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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 798; T-404; Vt-207; CD-82; DVD-106

Papers of Paula J. Caplan, 1973-2006

Writings and related, correspondence, clippings, work files, and television and radio interviews of psychologist, feminist, and author, Paula Caplan.


  • 1973-2006

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Before using the collection, researchers must sign a special permission form until January 1, 2080. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Paula J. Caplan is held by Paula J. Caplan during her lifetime. Upon her death, copyright transfers to daughter Emily Julia Caplan Stephenson. Upon the death of Caplan Stephenson, copyright will transfer to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library.

Copyright. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures. No material may be available via the internet during the donor's lifetime.


3.55 linear feet ((8 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 43 audiotapes, 33 videotapes, 4 CDs, 1 DVD, electronic records)

Collection includes writings, book-related files, clippings, work files, correspondence, and television and radio interviews documenting the professional life of feminist psychologist and author Paula Caplan. Her work on improving the mental health system for patients, specifically her attempt to ensure gender biased disorders related to women, such as PMS and SDPD, were not listed in future editions of the DSM, is documented through articles written by Caplan, appearances on television and radio talk shows, and her organization of petitions and letters from professionals and the general public about proposed diagnoses for the newest DSM. Promotional book tour interviews and her participation as an expert on television talk shows give insight into the climate in the late 1970s and 1980s of Canadian and American society toward gender bias in diagnosis of disorders and their validity in the mental health system; mother-daughter relationships; and women working in academia. The small number of original folder titles appear in quotation marks. Caplan's web site is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection (WAX).

Series I, PROFESSIONAL, 1973-2006 (#1.1-9.2, E.1) includes articles and speeches by Caplan; work files related to the publishing and promotion of her books; and documentation of Caplan's activism through petitions, support letters, and background material related to excluding gender biased-related disorders in the DSM. Arranged in two subseries.

Subseries A, Writings, 1973-2006 (#1.1-3.12) includes Caplan's speeches, articles, book reviews for others' works, letters to the editor, and work files related to her books. Folders have been arranged alphabetically by subject and chronologically within. Folders related to Caplan's books are arranged by publication date, found after the title in parentheses, although dates of items within folders may vary by several months or years.

Subseries B, General, 1975-2006 (#3.13-9.2, E.1) includes clippings re: Caplan; files on conferences in which Caplan participated; files related to Caplan's pursuit to have DDPD recognized and listed as a legitimate disorder in the DSM. Caplan also was the driving force behind the removal of three proposed diagnoses for the DSM: PMS, which she believed stigmatized women for their biology; SDPD, which blamed women for the victimization which is part of their sex role socialization, and paraphalic coercive disorder, which encouraged therapy rather than imprisonment for rapists. This pursuit is documented in her work files, which include petitions, letters from professionals and the general public, and supporting research. Folders are arranged in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within. Original folder titles are in quotes.

Series II, AUDIOVISUAL, 1973-2006 (#T-404.1 - T-404.43, CD-82.1 - CD-82.4, Vt-207.1 - Vt-207.33, DVD-106.1) includes audio and video recordings of Caplan's event and conference talks; book promotion radio and television interviews; and participation as an expert on television and radio talk shows. Recordings are arranged by format and chronologically within and, unless otherwise specified in the description, Caplan is presenting, participating, speaking at the events. Arranged in two subseries by formats.

Subseries A, Audio, 1973-2006 (#T-404.1 - T-404.43, CD-82.1 - CD-82.4) includes audiocassette tapes and CDs of Caplan's radio show interviews promoting books; speeches at conferences; "The Winning Woman" series of educational speeches by Caplan and others on mother and daughter relationships, career, assertiveness, financial independence, etc.; and class lectures on sex differences.

Subseries B, Video, 1981-2005 (#Vt-207.1 - Vt-207.33, DVD-106.1) includes videotapes and a DVD of Caplan's acceptance speech and related raw footage of interview for 1986 "Woman of Distinction" award from Toronto YWCA; television talk show appearances promoting books and serving as an expert in discussions on Canadian and American talk shows; and an episode from the television show Murphy Brown which mentions Don't Blame Mother.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Psychologist, feminist, and author, Paula Joan Caplan was born in 1947, and grew up in Springfield, Missouri, the daughter of Jerome A. and Tac Caplan. A graduate of Radcliffe College (A.B., 1969) and Duke University (M.A., 1971; Ph.D., 1973), Caplan maintained a private practice in psychological assessment and psychotherapy while teaching at various universities. Among her many academic positions, she was a professor at Brown University, a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School, and an Associate at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University. Caplan was also a Full Professor of Applied Psychology and Head of the Centre for Women's Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she headed the School Psychology and Community Psychology programs, and is a former lecturer in Women's Studies and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

