Girl Power

It’s almost as if I’m being stalked by Edna Lovewell.

Sunday afternoon, shortly after I uploaded an entry sparked in part by the previous week’s airing of “Cosmos,” Dave Lovewell sent me a link to a short article published in The Journal of General Psychology.  The authors were J. P. Guilford and Edna M. Lovewell, and their piece was called “The Touch Spots and the Intensity of the Stimulus,” a title which will surely provoke even more visits to this site from Ukraine and the Russian Republic.  Visitors are always welcome, even if they may be disappointed by what they find.

Guilford, who was three years older than Edna Lovewell, had been having scientific studies published since 1925, but there was only the one with her as co-author.  Their paper was submitted to the Journal in 1935 and was accepted for publication the following year, the same year Edna was admitted to the Nebraska bar.  Joy Paul Guilford would go on to study under Edward Titchener at Cornell (Whose work is cited in “Intensity of the Stimulus”), concentrated his energy on the investigation of human intelligence, and would live and publish in the field until he was ninety.  Edna would die at 39, a death that may or may not have been accidental, but her short life was tightly packed.  Besides being a teacher and a legal secretary, practicing law in Nebraska and Illinois, and co-authoring a sensory research study, she was the local delegate to the Causes and Cure of War Conference at Hastings in 1928 (An unfortunate typographical error sometimes renamed it the “Causes and Care of War Conference”).  Edna was also once asked to deliver the address at the Old Settlers’ Reunion near White Rock.  It was the annual celebration which had prematurely eulogized her grandfather, Thomas Lovewell, the very year Edna was born.  Acting president Lydia Charles had given a stirring tribute to the old pioneer, as if he were presumed to have perished in the Gold Rush at Nome, Alaska.  Of course, Thomas showed up to contradict the rumor.  It may have been an elaborate gag to celebrate his homecoming, but it was a good one.          

Coincidentally, the episode of “Cosmos” that aired last Sunday evening had a definite feminist vibe.  It dramatized the pivotal contribution made to astrophysics in 1925 by the doctoral dissertation of a young woman named Cecilia Payne, whose discovery of immense quantities of hydrogen and helium on the Sun was built on groundwork done by a team of women hired to process astronomical data for Edward Charles Pickering at Harvard.

Cecilia Payne had moved to America from England after being denied a degree at Cambridge because she was a woman.  While English women might do all the work necessary to earn them, they would not receive advanced degrees from their native universities until 1948.  Women had been allowed to practice law there since 1919, but only through a special Act of Parliament, the oddly-named Sex Disqualification Act.  Until then, women were not defined as “persons” according to the 1843 Solicitors Act.  Nebraska was, in some ways, a more enlightened turf.  Ada Bittenbender was admitted to the bar there in 1883.

The first page of “The Touch Spots and the Intensity of the Stimulus” is available for preview online.  Reading further requires payment, and at $39 a fairly hefty amount for a ten-page study, beginning with the words:

“Many a student in the elementary laboratory course has been called upon to make a fine cross-section map of his O’s forearm, to explore that region point by point with a tactile or temperature stimulus in the search for the well-known sensitive “spots” therein.  The same student is usually given the implicit, if not explicit, assurance that underneath each such sensitive “spot” lies a single receptor cell.”

It seems to offer pretty dry reading.  On the other hand, Dave Lovewell assured me, “I only read the first page and felt all prickly."

© Dale Switzer 2023