A Second Cousin, A Notable First

An Appreciation of Margaret Floy Washburn

March 23rd, 2020

Stephen Mather’s wife, Jane Thacker Floy Mather, was from another notable family, the Floys.  Her great-grandfather, Michael Floy Sr., was the subject of an earlier posting, Roots and Seeds. Her second cousin, Margaret Floy Washburn, was a pioneer in the field of psychology.

Margaret, born 25 July 1871, was the daughter of Elizabeth Floy Washburn, a grand-daughter of Michael Floy Sr., and Francis Washburn, an ordained Episcopalian priest. The family moved from England to Walden, New York.

Margaret Floy Washburn (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

In her autobiography Margaret Floy Washburn writes of her great-grandfather’s success, “I have reason to thank the gods for his diligence, which enabled me to finish my professional training without having to earn my own living…”


Margaret entered Vassar in the fall of 1886 and graduated in 1891.  She studied at Columbia but was only allowed to audit since she was a woman.   She then enrolled at Cornell and became the first American woman to receive a Ph.D in psychology.


From the Encyclopedia Brittanica: “After a year of teaching at the University of Cincinnati, Washburn returned to Vassar to teach psychology. She remained (from 1908 as full professor) until her retirement in 1937. A remarkably effective teacher, she made Vassar a leading centre of undergraduate training and research in psychology. Her own publications include scores of articles, reviews, and notes in professional journals and two books, The Animal Mind  (1908) and Movement and Mental Imagery (1916).”


Margaret Floy Washburn died 29 October 1939.

Text by Donn Smith

© 2017 by The Mather Homestead Foundation. 

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19 Stephen Mather Road, Darien, CT  06820

Mailing address:  PO Box 1054, Darien, CT  06820

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"He laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be

developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations. There will never come an end to the good that he has done."            

-Louis C. Cramton, referring to Stephen T. Mather (1867-1930)