Photo of Margaret Keiver Smith

Margaret Keiver Smith





Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Zurich (1900)

Primary Affiliation(s):

State Normal School at New Platz, NY (1901-1909, 1918)

State Normal School at Oswego, NY (1887-1896)

Career Focus:

Education; developmental psychology.


Margaret Keiver Smith was born in 1856 in Amherst, Nova Scotia. She earned a diploma from the Oswego State Normal School in Oswego, New York in 1883. At this time, Smith collaborated on a book of developmentally appropriate lessons for teachers. The volume was based on both the Oswego system of teaching and Francis Parker's Quincy method of education, which de-emphasized punishment and rote memorization in favour of a progressive system of child-centred learning. She subsequently taught at her alma mater for a number of years and in the early 1890s translated German philosopher Johan Friedrich Herbart's A Text-book in Psychology: An Attempt to Found the Science of Psychology on Experience, Metaphysics, and Mathematics into English.

In the 1890s, Smith inquired about the possibility of graduate study with psychologist Granville Stanley Hall, president of the newly founded Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Informed that the institution did not yet accept women, Smith delayed her educational aspirations for several years. In the interim, inspired by Hall’s psychologically-oriented child study investigations, Smith undertook her own child study research with the assistance of her normal school students. Using child study questionnaires prepared by Hall and ones she developed herself, she investigated topics such as children’s play and the physical correlates of mental development. Deciding to pursue further education abroad, Smith travelled to Switzerland in the mid-1890s. At the University of Zurich she worked in the laboratory of Professor Ernst Meumann and studied the effect of rhythmic activity on mental and physical work. Smith earned her doctorate in 1900 for her dissertation Rhythmus und Arbeit.

Upon her return to the United States, Smith accepted a position at the State Normal School in New Platz, New York. She served as the school’s professor of geography and psychology. Once back in the United States, Smith continued her correspondence with Hall and once again employed his questionnaires in her normal school work. Despite again working in the normal school system, Smith informed Hall, “It is not my intention to do Normal School work longer than I can help. I desire a position where I can work in Experimental psychology” (Smith to G. Stanley Hall, Sept. 14, 1900). Although she applied for collegiate level positions in psychology, and secured Hall’s endorsement, Smith never obtained such a position. Her career aspirations may have been curtailed by her relatively advanced age, something Hall made note of in a letter of recommendation: “I consider her one of the ablest women and one of the best teachers I have ever known, and although she is no longer young, seems to be in the zenith of her strength and enthusiasm” (G. Stanley Hall to President Joseph Carhardt, Dec. 28, 1903).

In addition to the work on rhythm undertaken for her dissertation, Smith’s research interests included the value of Latin instruction in normal schools, the relationship between reaction time and physical condition, and the training of “backward” children. The latter project began in the fall of 1906 when a largely non-responsive nine-year-old boy was brought to Smith for assistance. After forty-five days of training the child showed dramatic improvement, both socially and mentally, and the case was published in psychologist Lightner Witmer’s new journal, The Psychological Clinic.

Smith left normal school work behind in 1909 when she accepted a position with a New York City family working with their children. In 1918, with the United States’s entry into World War I, Smith volunteered her services to the government, suggesting that she be put to work arranging and administrating mental tests to returning soldiers. There is no evidence that her offer of assistance was accepted.

Smith died in 1934.

by Jacy L. Young (2013)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

By Margaret Keiver Smith

DeGraff, E. V., & Smith, M. K. (1883). Developmental lessons for teachers. New York: A. Lovell & Co.

Herbart, J. F. (1891). A text-book in psychology: An attempt to found the science of psychology on experience, metaphysics, and mathematics. (M. K. Smith, Trans.). New York: D. Appleton and Co.

Smith, M. K. (1900). Rhythmus und Arbeit. Leipzig, Germany: Engelmann.

Smith, M. K. (1908). Sixty-two days’ training of a backward boy. The Psychological Clinic, 2(1), 5-22.

Smith, M. K. (1908). Sixty-two days’ training of a backward boy. The Psychological Clinic, 2(2), 29-47.

Smith, M. K. (1908). The training of a backward boy. The Psychological Clinic, 2(5), 134-150.

About Margaret Keiver Smith

Smith, Dr. Margaret K(eiver). (1932). In J. M. Cattell (Ed.), Leaders in education, a biographical directory (pp. 865). New York: Science Press.

Smith, Margaret Kiever (1856-1934). (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. 2, pp. 1207). New York: Routledge.

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