Profiles in Black: Dr. Ruth Winifred Howard (1900-1997)
Ruth Winifred Howard is believed to be the one of the first black women to earn a doctorate in psychology. She was born March 25, 1900 into a large family in Washington, D.C., and her parents encouraged her curiosity and love for education.
While she is noted for her psychological work with special needs children and for research in child development, Howard’s roots were firmly planted in social work. She earned a degree in social work from Simmons College in Boston and then a master’s degree in social work from the same school.
Howard’s first job was as a social worker for Cleveland Urban League. It was during her time working with children at the Cleveland Child Welfare Agency that she became curious about the impact of growing up in dysfunctional families and foster homes had on children. That curiosity led her to enter psychology, and she entered a doctoral program at Columbia University. She later transferred to the University of Minnesota, where her research focused on the personality traits and development of triplets. She earned her doctorate in psychology in 1934.
After earning her doctorate, Howard and her husband, noted psychologist Albert S. Beckham, moved to Chicago. The couple opened a private practice, The Center for Psychological Services. Howard also consulted with several Chicago hospitals and agencies on child development and worked in nursing education for black nurses. Howard was the psychologist for the Chicago Board of Health. After her husband’s death in 1964, she continued her work, consulting for various Chicago agencies and institutions.
Howard died in 1997 in Washington D.C.