Copyright © 2007-2018 Russ Dewey
Psychology was invented in the 1860s and crossed a threshold in 1892 with the founding of the American Psychological Association. As the first generation of psychologists aged, they passed their laboratories on to successors.
In 1892 Wundt sent his 25-year-old student Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927) to take over new laboratory facilities at Cornell University. Titchener–though young for a professor–must have seemed like an echo of an earlier era. He was strict and authoritarian like his mentor Wundt.
Titchener called himself a structuralist. He wanted to study how the elements of experience were combined into larger structures. Like Wundt, he thought introspection should be sufficient to identify basic elements of experience.
After the basic elements were cataloged, psychologists could study how they were built up into complex structures. However, the catalog of elementary sensations was never completed, although Titchener stayed with introspectionism longer than most psychologists, until the 1920s. Some say introspectionism died with Titchener in 1927.
Starting in 1892 and throughout his career as a professor, Titchener came to class in full academic regalia: a traditional cap and gown with long flowing robes. Titchener entered class first, followed by the junior faculty members and the graduate students, in that order. The class stood as he entered and remained standing until he told them to sit.
Titchener also reflected his era's patronizing attitude toward women. This was displayed when Titchener formed a group called the Titchener Experimentalists in 1904.
The group met regularly to compare research notes, smoke cigars, and debate. Women were not allowed at the meetings. This was particularly offensive to Christine Ladd-Franklin (1847-1930), a female scientist who had befriended Titchener.
How was Titchener old-fashioned? How did Titchener offend Ladd-Franklin?
Ladd-Franklin had begun corresponding with Titchener, an Englishman 20 years younger than herself, when he arrived in the United States in 1892 to begin his career at Cornell. In 1912 she reacted incredulously when Titchener refused her request to attend the annual meeting of his group that April at Clark University. (Furumoto, 1992)
Ladd-Franklin described this attitude as "so unconscientious, so immoral–worse than that–so unscientific." Eventually Titchener allowed her to attend one, but only one, meeting of his group. Other women occasionally listened in on the group through a door left slightly open and "came away unscathed" according to historian Edwin Boring (1967).
Schultz and Schultz (1987) defend Titchener. "He did not discriminate against women students at Cornell," they maintain, pointing out that his first doctoral student was a female: Margaret Floy Washburn. Washburn became a prominent authority on animal behavior and later was a president of the American Psychological Association.
Many of the historical figures in American psychology from the 1800s have the same look: they are all middle-aged white men with beards. But there were also some early, pioneering female psychologists. Margaret Floy Washburn, Titchener's first doctoral student, was one. But she was not the first influential female psychologist.
That honor goes to Mary Whiton Calkins, whose mentor was William James. James had a high regard for Calkins and welcomed her into his classes. He recommended her to Harvard University as a doctoral student. However, Harvard refused to consider awarding a PhD degree to a woman in the 1890s. As a result, Calkins pursued her career without that degree. She was successful anyway.
Who was Mary Whiton Calkins?
Calkins set up the first women's psychology lab at Wellesley College, and she invented the paired-associates technique for studying memory, which we will discuss in Chapter 6. Calkins later became the first female president of the American Psychological Association, succeeding James at that position.
Witmer Starts Clinical Psychology
Lightner Witmer is often called the father of clinical psychology. Witmer started his career at the University of Pennsylvania in 1892 at the age of 25 and stayed there for the next 45 years. He founded the journal The Psychological Clinic in 1907. It was published until 1935, and during those 28 years it was the only clinical psychology journal.
From about 1900 to 1910, clinical psychology consisted of what we now call school psychology. Clinical psychologists diagnosed problems of school children and tried to help them.
Increasing numbers of psychologists went into this field. By 1910 the most common specialty among applied psychologists was pedagogical psychology. Today that would be called educational or school psychology.
Witmer's first client, in 1896, was a "chronic bad speller" who turned out to need eyeglasses. After the boy was fitted with glasses, his spelling problems went away. This lesson was not lost upon Witmer, who routinely included vision and hearing tests in his tests of students.
Witmer was one of many American psychologists who studied under Wundt during their formative years. The experience was not a happy one. Witmer later described himself as "disgusted" with Wundt's insistence that students repeat experiments until they came out the way Wundt expected them to.
How did "clinical psychology" get started? How did his first student influence Witmer?
Rather than follow in Wundt's footsteps, Witmer turned to non-introspective methods, laying the way for behaviorism. At his clinic, Witmer emphasized diagnostic testing, followed by practical treatment.
The treatment was not exclusively psychological. It ranged from mental testing, to removing an abscessed tooth, to family counseling. Interventions were followed by retesting to see if there was an improvement in performance.
Boring, E. G. (1967) Titchener's Experimentalists. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 3, 315-325.
Schultz, D. P. & Schultz, S. E. (1987). A History of Modern Psychology. Orlando, FL: Harcourt-Brace.
Write to Dr. Dewey at email@example.com.