Shinn, Millicent Washburn (1858–1940)

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Shinn, Millicent Washburn (1858–1940)

American psychologist and author who published one of the few systematic observations of infant development available in English at the end of the 19th century. Born in Niles, California, on April 15, 1858; died of heart disease in Niles on August 13, 1940; daughter of James Shinn and Lucy Ellen (Clark) Shinn; graduated from Oakland (CA) High School, 1874; University of California, A.B., 1880, Ph.D., 1898.

The daughter of a farmer and orchard-tree nursery owner, Millicent Washburn Shinn was born on a ranch in Niles, California, in 1858. Some of her earliest influences were family members: her brother Charles Howard Shinn later became an established writer and key figure in the early Western conservation movement, while her cousin Edmund Clark Sanford was a prominent psychologist. Shinn also found a helpful mentor in one of her teachers at Oakland (California) High School, poet Edward Rowland Sill. Both in high school and in college at the University of California, Shinn received encouragement and advice from Sill in her literary career. She earned her A.B. in 1880, and took on the editor-ship of the Overland Monthly publication in 1883, contributing poems and stories.

Although she retained her position as editor of Overland until 1894, Shinn had a more important project in the works. In 1890, her brother's wife gave birth to a daughter, and Shinn began keeping a journal of the infant's mental and physical development. Her jottings and research were published as Notes on the Development of a Child in 1893. At the same time, she enrolled at the University of California as a graduate student, and in 1898 became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. there. Her work on infant development was recognized in her field as one of the few systematic observations available in English, and she further popularized her views by writing several articles and a book, The Biography of a Baby (1900). Shinn became quite well known for her psychological work, but after Biography she retired to her family ranch and lived a quiet life. She died of heart disease in 1940.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Ginger Strand , Ph.D., New York City