Introduction to Psychology - May Smith

May Smith


May Smith (1879-1968)

May Smith was born on 29 August 1879, in Chorlton, Lancashire to parents Thomas Smith, an iron turner, and Augusta (née Matthews). May was the oldest out of two children, she had a younger sister.

May attended the Manchester Science School where she also taught as a pupil teacher. She would then attend Owen’s College with an education scholarship. In 1903, May graduated with a BA in philosophy, with a small side study in psychology, along with an external diploma in education from the University of London.

By 1905, May was teaching educational psychology at Cherwell Hall in Oxford, a training college for secondary school teachers. While at Oxford, May studied for her Masters in Philosophy, at the University of Manchester. During her studies, she attended psychology lectures by William McDougall and requested to join a group of students studying experimental psychology led by him.

From this point on, May would become a founding leader of industrial psychology. One of her famous studies was on sleep deprivation and the effects on mental function. May was her own subject and her research was published in the British Journal of Psychology in 1916. She would then work with McDougall on the study of Effects of Alcohol and some other Drugs during normal and fatigued conditions, during the First World War at the request of the Central Control Board for Liquor Traffic. May and McDougall studied the links between alcohol and prostitution.

May also became a member of the British Psychology Society in 1914. She would hold many different positions such as Honorary Librarian (1932-1959) and Deputy President (1948-1954) during her time with the Society.

In 1920, May became a part of the newly established Industrial Health Research Board (IHRB), where she studied fatigue and working hours in the laundry trade. She held this post until retirement in 1944.

In the late 1920’s, May’s office was moved to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, she was given the chance to collaborate with Major Greenwood and Millais Culpin on the telegraphist’s cramp; which brought significant development to industrial psychology. It was thought the cramp was from fatigue until Cuplin and his expertise of neuroses showed the emergence of psychoneurotic elements. This find led to studies of other occupations and a report titled, “The Nervous Temperament” in 1930. The study also brought legitimacy to clinical psychology which was a new discipline.

In 1945, after retirement, May became a part-time lecturer at Birkbeck College in London. She taught applied psychology and she would also be awarded the O.B.E. (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1945 for her work during World War II. May retired from Birkbeck College in 1955.

In 1949, May published her autobiography titled, “An Autobiography”, in the journal Occupational Psychology.

May was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Psychological Society in 1958, along with 6 others, Melanie Klein (1882-1960), Agostino Edoardo Gemelli (1878-1960), Alexander Rom Luria (1902-1977), Tom Hatherley Pear (1886-1972), Charles Wilfred Valentine (1879-1964), and Henry Tasman Lovell (1875-1959).

Sadly, on 21 February 1968, May Smith passed away at Otto House in Lewisham, London, aged 88.

In UPEI's Provenance Collection, the book Introduction to Philosophy by Friedrich Paulsen has May's signature along with “Oxford 1908". May also signed her initials on the front cover of the book.


Lovie, A. D.; Lovie, P. (2004). "Smith, May (1879–1968)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:

Founders, Fellows, Presidents, and Members. (2000-2021). History of Psychology Centre | BPS.

"Women in early 20th-century experimental psychology | The Psychologist". Retrieved 2021-02-20

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