Photo of Josephine Curtis Foster

Josephine Curtis Foster





Training Location(s):

PhD, Cornell University (1915)

MA, Wellesley College (1912)

AB, Wellesley College (1910)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Smith College (1912-1913)

Boston Psychopathic Hospital (1915-1919)

University of Minnesota (1926-1941)

Career Focus:

Child psychology; developmental psychology; educational psychology; testing.


Josephine (Nash) Curtis Foster was born 6 April, 1889 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She completed both her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Wellesley College in 1910 and 1912, respectively. After her time at Wellesley, Foster worked as an instructor in education, mathematics, and psychology at Smith College in the 1912-1913 academic year. She then enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where she worked with psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener. At Cornell, Foster also conducted research on skimming in reading with Guy Whipple in the Educational Laboratory. She completed her doctorate in 1915.

In some of her earliest published work, Foster engaged with Mary Whiton Calkins’s self psychology and used these ideas to criticize many of Calkins’s self-psychology’s central tenets. Other early research included work on the temporal judgment, memorization, and susceptibility to the Müller-Lyer Illusion. Following the completion of her graduate degree, Foster returned to Massachusetts where she worked as Assistant Psychologist at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital. She was promoted to the hospital’s Chief Psychologist in 1918. In the early 1920s she worked with Robert Yerkes on the 1923 revision of A point scale for measuring mental ability, originally published in 1915.

Foster married another former student of Titchener’s, psychologist William Silliman Foster, in the summer of 1918. The newly married couple moved from Boston to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Silliman Foster was hired as a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota. In the 1922-1923 academic year, Foster was hired as an assistant in the department. She did not obtain a permanent position at the university until 1926 when, following the death of her husband, she joined the Institute of Child Welfare. In 1928 Foster was promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor at the Institute. She also served as the Institute’s kindergarten and nursery school principal. In 1929, along with some of her colleagues, she served as a member of the subsection on “The Infant and the School Child” as part of President Hoover’s White House Conference on child health and protection.

From the late 1920s Foster worked on a variety of projects related to the education and psychological development of young children. Continuing her earlier testing work, Foster developed the Minnesota Preschool Scale with her colleague Florence Goodenough. She also undertook research on “Factors affecting the amount of teacher's time taken by nursery school children,” “School records of illness at various ages,” and “Play activities of children in the first six grades.” Foster was also actively involved in the Minnesota Educational Association and served on the executive board of the National Association for Nursery Education.

Foster died on July, 3rd, 1941 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

by Jacy L. Young (2013)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

By Josephine Curtis Foster

Anderson, J. E., & Foster, J. C. (1927). The young child and his parents. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Curtis, J. N. (1915). On psychology as science of selves. The American Journal of Psychology, 26(1), 68–98.

Curtis, J. N. (1916). Duration and the temporal judgment. The American Journal of Psychology, 27(1), 1–46.

Curtis, J. N. (1916). Two studies in memorizing by slow and by rapid repetition: II. The relative amounts of fatigue involved in memorizing by slow and by rapid repetition. Psychological Monographs, 22(4), 153–190.

Curtis, J. N. (1917). Tactual discrimination and susceptibility to the Müller-Lyer Illusion, tested by the method of single stimulation. In Studies in psychology contributed by colleagues and former students of Edward Bradford Titchener (pp. 308–322). Worcester, MA: Louis N. Wilson.

Curtis, J. N. (1918). Point scale examinations on the high-grade feeble-minded and the insane. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 13(2), 77–118.

Foster, J. C. (1933). Busy childhood: Guidance through play and activity. New York: Appleton-Century.

Foster, J. C., & Headley, N. E. (1936). Education in the kindergarten. New York: American Book Company

Foster, J. C. (1919). A case of intellectual development despite enforced seclusion. Journal of Applied Psychology, 3(2), 167–171.

Goodenough, F., Foster, J. C., & von Wagenen, M. J. (1932). Minnesota Preschool Scale. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Testing Bureau.

Whipple, G. M., & Curtis, J. N. (1917). Preliminary investigation of skimming in reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 8(6), 333–349.

Yerkes, R. M., & Foster, J. (1923). A point scale for measuring mental ability (Rev. Ed.). Baltimore: Warwick & York.

About Josephine Curtis Foster

Foster, Josephine Curtis (1889-1941). (2000). In M. B. Ogilvie, & J. D. Harvey (Eds.), The biographical dictionary of women in science: Pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century (vol. 1, pp. 460). New York: Routledge.