Deutsch Intern
University Archives

Beatrice Edgell

Scholar of the Month May 2020

*26. October 1871 in Tewkesbury, England                        † 10. August 1948 in Cheltenham, England

1891      Studied Philosophy, Pedagogy, Classical Languages, and English Literature at the University College Wales, Aberystwyth
1894      Bachelor of Arts in Mental and Moral Sciences at the University of London
1897      Returned to Aberystwyth
1898      Bachelor in Philosophy from Aberystwyth
1899      Masters in Philosophy from Aberystwyth
1900      Doctoral research at the University of Würzburg
1901      Doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Oswald Külpe
1927      Professor for Psychology

The May Scholar of the Month is Beatrice Edgell, the first woman to write a doctoral dissertation at the Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg. Also the first British woman to obtain a PhD in Psychology, Edgell set a milestone for the university education of women in Würzburg. Since 2006 the University of Würzburg confer the Beatrice-Edgell-Prize to women, who made an outstanding academic performance.

Academic Career

After visiting several different schools for women, Beatrice Edgell chose to commence her studies in Philosophy at the University College in Wales in 1891, the same year the educational institution opened its doors to women. By studying at the University College in Wales, Edgell was able to subsequently obtain a degree at the University of London. She returned later to Aberystwyth to study experimental psychology for her second bachelors degree, followed by a masters.

In 1898, Edgell became the director of the “Mental and Moral Sciences” Faculty at the Bedford College of the University of London.  After only two years as director, she was awarded an international research fellowship which she completed in Würzburg, Germany.

Decades later, in 1927, Edgell landed a promotion establishing herself as the first woman professor of psychology in all of England. In at least four associations with a philosophical or psychological orientation she became the first female director/chairwoman and thus revolutionized the prospects for women in the educational system. For example the British Psychological Society, the psychological department of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Aristotelian Society. This allowed her to hire for a better education for women.

A Milestone in University History

During her research fellowship in Germany, Edgell worked on her dissertation titled “Die Grenzen des Experiments als seiner psychologischen Methode” (“The Limitations of Experiment as Psychological Method” at the University of Würzburg, supervised by Oswald Külpe. When Edgell became the first woman to earn a PhD at the University of Würzburg, she also became the first English woman to ever receive this honour.

But she was not able to enroll at the University of Würzburg officially, as the institution did not permit women students until 1902/3. She was given special permission by the University administration as she already had enough academic achievements and degrees – which German women were barred from obtaining.

Alongside her doctoral research, Edgell sought to broaden her scholarly horizons. She sat in on numerous lectures outside of her academic focus area, including lectures given by the later Nobel Laureate, Wilhelm Wien.

Recommended Reading:

Valentine, Elizabeth: Beatrice Edgell. Pioneer woman psychologist, New York 2006.