Ninety years after her birth on January 10, 1910, in Lorain, Ohio, Marie Skodak Crissey died on December 5, 2000. At the time of her death, she resided at the Alterra Assisted Living facility in Flint, Michigan.
Marie’s parents came to the United States from Hungary in the early 1900s. They were teachers, and her father knew several Eastern and Central European languages. Initially interested in chemistry, Marie found her interests turning to psychology, and she received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in clinical psychology at The Ohio State University. Flexible scheduling at Ohio State allowed her to combine the requirements for an undergraduate teaching degree and a graduate clinical psychology degree in order to prepare for a career in school psychological services; she received both degrees in June and August of the same year, 1931. Marie’s competence in Hungarian facilitated her travel and study in Hungary on an International Exchange Fellowship in 1931. Skodak received her doctoral degree in developmental psychology in 1938 from the University of Iowa. Mentored by Goddard at Ohio State and initially influenced by hereditarian positions on intellectual development, her point of view changed to an environmentalist position, especially on mental retardation, during her work at Iowa and the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station.
Marie served as assistant director of the Flint (Michigan) Guidance Center from 1938 to 1942 and as director from 1942 to 1946. The center was privately funded and was part of a movement to offer mental hygiene assistance to children and families. She worked in private practice (one of only two persons in Michigan, and the only woman in the state, to do so at that time) for a few years providing evaluation and consultation services to schools, parents, agencies, and physicians. She also taught part time for the University of Michigan. Following a brief stint as a part-time employee for the Dearborn schools, she became director of the Division of Psychological Services there from 1948 until her retirement in 1969. She continued her private practice as a consulting psychologist in Flint throughout her career in Dearborn. She identified her subspecializations as intelligence and measurement of intelligence, school psychological service administration, mental retardation, special education of the mentally deficient, infancy, and assessment.
Marie became an American Psychological Association (APA) member in 1938 and was a fellow of Divisions 7 (Developmental Psychology), 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology), 16 (School Psychologists; the division’s name was changed to School Psychology in 1969), 17 (Counseling Psychology), and 33 (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities). She served as president of Divisions 17 and 23. She also served as a member-at-large to the Division 16 executive committee for the 1960–1961 term and as its representative to the APA Council of Representatives from 1966 to 1969. She was among those who attended Division 16’s historic Thayer Conference in 1954. Marie also attended the 1951 Conference on Counseling Psychology held at Northwestern University and the 1958 Conference on Graduate Education in Psychology in Miami, Florida. Marie was also very active with the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), succeeding Mary Alice White on the ABPP board in 1969, and was granted the ABPP diploma in school psychology in that year. Marie Skodak Crissey was the third recipient of the Division 16 Distinguished Service Award in 1972. In 1968, she received the Joseph P. Kennedy Award for Research in Mental Retardation. The award was shared with Harold Skeels.
Marie Skodak first met Orlo Crissey, an industrial psychologist, at the University of Iowa and later worked with him in her first job at the Flint Child Guidance Center. They married after the death of Orlo’s wife of 38 years in 1966. For much of their retirement, the Crisseys lived on a farm in Swartz Creek, Michigan, and traveled widely. Marie was not previously married and had no children. The pattern of graduate study, career service, and late-in-life marriage was not unusual for career women psychologists of her era. Marie acknowledged witnessing obvious discrimination against women during her career. Her autobiographical accounts provide interesting descriptions of what training and practice were like more than 50 years ago.
Many books on developmental psychology and intelligence have references from the 1930s and 1940s under the names Skodak or Skodak and Skeels. Marie Skodak’s research on children of adoption, completed while studying at the historically renowned Child Welfare Research Station, has been often cited as evidence for the effects of adoption and child care on development and intelligence. However, in her 1983 autobiographical account for the Journal of School Psychology, she made little mention of this research, instead concentrating on her school psychology services career that followed her Iowa years. The Child Welfare Research Station contributions appear in other autobiographical accounts (e.g., D. Thompson & J. D. Hogan, 1996, pp. 46–70). In that account, she indicated, “The Iowa studies, and others that followed, constituted the theoretical underpinning for changes in adoption practices, as well as for the development of Headstart and Homestart programs and some aspects of special education” (p. 62). Although her career was launched by her child development research, she is as well known for her contributions to several APA divisions, her advancement of the status of women psychologists, and her contributions to the professional development of school psychology.
Source: American Psychologist, Vol 57(5), May 2002, 367. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.57.5.367