As Edna Heidbreder took the podium on June 6, 1919, she surprised members of the Quincy Board of Education with an itemized statement detailing the bare minimum living expenses for area teachers. In an effort to promote a minimum wage increase, Miss Heidbreder, president of the Women’s Teachers Club and a Quincy High School teacher, noted, “a teacher in Quincy with a $600 salary must pay $636 to live in the cheapest manner and with the denial of car rides, postage stamps, movie shows and ignoring the preacher and sweet charity,” according to the Quincy Daily Herald.
Edna Frances Heidbreder, born May 1, 1890, in Quincy, demonstrated lively intelligence and strong ambition throughout her long career. The daughter of William Henry (W. H.) and Matilda Heidbreder, Edna showed a talent for oration at an early age. She often appeared in Quincy papers with glowing reviews for performances at church events and gatherings, the earliest mention in 1895. According to the Quincy Daily Journal, the recitation of 5-year-old Edna was “exceedingly well delivered.” In 1904, she was confirmed as a member of the Luther Memorial Church and graduated from Webster School. She is often listed for honors as a student at Quincy High School.
Miss Heidbreder continued to perform at local events, but her first brush with celebrity came when she won $10 in the James Robert Smith prize for reciting “Li Hung Chang” in March 1907. According to the Quincy Whig, her first-place win was “announced with extended applause” and her delivery was “strong and effective.” On May 1, 1907, Edna’s 17th birthday, she again presented her speech on “Li Hung Chang,” this time in Bushnell. She won another first place award, moving her forward to represent the fourth Illinois district at the annual oratorical contest of high schools of the state held in Champaign on May 24th. On May 20, 1907, Edna and her father left for Champaign to compete in the state contest, but the results were not reported.
In 1907, Edna graduated from Quincy High School with honors. She continued her education at Knox College, majoring in Latin and graduating with honors. She often visited her family in their home at 1131 Vermont, her father being the druggist at 12th and Broadway. On July 5, 1912, Edna filled a vacancy in the English department for a salary of $750 per year. Miss Heidbreder’s outings are often reported, including her dressing as a fortune teller for a local Halloween event. In 1915, she was granted a leave of absence for a year to attend the University of Chicago. Her focus of study was psychology with a “specialization in criminology. She expect[ed] to qualify for an alienist,” according to the Quincy Daily Herald. In 1916, she is again listed as a teacher at Quincy High School for history and English with a salary of $900.
Miss Heidbreder enjoyed the social life in Quincy over the next few years. She was often seen in outings and performing social services, sometimes with her sister Miss Helen Heidbreder, and was elected to the board of the Women’s Teachers Club. In 1918, Edna earned an M.A. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin. She returned to Quincy once again to teach at the local high school. Then, on June 6, 1919, she approached the Quincy Board of Education to appeal for a living wage of at least $636, with $811.88 being considered humane. At the time, there were 168 teachers employed in the Quincy schools. Her plea impressed the Board members, as it was reported the School Board discussed increasing the minimum salary to $800. News of her success reached across the nation as correspondence arrived from Boston and Milwaukee seeking more information about the Women’s Teachers Club.
In 1921, Miss Heidbreder authored her first textbook, “The Student’s Guide in First Year History.” In August, she resigned her position at the high school to earn her doctorate degree in psychology at Columbia University. Her last reported salary was $1,750. In 1923, she earned the highest score on her exam among those in her group at Columbia. She also accepted a position as instructor of psychology in the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. She officially finished her dissertation in 1924, earning her PhD with highest honors. In 1925, she authored “An Experimental Study of Thinking,” and in 1930 co-authored the “Minnesota Mechanical Ability Test.” From 1930-31, she took a leave from the university to pursue post-doctoral studies at the University of London. In 1933, Miss Heidbreder authored “Seven Psychologies,” a standard psychology text used for more than 50 years.
In 1934, Miss Heidbreder accepted a position at Wellesley College in the psychology department, chaired the department from 1936-46, and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1955. From 1955-61, she served on the faculty of the Radcliffe Seminars and conducted graduate seminars at Brown, Columbia, Clark, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale Universities. She was a Fellow of the New York Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Psychological Association. From 1944-47 and 1952-55, she represented the American Psychological Association on the National Research Council and served as the President of the Eastern Psychological Association in 1944 and the American Psychological Association Division on General Psychology in 1950.
After a full life of scholarly pursuits, Miss Heidbreder died from stroke on February 2, 1985, in Concord, Massachusetts, at 94 years old. Her body was brought back to Quincy, and she was buried in Woodland Cemetery. Miss Heidbreder went from local celebrity, to a champion for teachers’ rights, to becoming a leading figure in the early years of psychology.
“An Enjoyable Entertainment,” Quincy Daily Journal, December 27, 1895.
“An Oration on Li Hung Chang,” Quincy Daily Herald, March 21, 1907.
“Board of Education Reopens Salary Question and Increase in the Teachers’ Pay is Likely,” Quincy Daily Whig, June 7, 1919.
“Edna Heidbreder Resigns School to get Degree,” Quincy Daily Herald, August 24, 1921.
“Eight Grade Graduates,” Quincy Daily Herald, June 18, 1904.
Find A Grave Memorial# 178112625, U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current.
Illinois. Adams County. 1900 United States Federal Census. Digital images. Ancestry.com. August 16, 2017. http://ancestry.com.
“Luther League’s Hallowe’en Party,” Quincy Daily Herald, October 30, 1912.
“Lutheran Children Confirmed,” Quincy Daily Journal, March 28, 1904.
Massachusetts. Massachusetts Death Index, 1970-2003. Digital images. Ancestry.com. August 16, 2017. http://ancestry.com.
“Maxwell Demands More Pay,” Quincy Daily Herald, July 5, 1912.
Media Release, “Edna F. Heidbreder, 94, Eminent Psychology Scholar,” March 6, 1985, Box 2, Heidbreder, Wellesley College Archives, Wellesley College, Massachusetts.
“Miss Edna Heidbreder Author of New High School History Text,” Quincy Daily Herald, February 7, 1921.
“Miss Edna Heidbreder Passes Ph. D. Exams with Highest Honors,” Quincy Daily Herald, February 6, 1923.
“Miss Edna Heidbreder Wins Honors,” Quincy Whig, March 21, 1907.
“Miss Heidbreder to Attend University,” Quincy Daily Journal, August 23, 1921.
“Quincy Has Won First,” Quincy Daily Herald, May 2, 1907.
“Quincy Teachers for Coming Year,” Quincy Daily Herald, May 13, 1921.
“Quincyans Graduate,” Quincy Daily Herald, June 16, 1911.
“Social News About People and Events,” Quincy Daily Herald, September 2, 1915.
“Teachers Appointed for Quincy Schools,” Quincy Daily Herald, May 22, 1916.
“The Teachers’ Club Attracts Attention,” Quincy Daily Whig, September 7, 1919.
“What is Living Wage for Quincy Women and Girls,” Quincy Daily Herald, June 7, 1919.
“Why a School Teacher Can’t Live on Salary,” Quincy Daily Whig, June 7, 1919.
“Will Orate for a Prize,” Quincy Daily Herald, March 12, 1907.