Martin, Lillien Jane (1851–1943)

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Martin, Lillien Jane (1851–1943)

American psychologist . Born Lillie Jane Martin on July 7, 1851, in Olean, New York; died on March 26, 1943, in San Francisco, California; oldest of four children of Russell Martin (a merchant) and Lydia Hawes Martin (a college matron); Vassar College, B.A., 1880; University of Göttingen, Germany, Ph.D., 1898; never married; no children.

Lillien Martin, who was born on July 7, 1851, may well have been the first four-year-old to enter the first grade at Olean Academy in her hometown of Olean, New York, and her involvement with academia continued uninterrupted until she was forced into mandatory retirement at age 65. She then proceeded to distinguish herself in another professional career, and continued consulting, writing, and publishing until her death at age 92.

Although a precocious child, young Lillie Jane (she later changed her name to Lillien) preferred riding her pony to reading; as she grew older, she fell in love with geometry and trigonometry, and solved arithmetic problems for fun. After an introduction to surveying instruments when she was 15, she independently mapped a small field. In 1867, at 16, she began studying psychology, physics, and chemistry, the subjects on which her life's work would be based. That year, she also graduated from Olean Academy and began teaching to earn money for college. Her family had lost much of the money that her father had left, which had once made their lives comfortable, but her mother was determined that her daughter should have a college education. In 1876, after nine years of teaching and saving, Martin sought admission to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Although female students were not expressly forbidden, that was apparently only because the authorities had not expected any to apply, and she was not welcomed. Martin therefore took the entrance examination at Vassar College, a women's college in Poughkeepsie, New York, where her high scores won her a full scholarship. Upon her graduation in 1880, she accepted a position at Indianapolis High School, teaching botany, physics, and chemistry.

In 1889, after addressing a teachers' convention in San Francisco, California, Martin was offered three positions in the area and accepted the post of vice-principal and science department head at Girls' High School in San Francisco. Five years later, with the encouragement of her close friend, Fidelia Jewett , she resigned in order to fulfill her desire to study psychology. She went to the University of Göttingen in Germany and, somewhat to the consternation of university officials, became the first woman to enroll in the science department. In 1898, at age 47, she received a Ph.D., and the following year accepted an assistant professorship at Stanford University. As a member of the international scientific community, Martin continued researching and writing, publishing four technical volumes on psychology in German between 1899 and 1914, and spent alternate summers in Germany. She was named a full professor in 1911, and in 1913, in honor of the discoveries she had made in psychology, became the first American to be awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Germany's University of Bonn. In 1915, she was appointed head of the psychology department at Stanford, becoming the first woman to head an academic department at that university. One year later, she turned 65 and in accordance with faculty rules was forced to retire.

After several frustrated months of unwanted relaxation, Martin rebelled against her sense of loss and discouragement by teaching herself touch typing and devising exercises to strengthen her hands, her gait, and her speech. A professor emerita, she began preparing for a new career, and from 1917 to 1920 served as president of the California Society for Mental Hygiene. In 1920, she founded the nation's first guidance clinics for preschoolers, at the Polyclinic and Mt. Zion hospitals in San Francisco. Martin ran the clinics while also working as a consulting psychologist in private practice until 1929, using regular and frequent rest periods to enable her to remain as productive as she had been in younger years.

In 1929, in response to a comment from her colleague Clair deGruchy that the grandmother of one of the children at a clinic was causing the child's problems, Martin opened the Old Age Center in San Francisco. Believed to be the first old-age counseling center in the United States, it provided rehabilitative physical and mental exercises which restored over 800 elderly men and women to effective functioning. She also bought and ran a farm in California to provide work and purpose for older men who otherwise would have eked out their days in a county home for the indigent. The project succeeded both as rehabilitation and as a profitable business. During World War II, the shortage of younger workers led her to open a second Old Age Center in New York City. Martin was deeply pragmatic. "Age is an accident," she said, "and nothing to pride oneself on. The important thing is to adapt oneself to the requirements of each successive age-class, and to function in each as an active participant in life, a fully adjusted human being."

Lillien Martin traveled around the world with her companion Fidelia Jewett in 1925, and in 1927 traveled alone to Soviet Russia. In 1929, at age 78, she earned a driver's license, and three years later, by herself, made a cross-country automobile trip. An excellent manager of her money, she had lost nothing in the stock-market crash of 1929. A lifelong feminist with a strong political bent—she had once led a suffragist parade in London with Anna Howard Shaw —Martin had served as a delegate from California to the first national convention of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party, but was won over by Woodrow Wilson (himself a progressive) and switched her affiliation to the Democrats. She strongly supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal policies. From 1917, she authored or co-authored a number of psychology monographs and books, including Salvaging Old Age (1930) and Sweeping the Cobwebs (1933).

In 1939, at 87, Lillien Martin traveled with Clair deGruchy to South America, journeying by boat up the Amazon River. When told by physicians that the strain of sightseeing flights at high altitudes would be too much for her heart, she responded "that would be a fine way to die"—and flew. After her return to San Francisco, she served as educational counselor of the Democratic Women's Forum and worked regularly as a consulting psychologist until the week before her death of bronchopneumonia at age 92.


Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Healers and Scientists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

Current Biography, 1942. H.W. Wilson, 1942, pp. 575–577.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women: A Biographical Dictionary from Colonial Times to the Present. New York, NY: Dover, 1980.

Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. New York, NY: Random House, 1992.

Zilboorg, Caroline, ed., and Susan B. Gall, managing ed. Women's Firsts. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997.

suggested reading:

deFord, Miriam Allen. Psychologist Unretired: The Life Pattern of Lillien J. Martin. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1948.

Fenton, Norman. Psychological Review. July 1943.

Merrill, Maud A. American Journal of Psychology. November 1943.

National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Vol. XVI, p. 153.

The New York Times (obituary). March 28, 1943.

Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. 1939–40.

Ruess, Christopher. American Sociological Review. June 1943.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

Titchener, E.B. "Professor Martin and the Perky Experiments," in American Journal of Psychology. January 1913.


Kaiser, Mrs. William Martin, and/or other family members have documents and clippings.

Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, has records in registrar's office and a clipping file in alumnae office.

Beth Champagne , journalist and freelance writer, West Barnet, Vermont

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Martin, Lillien Jane (1851–1943)

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