Over many years of experience as a clinical and research psychologist, Caplan has come to believe that labeling someone with a psychiatric diagnosis does not reduce patient's suffering and could actually be damaging. This belief has led to her public criticism of the mental health system and its practices, especially toward sexism and other forms of bias in research and psychiatric diagnosis related to women. Caplan served on two professional committees that wrote the 1993 edition of a reference book produced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to assist professionals in the diagnosis of mental disorders called the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Before joining, she believed the manual was scientific and helped patients and therapists, but soon concluded that the editors ignored or distorted high-quality research to support categories they themselves wanted to include. This discovery led to her resignation from the committees. Throughout Caplan's career, the desire to inform and educate the public about unfair mental health practices has taken form through her teaching, writings, and interviews, as well as her petition campaigns in 1986 and again in 1993 against the APA, requesting the removal of three proposed diagnoses for the DSM: PMS (Premenstrual syndrome), which she believed stigmatized women for their biology; SDPD (Self-defeating personality disorder), which blamed women for the victimization which is part of their sex role socialization; and paraphalic coercive disorder, which encouraged therapy rather than imprisonment for rapists.

Caplan is the author of a number of books, including Children's Learning and Attention Problems (1979); Between Women: Lowering the Barriers (1981, earlier version published as Barriers between Women); The Myth of Women's Masochism (1985); Don't Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship (1989); Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Women's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World (1993); Thinking Critically about Research on Sex and Gender (1994); You're Smarter than They Make You Feel: How the Experts Intimidate Us and What We Can Do about It (1994); They Say You're Crazy: How the World's Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who's Normal (1995); Gender Differences in Human Cognition (1997); and Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis (editor, 2004).

Caplan is also the author of a number of plays, including Shades, which won the Pen & Brush New Plays Contest; Call Me Crazy, which took second place in the 1997 Arlene and William Lewis Playwriting Contest for Women and other awards; and The Test, which was published by Samuel French in its collection of winners of its 2001 Off-Off-Broadway New, Short Plays Competition. Caplan's screenplay for The Test was made into a video that won the Alliance for Community Media-New England Film Festival and has been screened in numerous festivals and venues.


The collection is arranged in two series:
  1. Series I. Professional, 1973-2006 (#1.1-9.2, E.1)
  2. ___Subseries A. Writings, 1973-2006 (#1.1-3.12)
  3. ___Subseries B. General, 1975-2006 (#3.13-9.2, E.1)
  4. Series II. Audiovisual, 1973-2006 (#T-404.1 - T-404.43, CD-82.1 - CD-82.4, Vt-207.1 - Vt-207.33, DVD-106.1)
  5. ___Subseries A. Audio, 1973-2006 (#T-404.1 - T-404.43, CD-82.1 - CD-82.4)
  6. ___Subseries B. Video, 1981-2005 (#Vt-207.1 - Vt-207.33, DVD-106.1)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2006-M120, 2007-M19

The papers of Paula J. Caplan were given to the Schlesinger Library by Paula J. Caplan between July 2006 and January 2007.


Donors: Paula J. Caplan

Accession number: 2006-M120

Processed by: Stacey Flatt

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:
  1. Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis edited by Paula J. Caplan and Lisa Cosgrove, 2004
  2. News for Women in Psychiatry. July 1986. Vol. 4, No. 4. Association of Women Psychiatrists. New York, New York.
  3. They Say You're Crazy by Paula J. Caplan, 1995
  4. Thinking Critically about Research on Sex and Gender by Paula J. Caplan and Jeremy B. Caplan, 1999


  1. APA: American Psychiatric Association
  2. DDPD: Delusional dominating personality disorder
  3. DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  4. L2PD2: Late luteal phase dysphoric disorder
  5. PMDD: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  6. PMS: Premenstrual syndrome
  7. SDPD: Self-defeating personality disorder

Processing Information

Processed: June 2014

By: Stacey Flatt, with assistance from Caitlin Jones.
Link to catalog
Caplan, Paula J.. Papers of Paula J. Caplan, 1973-2006: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future.

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