Leta Stetter Hollingworth graduated from the University of Nebraska at the age of 19 and started working as a school teacher.
After a couple of years, she moved to New York to marry a former classmate. Her plan was to keep teaching, but she was crushed to learn no public school in New York would hire a married woman as a teacher.
Hollingworth, born in 1886, faced strict gender norms, living during a time when women were expected to stay home, raise children and take care of housekeeping tasks, including cooking, laundry and chores.
It was also believed women were not capable of doing anything else.
But Hollingworth would challenge this — successfully.
She soundly invalidated the prevailing scientific doctrine of women’s inferior intelligence.
After obtaining her doctorate in 1916 from Columbia University, Hollingworth became a leader in the field of education, focusing on the psychology of gifted children and how to best nurture their talents. Hollingworth is also considered the foremother of gifted education, as well as the psychology of giftedness. She wrote the first textbook, taught the first course, and served as the first counselor of the gifted, and she continues to be a driving force in gifted education.
Hollingworth’s model of learning emphasized independent study, creativity and a student-centered curriculum. She also pioneered movable desks, art and music appreciation and moving beyond the classroom (field trips) to help the development of gifted children.
“Children Above 180 IQ,” her best-known work, remains the only major research work of its kind.
In the book “Forgotten Women: The Scientists,” Zing Tsjeng writes, ”For Hollingworth, it wasn’t simply enough to be born smart: society had to nourish the minds of women and children, just as she had sought to enrich her own and, in the process, challenge the orthodoxy around her.”
Go to myajc.com/womens-history for the whole Women’s History Month series and for more subscriber exclusives and videos.
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