Margaret McFarland

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Margaret McFarland
DiedSeptember 12, 1988 (age 83)
EducationGoucher College (BA)
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
Scientific career
FieldsDevelopmental psychology
InstitutionsUniversity of Pittsburgh
InfluencesErik Erikson
InfluencedFred Rogers

Margaret Beall McFarland (July 3, 1905– September 12, 1988) was an American child psychologist who focused much of her research on the meaning of the interactions between mothers and children. With pediatrician Benjamin Spock and psychologist Erik Erikson, she co-founded a counseling center for families and children in Pittsburgh. Professionals from various fields came to the center to learn about child development. McFarland and Spock also established a child development department at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

McFarland met Fred Rogers in the 1950s when she agreed to supervise his work with a child for a seminary counseling course, and she later became a consultant to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. She met with Rogers on a weekly basis and reviewed the content and wording of his scripts until her death, and he cited her as a major influence on his career.

Early life[edit]

McFarland, the youngest of three daughters, was born to Robert and Gertrude (Messer) McFarland in 1905 in Oakdale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh.[1] She had an older sister named Mary. McFarland's father died when she was five years old. She remained unmarried and childless throughout her life, and she attributed that to her father's death. "And all of the subsequent phases of what it means to be loved by a male and loving to a male were lost to me. I wanted a kind of fathering," she said.[2] She also noted that she had a very loving mother who gave her a sense of the worth of a child, and she suggested that her upbringing had contributed to her career path. "In the end I really wanted to be like my mother," she said.[2]


After completing an undergraduate degree at Goucher College in 1927, McFarland earned a master's degree at Columbia University the next year. She spent a few years teaching and conducting personality research at the Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh and the Hubbard Woods Nursery School in Winnetka, Illinois.[3] When McFarland taught at Hubbard Woods, she worked with the children enrolled in a study by Rose Haas Alschuler and La Berta Weiss Hattwick that resulted in their publication known as Painting and personality: A study of young children.[4]

McFarland returned to Columbia to complete a doctorate in 1938. She then worked and taught in Melbourne, where she held leadership positions at the Kindergarten Training College and the Free Kindergarten Union. Returning to the United States in 1941, she was an associate professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts for ten years. During this time McFarland realized the importance of two concepts that defined much of her later work – the role of the woman in child development and the utility of creative play in childhood.[3]

In 1951, McFarland returned to Pittsburgh where she taught as an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh.[1] In 1953, McFarland co-founded the Arsenal Family and Children's Center with Benjamin Spock and Erik Erikson. The center's goal was that physicians and others would be able to learn more about childhood development. Erikson spent one day a week at the center. "He spoke to me in a different way than any of the psychoanalytic literature," McFarland said of Erikson.[2] Erikson was similarly complimentary of McFarland, saying that she "knew more than anyone in this world about families with young children."[5] McFarland was the director of the Arsenal Center through 1971.[6] With Spock, McFarland helped in the founding of the Department of Child Development and Child Care at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.[7]

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood[edit]

In the 1950s, Fred Rogers began co-hosting The Children's Corner, a television show filmed in Pittsburgh, with Josie Carey. At the same time, he enrolled at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with the intent of utilizing religious training to further his television outreach to children. He was taking a seminary course in counseling and McFarland supervised his counseling of a child as part of that class.[8] After Rogers' course ended, they continued to meet with each other each week, and when Rogers began working on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, McFarland became a consultant to the show.[5]

McFarland had a significant influence on the ways in which content was presented on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. She reviewed scripts for the show until her death, often suggesting improvements on the material that Rogers had created. She also consulted on Rogers' First Experience book series and his video series on parenting. Rogers said that McFarland was "so other-directed that when you were in her presence, you felt you were important."[3] He referred to McFarland as "the most major influence in my professional life."[9] Rogers' book "Mister Rogers Talks to Parents" is dedicated to McFarland. The spin-off series, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, includes a character named for McFarland.[1]

Later life and legacy[edit]

As of the summer of 1987, McFarland had been diagnosed with a bone marrow disorder called myelofibrosis for about ten years and was having to undergo blood transfusions. Despite having difficulties with her mobility by that time, she was still meeting with Rogers weekly and holding discussions with former students and mental health professionals in her home.[2][10] She died in a nursing home in South Fayette Township on September 12, 1988.[3]

McFarland did not publish much academic literature,[5] but she worked with a number of students who found success in various fields, including early art therapists Judith A. Rubin and Edith Kramer.[11][4] Rubin characterized McFarland as a "creative catalyst" and "my professional mother". Rubin contributed to a Festschrift in recognition of McFarland's work.[11] In the epigraph of a book on children's language, former student Ethel Tittnich compared McFarland to a teacher described in Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, saying that McFarland led students "to the threshold of [their] own minds".[12] When McFarland died, Douglas Robert Nowicki, then a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said that McFarland considered love to be the essential characteristic of a successful teacher.[3]

In 2015, the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College established a project to analyze recorded conversations between McFarland and Rogers to learn more about the impact of these discussions on the development of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Caron, Christina (2020-01-08). "Overlooked No More: Margaret McFarland, Mentor to Mister Rogers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-08-24.
  2. ^ a b c d Butler, Ann (July 19, 1987). "Even Mister Rogers learns from her about children". Pittsburgh Press. pp. F1–F3.
  3. ^ a b c d e Lee, Carmen (September 13, 1988). "Psychologist Margaret B. McFarland". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 12.
  4. ^ a b Gerity, Lani; Anand, Susan Ainlay (2017). The Legacy of Edith Kramer: A Multifaceted View. Routledge. ISBN 9781134792986.
  5. ^ a b c Flecker, Sally Ann (Fall 2014). "When Fred Met Margaret". Pitt Med.
  6. ^ "M.B. McFarland, 83, a child psychologist". The New York Times. September 14, 1988.
  7. ^ "Margaret McFarland Fund | The Pittsburgh Foundation". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Warner, Jennifer (2013). Mister Rogers: A Biography of the Wonderful Life of Fred Rogers. LifeCaps. ISBN 9781629170466.
  9. ^ "Margaret B. McFarland; child psychologist". Los Angeles Times. September 14, 1988.
  10. ^ Carney, Jim (November 27, 1988). "Wanting to help". The Greenville News.
  11. ^ a b Junge, Maxine Borowsky; Wadeson, Harriet (2006). Architects of Art Therapy: Memoirs and Life Stories. Charles C Thomas Publisher. p. 112. ISBN 9780398076856.
  12. ^ Tittnich, Ethel; Bloom, Lawrence; Schomberg, Roberta (1990). Facilitating Children's Language: Handbook for Child-related Professionals. Psychology Press. pp. ix–x. ISBN 9780866566803.
  13. ^ "Fred Rogers Center names Sharapan PNC Grow Up Great Senior Fellow" (PDF). Saint Vincent College. March 19, 2015.