Marilyn Brookwood

Author of
  • The Orphans of Davenport
    Liveright/Norton, pub. 2020

Marilyn Brookwood is a psychologist who worked in public education to help adolescents improve academic and personal competence, lectured about adolescent brain development to students, parents and clinicians, held an adjunct faculty position at the College of New Rochelle in New York, and wrote guides for teachers and counselors about adolescent challenges. In 2008 she earned her third postgraduate degree, in Harvard University’s Mind, Brain and Education Program. She has been researching this project for six years. She lives in Cambridge.

Books by Marilyn

The Orphans of Davenport

The Untold Story of Great Depression Psychologists in Iowa Who Accidentally Discovered What Makes Children Smart

The infants lay for months in cribs that blocked their vision, and they were never held, hardly touched, rarely spoken to. “Doomed from birth” was the way young Iowa state psychologist Harold Skeels described the two toddler girls at the Orphans Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934. Their IQ scores, added together, totaled 81. They were part of a wave of abandoned, abused, and neglected children dropped off at the orphanage during the Great Depression, whose parents came from the lowest rungs of society. In line with prevailing eugenic beliefs, Skeels assumed the two girls inherited defective intelligence and poor character and therefore were unfit for adoption. He had no choice but to place them in an institution for the feebleminded to spend the rest of their lives. When they were older they would likely be involuntarily sterilized. But because of extreme overcrowding, they were sent to live in a home for “moron” women. To his great astonishment, under the women’s care the children’s intelligence became normal. No one understood how that could happen.

The Orphans of Davenport: The Untold Story of Great Depression Psychologists in Iowa Who Accidentally Discovered What Makes Children Smart describes for the first time how an unknown psychologist from a modest research group in Iowa made the crucial discovery that environment changes children’s intelligence. And it describes the vicious backlash from America’s most established psychologists, all of whom were eugenicists, who scorned and denounced the discoveries, ensuring that the research would remain ignored for decades. Finally, in 1966 the Iowans’ ideas found support from a new generation of psychologists, and from the Kennedy family. Their revolutionary work overthrew long accepted racist and classist views of human development, and launched psychology’s modern age. Yet today no one knows their names. In the tradition of Henrietta Lacks and Hidden Figures, which also revealed untold stories of heroes who changed the world, The Orphans of Davenport is a riveting tale about scientific discovery clashing with deeply rooted beliefs and self-interest.

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