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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Janet Taylor Spence 1923-2015

Janet Taylor Spence 1923-2015

Janet Taylor Spence, PhD, an eminent research psychologist and educator who did pioneering work on gender-related phenomena and who led two national psychological associations, has died at age 91.

Spence, who was born in Toledo, Ohio on August 23, 1923 and died on Cape Cod on March 16, 2015 after a short illness, was the only person to serve as president of both the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association. She was president of the APA in 1984, the sixth woman to hold that post. One of the founders of APS, she became the organization's first elected president in 1988.

Spence made significant contributions in research for nearly 50 years, first in studies of basic anxiety and later in work on gender-role attitudes and gender identity.  She earned a doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1949 under the supervision of Kenneth Spence. As part of her doctoral dissertation she created the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale, a method for relating anxiety to performance that has been used by generations of researchers to assess individual anxiety levels.

In 1949, Janet Taylor was hired as an instructor in the psychology department of Northwestern University, the first woman ever to be hired in that department.  Her hiring was initially considered to be a dubious experiment by some in the department, but she went on to establish herself as a valuable teacher of statistics and advisor to graduate students. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1951 and to associate professor in 1956.

In 1959, she married Kenneth Spence and in 1960 she moved back to Iowa. Unable to get a position at the university because of then-common policies prohibiting the hiring of spouses, Janet Spence found a position as a research psychologist at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Iowa City. There she applied her interest in issues of motivation and anxiety to the study of schizophrenics vs. non-schizophrenics.

In 1964, Janet and Kenneth moved to Austin, Texas, where Kenneth had a position in the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, while Janet Spence was once again shunted elsewhere.  Her first position was as a research scientist at the Austin State School, an institution for mentally disabled children.  Subsequently, she was offered a position in the educational psychology department at the University and used that position to expand her interests to include child development. When Kenneth died in 1967, Janet Spence was offered a position in the UT psychology department, not only as a full faculty member but also as chair of the department.  In 1979 she was named the Ashbel Smith Professor of Psychology and Educational Psychology, which at that time made her the only named professor in the department.  She retired from the University of Texas in 1997.

In the 1970s, Janet Spence shifted her research focus to gender-related phenomena, a topic that would engage her interest for the rest of her academic life.  In a highly productive collaboration with the late Robert Helmreich, Spence developed several indices for measuring gender-related characteristics and attitudes, including the "Attitudes toward Women Scale" and the "Personal Attributes Questionnaire," both of which continue to be used and referenced by contemporary investigators.  Their 1978 book, Masculinity and Femininity: Their Psychological Dimensions, Correlates and Antecedents, was a major contribution to both theoretical and empirical studies of gender in psychology.

Beyond her numerous publications, Spence was also a great contributor to the editorial processes of psychology.  From 1973 until 1979, she was the editor of Contemporary Psychology; she also was an editor of the Annual Review of Psychology.  In addition to her presidencies of APA and APS, Spence served as chair of the psychology section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1984) and was a member and chair of the governing board of the Psychonomic Society (1978-1983).  She was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received honorary degrees from Oberlin College, the Ohio State University and the University of Toledo.

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