). A female applied psychologist: Franziska Baumgarten. In Gundlach, H., Roe, R., Sinatra, M., & Tanucci, G. (Eds.). European pioneer women in psychology (23-39). University of Bari, Italy: FrancoAngeli.