History of the Psychology Department

Prof. Al Hastorf's talk on the history of the Psychology Department to the Stanford Historical Society on April 21, 2011



I. EARLY DAYS: The first president of Stanford, David Starr Jordan, recruited many of the new faculty from the two universities where he had served: Cornell University and Indiana University. The first head of the Department of Psychology, Frank Angell, came to Stanford as Professor of Psychology in 1892 after a year at Cornell. He was one of those who had gone to Leipzig to study under Wundt, and had received his Ph.D. there in 1891, so that Stanford, a new university, proved ready to accept the new experimental psychology. Angell continued to serve as head of the department until he reached retirement age in 1922, when he was succeeded by Lewis M. Terman, a graduate of Indiana University, who had received his Ph.D. at Clark University under G. Stanley Hall, the man who was Harvard’s first Ph.D. in psychology under William James and had founded the American Psychological Association.

The department’s first home was on the second floor of the part of the outer quadrangle, known then as Physics Corner, because the department of physics was downstairs. The department had offices and laboratories on the second floor, and Angell had put Lillien J. Martin in charge of the laboratory. She had studied in Europe with G.E. Muller, one of Wundt’s prominent followers, and with Oswald Kulpe, a Wundt Ph.D. who had gone off in a new direction. She remained active many years after her retirement and introduced counseling for those in old age. She published in the American Journal of Psychology the best account of the early laboratory, with floor plans and a diagram of the electrical system (1906, 17, 274-279). Angell was given responsibility for courses in philosophy as well as psychology, and when the opportunity arose he invited William James to spend a year at Stanford, pleasing both the philosophers and the psychologists. James was here during the earthquake of 1906, and wrote a vivid account of it. President Jordan was a pacifist, and a lecture that James wrote and delivered while here became his most famous essay on the “The Moral Equivalent of War.” He stressed the important of athletic competition as an alternative, something that must have pleased Angell, because he was much interested in Stanford sports, and the track area at Stanford was named Angell Field in his honor.

There was only one Ph.D. trained under Angell, John Edgar Coover, whose service as Fellow in Psychical Research made a very significant contribution to the department. Thomas Welton Stanford, the brother of Leland Stanford, wished to contribute to the new University, and established some funds for Psychical Research. He had developed an interest in mediumistic performances after he moved to Australia, never to return. He indicated that he would give more money if it could be shown that work was going on, and Coover was urged to publish the many studies on which he had been engaged. The result was a remarkable volume of 640 pages entitled Experiments in Psychical Research at Leland Stanford Junior University, published by the University in 1917. It had a foreword by David Starr Jordan, by that time Chancellor Emeritus, an introduction by Frank Angell, still head of the Department of Psychology, and a contribution by Lillien J. Martin, by then Professor Emeritus of Psychology. It turned the trick, and a grant of some $750,000 was then forthcoming from Mr. Stanford, a substantial endowment in those days. The Stanford lawyers did not wish those in the future to have their hands tied and saw that the grant was made for Psychical Research and Related Phenomena. The “related phenomena” were interpreted to mean the rest of psychology, and the grant provided most of the budget of the department. This meant that the teaching loads of the staff could be somewhat less than the rest of the university because psychology had its own funds for the support of research

II. THE TERMAN YEARS: The background was set for a forward surge in psychology, and upon Angell’s retirement President Ray Lyman Wilbur moved Lewis Madison Terman from his professorship in education to the headship of psychology, were he served from 1922 until reaching retirement age in 1942. He had already shown himself able to attract students for advanced degrees, with several who were already on the road to prominence following their Ph.D.’s: Samuel Kohs of the block design test; Otis of the point scale and self-administering scale; G.M. Ruch of the Stanford Achievement Tests; Kimball Young who distinguished himself in social psychology; Maud Merrill, his collaborator on the Stanford-Binet revisions.

Terman soon enlisted a small but balanced staff: Calvin P. Stone, a Ph.D. under Lashley, who distinguished himself in comparative psychology; Truman Kelley, a leading statistician, important in the early development of factor analysis; Walter R. Miles, an experimental psychologist of broad interests; Edward K. Strong, Jr., best known for his Vocational Interest Blank; Paul R. Farnsworth, later to move in the direction of social psychology and experimental aesthetics; and Quinn McNemar, soon to get his Ph.D. and to serve as the successor to Kelley when he left for Harvard. Ernest R. Hilgard was appointed later, when Miles left to go to Yale. It is of some interest that of these seven professorial appointments during Terman’s years, four became presidents of the American Psychological Association. Terman had himself been elected to the APA presidency the year after he became department head.

