Classics in the History of Psychology
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An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3713

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Institutions of Early Experimental Psychology:
Laboratories, Courses, Journals, and Associations

Edited by Christopher D. Green,
York University

© 2001 Christopher D. Green

Posted August 2001


Introduction to Section III: The Founding of the Associations

1. Early in 1892 G. Stanley Hall, then president of Clark University, sent letters to a number of scholars who were interested in psychology, inviting them to join an association of like-minded professionals. This extended a trend already underway in the special sciences, such as physiology, of forming specialized scholarly societies apart from the venerable but somewhat old-fashioned American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (see Sokal, 1992). The exact number of individuals that Hall invited is unknown, and no copy of the original invitation (if indeed there was a standard letter) still exists, but ultimately 26 people agreed to join his new association. The majority were or had been personal associates of Hall's at Johns Hopkins or at Clark, but the membership also included the most prominent figures in the young discipline:

Frank Angell, Stanford University
James Mark Baldwin, Toronto University
W. L. Bryan, Indiana University
W. H. Burnham, Clark University
James McKeen Cattell, Columbia College
Edward Cowles, McLean Asylum
E. B. Delabarre, Brown University
John Dewey, University of Michigan
George S. Fullerton, University of Pennsylvania
B. I. Gilman, Clark University
E. H. Griffin, Johns Hopkins University
G. Stanley Hall, Clark University
James G. Hume, Toronto University

J. H. Hyslop, Columbia College
William James, Harvard University
Joseph Jastrow, University of Wisconsin
W. O. Krohn, Clark University
George T. Ladd, Yale University
Herbert Nichols, Harvard University
William Noyes, McLean Asylum
G. T. W. Patrick, University of Iowa
Josiah Royce, Harvard University
E. C. Sanford, Clark University
E. W. Scripture, Yale University
Lightner, Witmer, University of Pennsylvania
H. K. Wolfe, University of Nebraska

 

2. It is worth noting that not all of the original members of Hall's group were experimental psychologists. There were also two alienists (Cowles and Noyes), two pedagogists (Burnham and Gilman), and several philosophers (Dewey, Fullerton, Hume, Hyslop, and Royce, not to mention William James). Most of the members (accounts differ as to exactly which ones) gathered at Clark University on 8 July 1892 for a "preliminary meeting" to officially found the new organization: the American Psychological Association (AYA). Fullerton presided over the meeting. Joseph Jastrow was elected secretary and treasurer, and five additional members were accepted:

T. Wesley Mills, McGill College
Hugo Münsterberg, Harvard University
A. T. Ormond, Princeton College
Edward Pace, Catholic University
E. B. Titchener, Cornell University

3. Fullerton hosted the First Annual Meeting of the AYA in Philadelphia late in December 1892. Hall, who was elected to be the first president of the organization, presented an address entitled, "History and Prospects of Experimental Psychology in America." Unfortunately, the text of the address has not survived. According to the tiny summary in the proceedings of the meeting, it "consisted of an abstract of an extensive History of Psychology in this country beginning with [the 18th-century Puritan theologian] Jonathan Edwards." A slightly fuller account published in Science reported a more modest paper: "President Hall presented a brief outline of the history and prospects of experimental psychology in America, tracing the beginnings of this study from the first American laboratory founded at Johns Hopkins University some eight years ago, up to the present time" (Anonymous, 1893, p. 34). The difference in these two descriptions, the first probably by Hall and the second by an anonymous reporter to Science, may be telling. The other presentations at the first AYA meeting were, generally speaking, experimental in nature: a paper on theoretical psychophysics by Cattell, one on the perception of thickness by Pace, talks on aesthetics and on reaction time research by Witmer, a presentation on the psychology laboratory at the upcoming World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago by Jastrow, a talk on illusions by Nichols, talks by Bryan on a problem in the reaction-time study literature and on psychological testing, a report of experimental studies at Clark by Sanford, but also a theoretical assessment of the state of experimental psychology by Münsterberg. Ladd was elected the second president, and Jastrow confirmed as Secretary and Treasurer.

