Theodora Mead Abel

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Born(1899-09-09)September 9, 1899 [1]
Newport, Rhode Island
DiedDecember 2, 1998(1998-12-02) (aged 99)[1]
Forestburgh, New York
Occupationclinical psychologist, educator
Alma materVassar College (1921)
Notable worksThe Subnormal Adolescent Girl, Facial Disfigurement, Psychological Testing in Cultural Contexts, Culture and Psychotherapy

Theodora Mead Abel (1899–1998) was an American clinical psychologist and educator, who used innovative ideas by combining sociology and psychology. She was a pioneer in cross-cultural psychology.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Theodora was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on September 9, 1899[1] and raised in New York City. In 1917, she graduated from Miss Chapin's School, where she was president of the student government.[3] Abel attended Vassar College and received her B.A. in 1921. In 1924, she received an M.A. from Columbia University, where one of her professors was Leta Stetter Hollingworth.[2] She then attended the University of Paris and obtained her degree in psychology in 1923. Her final degree came from Columbia and was a Ph.D., in 1925.[1]


After receiving her education, Theodora spent time as an educator. She taught at the University of Illinois (1925-1926), Sarah Lawrence College (1929-1933), and the Manhattan Trade School for Girls.[1] She then entered the civil world. She worked at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene from 1940 until 1946, as their chief psychologist. In 1947 she took the position of director of psychology at New York City's Post-Graduate Center for Mental Health, a position she held for 24 years.[1]

In 1971, after moving to New Mexico, she became chief of family therapy at the Child Guidance Center, in Albuquerque, where she also established a private practice.[1] While in New Mexico, she conducted studies of Puebloan peoples.[4]

She wrote many books including the following:[1]

  • The Subnormal Adolescent Girl (1940)
  • Facial Disfigurement (1952)
  • Psychological Testing in Cultural Contexts (1973)
  • Culture and Psychotherapy (1974)

The last of these four books includes an introduction by Margaret Mead, whom Abel had met during graduate school at Columbia. They became friends after lining up alphabetically (both had the last name "Mead" but they were not related).[4]


Abel died in Forestburgh, New York, on December 2, 1998.[1] Her husband, Theodore Abel, had died a decade earlier. They were survived by two daughters and a son, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abel, Theodora Mead". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. pp. 25. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
  2. ^ a b Ware, Susan. Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, Volume 5, p. 2 (Harvard University Press, 2004).
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c "Theodora Abel, 99, Psychologist Who Reached Across Cultures", New York Times (December 13, 1998).