The Stanford undergraduate and graduate students showed the new spirit that Terman had brought to the department through his leadership, the appointments he had made, and the freedom he had given the staff to move off in new directions. Those with Stanford degrees short of the Ph.D. who became APA presidents include Donald G. Marquis, and Neal E. Miller. Those with Ph.D.’s earned during the Terman period are represented by Harry F. Harlow, E. Lowell Kelley, and Quinn McNemar. (Other Stanford professors have also served as APA presidents, e.g., Albert Bandura, Lee Cronbach, Ernest Hilgard, Robert R. Sears, and Philip Zimbardo.)

Upon Terman’s retirement, E.R. Hilgard was made head of the department, to serve until he became Dean of the Graduate Division, when Robert Sears was brought back to his alma mater from Harvard to replace him. Hilgard’s administration was during the early years following World War II, when there was an influx of graduate students and limited funds to add to faculty. Donald Taylor, Douglas Lawrence, Lois Stolz, and Edith Dowley were added in time. Taylor went on to head the Yale Department of Psychology and to become Dean of the Graduate School at Yale; the others remained on the faculty until their retirement. A research project on the psychological effects of war injuries brought Tamara Dembo and Helen Jenkins to provide the flavor of Lewin for a time. A nursery school was established, following initial steps taken by Roger Barker while he was here on temporary appointment. A clinical training program was established under the leadership of Howard F. Hunt.

III.THE SEARS ERA 1953-1962: Robert R. Sears moved from Harvard to Stanford and assumed the chairmanship of the department in 1953. Besides being a distinguished Developmental Psychologist, Sears was well known for having a fine sense of intellectual quality. During his time as Chair he increased the size of the faculty, the number of graduate students and the space available to the department. The department offices were located on the first floor of the School of Education building; the basement was refurbished and used for laboratories, the department shop and some offices. The main expansion of space occurred by taking over some of the nearby residences and refurbishing them for developmental, social, mathematical, and hypnosis research. The disadvantage of these diffuse arrangements was matched by the development of cohesiveness among these sub-groups. During this period a number of new faculty were appointed as professors. Some of the junior faculty appointed then achieved full professorship. These additions included: Atkinson, Bandura, Bavelas, Bower, Estes, Festinger, Hastorf, Horowitz, Maccoby, and Pribram.

IV. NEW SPACE AND NEW PEOPLE: THE 1960s and 1970s Albert Hastorf succeeded to the chairmanship of the department when Sears became Dean of Humanities and Sciences. He remained Chair until he replaced Sears as Dean. He was succeeded by Richard Atkinson who served until he became an Associate Dean of Humanities and Sciences before going on to Washington to become the first psychologist to head the National Science Foundation. He was in turn succeeded by Eleanor Maccoby.

During this period, the department remained focused on research and research training along with the increasing attention to undergraduate instruction. After considerable discussion, the decision was made to phase out the clinical training program and to focus attention on developmental, social, affective science, and cognitive. Later on, work was developed in neurological psychology. During this period the department paid increasing attention to Introduction to Psychology course and the undergraduate program in general.

It was during this period that the department moved into new space: Jordan Hall in the outer quadrangle. This building had been the home of the biology department and was completely refurbished and equipped for all the elements of the department. The only facility that was not in Jordan Hall was the newly constructed Bing Nursery School, which was located away from the center of the campus, near the married graduate student housing complex.

V. THE CONTEMPORARY DEPARTMENT: 1980s AND BEYOND The department entered this period with new facilities and a strong faculty. More than ten of the faculty were Fellows of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and a number were Fellows of the National Academy of Science. There were departures from the faculty. Atkinson left for the National Science Foundation, Alex Bavelas, Daryl and Sandra Bem, Walter Mischell, Richard Thompson left for other universities. New appointments included Roger Shepard, David Rosenhan, John Flavell, Anne Fernald, John Gabrieli, Laura Carstensen, and Ian Gotlib, Hazel Markus, Ellen Markman, Claude Steele, Bryan Wandell, Robert Zajonc, and Philip Zimbardo.

The department focus remains on a high quality undergraduate program, and a graduate program emphasizing research training. The substantive areas remain developmental, social, affective science, cognitive and neurological psychology. The latter group has become deeply involved in magnetic resonance imaging as a research technique.

The department maintains its commitment to intellectual ties to other parts of the university. These relationships are especially close with biology, medicine, law, and the graduate school of business. The department looks to increasing participation in various interdisciplinary programs on campus. There follows a list of the present faculty and emeriti faculty:

(Prepared by E.R. Hilgard in 1981)
(Revised by A.H. Hastorf in 2004)