Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Catharine Cox Miles

1890 - 1984

Catharine Cox-Miles (1890-1984) was an American psychologist and Quaker, associated with the genetic study of genius and with the Terman-Miles test of masculinity and femininity. She took part in the American Friends Service Committee's  relief effort to feed German children after the First World War, earning medals for her work.

Born in San Jose, California, Miles began her career studying German, gaining a Masters degree at the University of Stanford, before moving to Germany for two years to study at the Universities of Berlin and Jena. On her return to the USA, she taught at the College of the Pacific, rising to be a full professor.

A birthright member of the Society of Friends, she joined the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in 1920. Disturbed by what she learnt about conditions in post-War Germany, she returned to Berlin to take part in the Quakerspeisung, the programme of distributing food to starving children, initiated by Herbert Hoover and organised by Quakers. She served as District Director to the American Relief Administration for North-East Germany, earning medals for her work.

Her experience with the relief effort in Germany changed the focus of her interests, and on her return to the US, she took a PhD in psychology at Stanford University, working with Professor Lewis Terman on his longitudinal study of genius. Her dissertation used biographical sources to examine the early history of 301 geniuses (such as Mendelssohn, Descartes, Goethe ...), and from that to assign each an IQ score. It was published as the second volume of Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius project.

Cox worked for a short while as chief psychologist at the Central Mental Hygiene Clinic in Cincinnati General Hospital, at the Children's Hospital, and at the Diagnostic Center of the Veteran's Bureau. However, in 1927, she returned to Stanford, again working with Terman. Following her marriage to Walter Miles, she moved to Yale as clinical professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry.

Her continuing collaboration with Terman resulted in the Terman-Miles Masculinity-Femininity test, published in 1936 in Sex and Personality. The test is now considered controversial, as its underlying message was that to achieve good mental health, one's (biological) sex must dictate one's gender (degree of masculinity/femininity) in both thought and behaviour. Homosexuals were described as having ‘invert’ personalities, and it was implied that parents were, in a large part, responsible for their children’s sexual orientation.

There is some evidence from the work that Cox-Miles’ published independently of Terman that she was less negative in her approach to homosexuality than many of her colleagues. She cited positively a survey in 1929 of more than two thousand women which revealed, she said, the presence in normal women of many of the forms of sex experience and practice that had previously been thought characteristic only of men and of abnormal women, including extra-marital heterosexuality, homosexuality, and auto-eroticism. Furthermore, at a time when Terman was describing women’s bodies as essentially unbalanced. she was presenting a far more feminist view. In Sex in Social Psychology (1935) she wrote, there is no biological tragedy of woman… but because society does not willingly permit women to be both workers and mothers there is a sociological one.

Nevertheless, she remains associated with the morally prescriptive Terman-Miles test, which was a standard for several decades.

Cox-Miles then returned to the subject of genius, this time looking at the early mental and physical health of historic geniuses. The aim was to demonstrate intellectual giftedness was associated with both mental and physical good health.

In 1954, Cox-Miles and her husband moved to Turkey, where Walter Miles taught at the University of Istanbul. They retired to Connecticut in 1957.

She died in 1984.

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Further Reading and Credits




Further Reading

Catharine Cox Miles “Sex in Social Psychology,” A Handbook of Social Psychology ed. Carl Murchison Worchester, MA: Clark University Press, 1935.