Photo of Jill Morawski

Jill Morawski

Training Location(s):

PhD, Carleton University

MA, Carleton University

BA, Mount Holyoke College

Primary Affiliation(s):

Wesleyan University (1980-present)

Other Media:

Professional Website

Jill Morawski at Wesleyan University

Digital Archive

Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology

Career Focus:

History, theory, and sociology of psychology; scientific practices; reflexivity; gender issues.


Jill Morawski traces the emergence of her feminist identity to her undergraduate experience at a women’s college, Mount Holyoke. She had spent her early years in a populist environment in Minnesota that emphasized equality, so it was not until she consumed some now-classic feminist literature such as works by Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir and Phyllis Chesler, and enjoyed the supportive environment of a women’s college that she began to think in explicitly feminist terms. In the early 1970s, Mount Holyoke provided the perfect environment for such an awakening, with lively discussions about feminist issues over meals as students asked each other questions like “What do you think of Gloria Steinem? …What do you think about this new Ms. Magazine?"

In the early seventies Mt. Holyoke’s psychology department was fairly traditional, so Morawski’s introduction to psychology emphasized physiological psychology and Skinnerian behaviorism. Nevertheless, Morawski still managed to do her senior thesis on a feminist topic. Morawski broached the subject of psychology of women and sex differences with her academic advisor, who informed her that just wasn’t anything out there on that topic. Determined to find the few articles available, Morawski spent hours combing through Psych Abstracts to develop a comprehensive bibliography of research on the psychology of women. She eventually uncovered about sixty references from the previous twenty years, revealing how sparse the research on psychology of women was at the time. Based on this bibliography, Morawski convinced her advisor that she should do a replication of one of these studies, and chose to replicate one that assessed attitudes toward women using writing that was said to be authored either by men or by women. Although it went well, this was to be both the first and last psychology experiment Morawski conducted.

Morawski’s decision to pursue graduate studies in psychology was not an easy one—she had double majored in dance and was being encouraged to apply to dance criticism programs. She eventually applied to several Ph.D. programs in psychology before deciding to marry her childhood sweetheart and return with him to her native Canada. Still unsure what she wanted to do but certain she would not figure it out without going back to school, Morawski enrolled in the psychology graduate program at Carleton University in Ottawa. Finding her research focus took time. First interested in the ‘hard science’ aspects of psychology, but critical of the undue influence of other sciences’ models on psychology, she eventually settled on social psychology.

Morawski then experienced what she describes as her two epistemological crises. One involved her doubts about the legitimacy of experimentation—did it really ever reveal anything about real-world phenomena? The other crisis was about temporality—she had difficulty believing that psychological phenomena were universal and trans-historical. Love, attraction, decision making, cognitive dissonance, person perception —all hot topics in social psychology at the time– how could research on such constructs hold true across cultures and across time?

As a result of these crises Morawski decided to write her dissertation on an unusual topic, the utopias of four psychologists: G. Stanley Hall, William McDougall, Hugo Münsterberg, and John B. Watson. Happily, her dissertation advisor was a woman who did work in history of psychology, so was supportive of such a project. Morawski analyzed gender roles in these utopias as well as the place of psychology and their social structure. For each of the four psychologists she looked at how these utopian ideas related to their own psychological projects, to see the extent to which their values influenced their scientific projects. Despite its unusually critical perspective, Morawski’s dissertation was well received; a version of it was published in American Psychologist.

After graduation Morawski was hired at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she remains today. Within a week of classes starting, Morawski was asked by students to be the facilitator of the women’s studies program. Although worried that she lacked experience, Morawski agreed to co-lead the program. The women’s studies program at Wesleyan was run by consensus—students in the program participated fully and every decision was the result of group consensus. Morawski identified witnessing this process as her second feminist awakening. With the resources of both the psychology department and the women’s studies program available to her, Wesleyan has proved to be a supportive environment and a good fit for Morawski.

Morawski’s work has ranged broadly over various topics in psychology. She has written on a variety of feminist, critical, and historical topics such as the history of social psychology, masculinity, femininity, and androgyny, race, expertise in early psychology, and the rhetoric of introductory psychology textbooks. A unifying thread in her work has been the critical lens she brings to psychology and its research practices, which has led her to focus on subjectivity and reflexivity in scientific practice, and the ways in which values and cultural meanings permeate the allegedly objective science of psychology. In her book Practicing Feminisms, Reconstructing Psychology, Morawski reviews the impact of feminist research on psychology, highlighting how feminist critiques have introduced new methodologies which have strengthened the field. Reflecting on the process of writing this book, Morawski describes her motives as first, to recount the significant progress feminist psychology has made, second, to emphasize the alliances of the movement, despite its diversity, and third, to challenge psychologists to “try new methodology and to think beyond reductionism and positivism.”

by Elissa Rodkey (2013)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

Morawski, J. G. (1980). Psychology and ideal societies: the utopias of Hall, McDougall, Muensterberg, and Watson. (doctoral dissertation). Carleton University, Ottawa.

Morawski, J. G. (1982). Assessing psychology's moral heritage through our neglected utopias. American Psychologist, 37: 1082-1095.

Morawski, J. G. (1985). The measurement of masculinity and femininity: Engendering categorical realities. Journal of Personality, 53, 196-223.

Morawski, J. G (1988). The rise of experimentation in American psychology. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Morawski, J. G. (1992). There is more to our history of giving: The place of introductory textbooks in American psychology. American Psychologist, 47, 161-169.

Morawski, J. G (1994). Practicing feminisms, reconstructing psychology: Notes on a liminal science. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Morawski, J. G. (1997).Educating the emotions: Academic psychology, textbooks, and the psychology industry, 1890-1940. In J. Pfister & N. Schnog (Eds.), Inventing the psychological: Toward a cultural history of emotional life in America (pp. 217-244). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Morawski, J. G. (2005). Reflexivity and the psychologist. History of the Human Sciences, 18, 77-105.

Morawski, J.G. (2011). The location of our debates: Finding, fixing and enacting reality. Theory and Psychology, 21, 260-274.

Morawski, J. G. & Agronick, G. (1991). A restive legacy: The history of feminist work in experimental and cognitive psychology. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 567-579.

Morawski, J. G. & Steele, R. (1991). The one or the other: Textual analysis of masculine power and feminist empowerment. Theory & Psychology, 1, 107-131.

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