Trailblazers of Equality in Mental Health- Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark

We at CFS want to honor Black History Month this year by not only paying tribute to all generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity, but also by honoring some specific Trailblazers of Equality in The Area of Mental Health. Throughout this month, we will be posting tributes to some individuals who spoke to our hearts and inspired us, and whose stories we want to re-share with you.

Today’s tribute is to Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark was a trailblazing African-American social psychologist whose brilliance and passion contributed to breaking down segregated barriers throughout history. Clark was born on April 18, 1917 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the Jim Crow era in the South. Clark attended segregated elementary schools and was a firsthand witness to the violence of racism. Alongside her husband, Kenneth Clark, Dr. Mamie Clarke focused on the development of self-consciousness in black preschool children. Dr. Clark received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard University.

Influenced by work she did in a all-black nursery school, for her master’s thesis Dr. Clark conducted what is known today as the famous “Doll Study” (her title was “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children”). Her work included doll experiments that investigated the way African American children’s attitudes toward race and racial self-identification were affected by segregation. Her study showed that children attending segregated schools internalized and accepted the idea that they were inferior, whereas children from racially mixed schools were more aware of racial discrimination. The study was highly influential in the Brown v. Board of Education court case as it shed light on the effects of racial segregation on school-age children.

Dr. Mamie Clarke earned her doctorate degree from Columbia University. She and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, were the first African-Americans to obtain doctoral degrees in psychology from Columbia University, with Mamie being the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in experimental psychology. Dr. Clark’s experiences with segregation led her to become a civil rights activist in her community and provide for the youth. She testified as an expert witness in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case. She and her husband opened their own agency in 1946 called the Northside Center for Child Development. This was the first full-time child guidance center offering psychological and casework services to families in the Harlem area. They subsequently created Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, intended to both provide resources for Harlem schools and reduced unemployment among Black citizens who had dropped out of school.

Center for Family Services has been providing mental health services and education to children, adults and families since 1961. Our clients are some of the most vulnerable in the community due to their age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Donations are a crucial means to their mental well-being. On their behalf, thank you for your support.

To learn more about our programs, visit our Programs page.
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