There are a lot of people to bring up when we talk about ADHD history, so each of these posts will feature an interesting person that has been relevant in diagnosis, classification, medication, or treatment.

If you have a notable person in ADHD history that you’d like me to write about, please drop a comment below or tweet using #GlitterBrainBlog.

On to today’s notable – Professor Virginia Douglas!

As a woman, it’s deeply meaningful to me that another woman had such a profound impact on the study, classification and treatment of ADHD.

All of the sciences, both natural and social, have been so historically male-dominated, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover Virginia Douglas in my quest for knowledge.

If you’re interested, I’ve linked to her obituary in the references below. She seemed like a really cool woman, ahead of her time, who didn’t once acknowledge that her gender could somehow disqualify her from doing important work in the field she loved: psychology.


Virginia Douglas was a Canadian psychologist, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a noted researcher, and an influential contributor in the study and classification of ADHD.

Virginia was born January 28, 1927, in London, Ontario to James Clifford Baker and Isabel Morton Hird.

She studied English and history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree there in 1948. She moved with her first husband W.J. Murray Douglas to Sarnia, Ontario, where she spent time working as a social worker for the Children’s Aid Society, possibly piquing her interest in child psychology.

When her husband had the opportunity to complete a Master’s Degree at the University of Michigan, Virginia was able to do the same – receiving first a Master’s in social work in 1955, and second a Master’s in psychology in 1956. She then moved on to receive a PhD in psychology in 1958, also from the University of Michigan.

Fun fact: The University of Michigan started to let women enroll beginning in 1870, over 50 years after it had been founded in 1817.

In 1958, Virginia joined the faculty at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She expanded the clinical psychology program from a Master’s degree program to a PhD program based on the scientist-practitioner model that she had learned at University of Michigan.

Through the 1960s, she was invited to participate in conferences at Penticton and Couchiching, which focused on Canadian advances in clinical psychology and training.

In 1971, Virginia served as President of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), during which time she co-authored the book “The Future of Canadian Psychology”, which outlined a detailed recourse for training.

In 2004, she was awarded CPA’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Contributions to Canadian Psychology.

Virginia loved boating, swimming, and any activity on or in the water. She was an avid fan of traveling to Barbados, where she assisted her second husband John Lewis – a marine biologist – in collecting specimens.

Virginia remained at McGill university until 2015, when she retired to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She died there on December 8, 2017, just shy of her 91st birthday.


Virginia loved research, science, and psychology, and a lot of her work as a faculty member was influenced by the scientist-practitioner model that she learned at the University of Michigan, and later implemented at McGill University.

The purpose of the scientist-practitioner model is to increase scientific growth within clinical psychology. The model aims for graduate programs to develop students’ backgrounds in theory, field work and research methodology.

The goal of the scientist-practitioner model is for budding clinical psychologists to allow empirical research to influence their practice post-graduation, and allow their in-program work to shape the future of research.

Contributions to Study of ADHD

Virginia’s interest shifted to ADHD, or what was at the time called hyperkinetic impulse disorder, while completing a clinical workshop at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. This role greatly influenced the remainder of her life’s work.

In 1971, Virginia presented her work entitled “Stop, look, and listen! The problem of sustained attention and impulse control in hyperactive and normal children” to the CPA. This groundbreaking theory posited that deficits in sustained attention and impulse control were critical components of hyperkinetic impulse disorder; possibly more so than hyperactivity.

In 1972, the work was published as an article in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, and forever changed the way we viewed ADHD – as more than a problem with hyperactivity. Her work led to the change in name in the DSM-III in 1980 to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with or without hyperactivity.

Virginia’s work outlined a three-component model to explain how ADHD affected cognitive functioning: Attentional (effortful attention), Inhibitory (impulse control), and Strategic (organizational processes). She theorized that deficits in one or more component correlated to the difficulties experienced by people with ADHD.

Virginia also researched the effects of Methylphenidate (the stimulant found in Ritalin and Concerta) on cognitive processing, and as a treatment option for ADHD.

Virginia’s works for many years were the most-cited and referenced papers on ADHD, and her legacy in the field is undeniable.


In no particular order or citation style:

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