• University of Missouri, Education (B.A., 1917; B.S., 1920)
  • Carnegie Institute of Technology, Psychology (M.A., 1923)
  • University of Chicago, Psychology (Ph.D., 1926)


  • Mental tester and Statistician, American Council of Education (1924-1948)
  • Director, Division of Child Study, Chicago Public Schools (1948-1952)
  • Professor of Education, University of North Carolina (1952-1970)
  • Director, Psychometric Laboratory, University of North Carolina (1955-1957)


Ideas and Interests

Thurstone, after publishing Psychological Examinations for the American Council on Education in 1924, continued to revise and update the battery of tests annually with her husband until 1948. Of particular note, the Thurstones included an annual update of the norms for the tests, and invented a scale to give equivalent scores between years. These tests (taken over by the newly formed Educational Testing Services in 1948) were used until 1964.

In 1937, T.G. Thurstone, in conjunction with L. L.Thurstone, used a new and improved method of multifactor analysis, and exposed six primary factors. Thurstone analyzed the intercorrelations of the primary mental abilities (PMAs) and found a general factor. This project provided the first successful application of factor analysis to large-scale mental testing. The Primary Mental Abilities Test (published in some version until 1974) was based on this research.

Thurstone eventually turned her research focus to the development and implementation of instructional materials in the classroom. Her most successful work included two sets of curriculum materials. The “Learning to Think” series was published in 1947 (updated in 1981). This series was described as teaching children to perceive identities, similarities, and differences; to increase vocabulary; to reason in cause-effect and genus-species terms; to reason quantitatively; and to improve eye-hand coordination. The second set of materials was entiled Reading for Understanding.This series emphasized teaching reading comprehension from primary to college levels, and required students to find implied answers – using inferential comprehension.

An often quoted by Thurstone’s husband, L. L. Thurstone sums up his evaluation of their partnership for thirty years:
Thelma has the outstanding acievement in our family in managing an active household at the same time that she was professionally active. She has been a partner in every research in the Psychometric Laboratory. For many years (until 1948) she was in the laboratory daily, helping to plan projects, supervising most of the test construction, and participating especially in the psychological interpretation of results.


  • The Chicago Tests of Primary Mental Abilities (1941)
  • SRA Tests of Educational Ability (1957)
  • Learning to Think series (1941, 1950, 1957, 1961)
  • Reading for Understanding series (1958, 1963, 1965, 1978, 1978, 1980)

References: 39, 40