Milicent Shinn
Class of 1874


©Published on August 14, 1940

Milicent Shinn

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 14 -- Dr. Milicent Washburn Shinn, authority on child psychology and first woman to receive a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, died today in Alameda County at the age of 82.

The daughter of the late James and Lucy Ellen Clark Shinn, she was graduated from the University of California in 1880 and the next year became editor of The San Francisco Commercial Herald. From 1882 to 1894 she edited The Overland Monthly and early recognized the unusual talent of Jack London.

Book Printed in Many Languages

From editing she turned to teaching and in 1898 received her Ph.D. from the University of California for unusual research in infant psychology. Her "Notes on the Development of a Child" and subsequent thesis on "The development of Senses During the First Three Years" attracted international attention and were translated into many foreign languages for University use abroad. Her book "The Biography of a Baby" is still used as a college text.

Dr. Shinn was a member of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae and of Phi Beta Kappa, scholastic honor society. She was the author of many poems, essays and tracts that received wide publication.

Surviving are her brother, Joseph Clark Samuel Niles, and many nieces and nephews, whose reactions she observed in her study of child psychology.

Earned Way Through College

Dr. Shinn, whose famous book told more about babies than most mothers knew, was a spinster. Her interest in children dated back to her childhood on a California farm, where she cherished a number of dolls.

At the Oakland High School, Edmund Rowland Sill, the poet, encouraged her to go to college. She earned her way at the University of California by writing for San Francisco newspapers. At the university she met Josiah Royce, then an instructor. The man who was later to become one of Harvard's most famous philosphers used to talk to her about his first child's behavior, and she decided to study the almost unexplored subject of child phychology at the first opportunity.

Won Herbert Spencer's Praise

There were no child clinics then, and she had to wait until a child was born to her brother's wife. She studied such few accounts of child behavior as were to be found and used her nephew as an example. She kept notes, which she showed to her cousin, Professor Edmund Sanford, who urged her to present it as a doctoral thesis. When it was published by the University of California it won praise from Herbert Spencer, among other scientists, and eventually was rewritten as "The Biography of a Baby," one of the first books of its kind.

The famous book was written while Dr. Shinn was editing The California, which was merged, during her editorship, with the better-known Overland Monthly, for which she wrote anonymously after the merger. Her connection with the two magazines, both landmarks in the literary history of the West, lasted twelve years.