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Mabel Fernald



Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Chicago, (1910)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Laboratory of Social Hygiene at Bedford Hills Women’s Reformatory, (1916-1920)

University of Minnesota, (1919-1921)

Psychological Laboratory, Vocational Bureau, Cincinnati Public Schools, (1921-1952)

Media Links:



Career Focus: Mental imagery; mental capacity of delinquent women.


Mabel Ruth Fernald was born May 7, 1883 in Springfield, Ohio to parents Nettie (Barker) and James C. Fernald. Her father was an author; among his many publications were Students' Standard Dictionary, Synonyms and Antonyms, English Grammar, Historic English, and Expressive English. The family included four boys, Charles, Henry, Dana, and James, as well as a second girl, Grace Maxwell. Both girls would go on to be psychologists.


Both sisters obtained their doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago; Mabel Ruth Fernald received hers in 1910 under James Rowland Angell. Her dissertation, titled "Diagnosis of Mental Imagery," was published in Psychological Monographs in 1912. The project explored imagery types, the theory that individuals could be categorized by the type of imagery they think in: visual, auditory, motor, etc. Fernald's research concluded that individuals draw on multiple types of imagery depending on the situation.


Following her graduation from Chicago, Fernald taught at in both Ohio and Illinois. She would go on to be Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota from 1919 to 1921. During this time, Fernald would hold the position of Director at the Laboratory of Social Hygiene at Bedford Hills Women's Reformatory, playing an influential role during the institutions' early years. The Laboratory aimed to diagnose inmates and guide individual treatment working with a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and medical physicians.  


In 1920, Fernald published a book titled A study of women delinquents in New York State along with two co-authors, Mary Holmes Stevens Hayes and Almena Dawley. The text provided demographic information of 587 women at the State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills, the Auburn State Prison, the New York Magdalen Home, the New York County Penitentiary, the New York City Workhouse, and probation cases from the women's night courts of Manhattan and the Bronx. The information collected included age, religion, conviction details, educational backgrounds, family history, occupational history, addiction history, economic status, and mental capacity. Fernald was largely responsible for the psychological examinations conducted with the women studied under the project, as well as the write-up of this material. These sections included comparisons based on the Stanford-Binet, Yerkes-Bridges Point Scale, and the Wooley Series tests.


In 1921 Fernald began work as the Director of the Psychological Laboratory, Vocational Bureau, Cincinnati Public Schools, a position in which she would remain until her death in 1952.


by Jennifer Bazar (2010)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:
By Mabel Fernald

Fernald, M. R. (1912). The diagnosis of mental imagery. Psychological Monographs, 14(1).


Fernald, M. R., Hayes, M. H. S., & Dawley, A. (1920). A study of women delinquents in New York State. NY: The Century Co. 

About Mabel Fernald

Stevens, G., & Gardner, S. (1982). The women of psychology: Vol. 1 Pioneers and Innovators (p. 216). Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing Company.