A Tribute to Florence Snodgrass

Florence Snodgrass

 

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    Emerita Professor Florence Thompson Snodgrass was born on 8 April 1902 at Young’s Cove, New Brunswick.  Her father had a general store there, and her mother was a teacher before she married.  Florence and her brothers, Ellis and Russell, went to Young’s Cove School. Russell and Florence went on to Gagetown Grammar School, and then to UNB.  Both of these young people were to proceed to earn doctoral degrees, Russell from Harvard, and Florence, from Yale.  Florence credited her parents for encouraging her to go on academically, and especially her mother’s example for her love of teaching and learning.

    Florence was recruited as a student to UNB, rather than Mount Allison University because she was offered at Beaverbrook Scholarship worth $325 a year for four years. She was the first woman Beaverbrook Scholar.   That was 1920. She kept an active interest in Beaverbrook scholarships over the years, both in serving on selection committees, and as a benefactor.  While attending UNB, she also held a Queen’s County Scholarship, and won the Governor General’s Gold Medal

     Her first psychology course was from Professor Keirstead, though she remembered him more for his economics, a lifelong passion of hers, and a discipline to which she was to return in her retirement years.  She ultimately took an honours degree in economics and philosophy

    No jobs in New Brunswick in 1924 meant going to the United States, where Florence taught for several years in grade schools, and then she attended the Harvard School of Education, where she earned a master’s degree in 1927.  She taught mathematics in high school, and then taught at Washington College in Maryland, and at Wheaton College in Massachusetts before enrolling at Yale University in 1945.  She earned her doctoral degree in Psychology from Yale in 1949, specializing in child psychology and in tests and measurements.  Her dissertation was a quantitative study of the reliability of group psychological tests.

    Illness in the family called her home, and made her available to assume the position of Professor and Head of Psychology and Sociology at UNB in 1950.  As you have heard, Florence Snodgrass steered the department through the transition to an independent Department of Psychology.  She was at the helm for 17 years.  She had a vision for the development of the discipline, and it was a progressive vision.  She worked in a time when it was not easy to be a woman in academe, nor to be an upstart psychologist.  The University, in Florence’s own word, didn’t “savour” Psychology.  But she worked very hard to establish a modern department with high quality facilities.  She brought in energetic young scholars. She developed plans for Keirstead Hall (in which we named our lovely lounge the Snodgrass Room in 1991).  She planted the seeds that we should not forget to credit, for much of our vitality today.  Florence Snodgrass cared immensely for the welfare of students.  So our first undergraduate scholarships in psychology in 1987were designed under her direction, and since her death many manyhave been awarded in her name.  In honour of the 30th anniversary of Florence’s retirement, in 1997 we established the first of our many graduate awards in her name.

    After her retirement, Florence identified reading the scholarship of her former students as one of her greatest pleasures.  She maintained an avid interest in the affairs of the University from top to bottom.  I was honoured to be a guest in her home over the years, and I always knew to expect a barrage of questions when we chatted over tea together:  What about the new President?  Are our colleagues supportive?  Tell me all about the newest Snodgrass prize winner. Is she going on to Graduate School?  Her questions were always penetrating; her commitment to the institution, unquestionable.  I feel it is characteristic of Florence that she established first a loan fund for New Brunswick students at UNB, and insisted on anonymity.  Only after her death could her benefaction to our university be properly acknowledged.  While on faculty, she made many contributions to the discipline and to the department, and in retirement, she returned to an early talent:  She was an astute investor, much to UNB’s benefit, we now know.   When a great-niece asked her what she would do if she were starting over, she replied, “Why I would be a financial analyst!”

During her lifetime and ever since, Dr. Snodgrass’s spirit has touched many of us.  I have especially cherished the memory of her modesty, her independence, her intellectual curiosity, and her compassion.  I mention the modesty first, because I cannot forget how strongly she resisted our drawing any attention to her many accomplishments. Was this a gift of her Methodist heritage, or a family, or an individual trait?  I still feel I should whisper when I praise her, for fear of her resistance.  She was a very, very humble person.  But her independence of spirit and determination, her dedication to scholarship, and her compassion for others were life-long traits she modeled for us, and they are lessons that she has left behind for us to continue to learn from.

Dr. Ann Cameron