4. Of the 31 AYA members, only 18 attended the First Annual Meeting, the 13 absentees being Angell, James, Patrick, Cowles, Noyes, Royce, Delabarre, Mills, Scripture, Dewey, Ormond, Wolfe, and Gilman. The election of 11 additional members, however, brought the total membership to 42, The new members were:

A. C. Armstrong, Jr., Wesleyan University
Nicholas Murray Butler, Columbia College
H. N. Gardiner, Smith College
Arthur MacDonald, Washington, D.C.
George H. Mead, Ann Arbor
Henry R. Marshall, New York City

John C. Murray, McGill College
     (mistakenly listed as "James")
William Romaine Newbold, University of Pennsylvania
Charles S. Peirce, Milford, Pennsylvania
J. G. Schurman, Cornell University
C. A. Strong, University of Chicago

A number of these individuals -- particularly Butler, Gardiner, Murray, and Schurman -- were primarily known as philosophers. Nevertheless, Schurman, the founding editor of Philosophical Review, was given a seat on the AYA Council.

5. The new organization grew rapidly, adding psychologists of both experimental and philosophical orientations each year. The Second Annual Meeting was held in December of 1894 at Columbia in New York City. Twelve new members were accepted (plus two more for the following year). Among these was the first woman member of the AYA, Mary Whiton Calkins, who would become the AYA's first woman president in 1905. Other well-known figures who joined at the Columbia meeting included James R. Angell then at Minnesota and H. H. Donaldson of Chicago. William James was elected third AYA president, and Cattell replaced Jastrow as the Secretary and Treasurer (Anonymous, 1894).

6. The presidents and locations of the first 10 AYA meetings were as follows:

Year

1892
1893
1894
1895
1896
1897
1898
1899
1900
1901

President (School)

G. Stanley Hall, Clark University
George Trumbull Ladd, Yale University
William James, Harvard University
James McKeen Cattell, Columbia University
George S. Fullerton, University of Pennsylvania
James Mark Baldwin, Princeton University
Hugo Münsterberg, Harvard University
John Dewey, University of Chicago
Joseph Jastrow, University of Wisconsin
Josiah Royce, Harvard University

Location of AYA Meeting

University of Pennsylvania
Columbia College
Princeton University
University
of Pennsylvania
Harvard University
Cornell University
Columbia College
Yale University
John Hopkins University
University
of Chicago

 

7. As the meetings grew larger, the relative proportion of theoretical and philosophical papers began to grow. Most were on psychological topics. Some, however, were not. As early as the second AYA meeting, there were papers on the 17th-century Puritan moralist John Bunyan (by Royce), and on the ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander (by Butler). The presence of these papers in the program appears to have caused consternation among some of the members.

8. There is a fairly standard story told by historians of psychology about the relationship between the experimentalists and the philosophers in the AYA. It contends that the AYA was founded by experimental psychologists, for experimental psychologists, expressly against the philosophical approach to psychology that had gone before. This claim is usually evinced by facts such as Hall's efforts at both Johns Hopkins and Clark to insulate psychology from the influence of philosophy (see, e.g., O'Donnell, 1985, pp. 141-143)[1] and by Article I of the first AYA constitution which read: "the object of the Association is the advancement of Psychology as a science. Those are eligible for membership who are engaged in this work" (Cattell, 1895). In addition, during the middle and late 1890s, there appear to have been a number of attempts to isolate the philosophers into a section, or even a separate association, of their own in which they wouldn't irritate the experimentalists. Eventually, so the story goes, the philosophers were effectively pushed out of the AYA by unhappy experimentalists and forced to set up their own organizations.

9. Perhaps not surprisingly, historians of philosophy have a somewhat different version of events. Wilson (1990) agrees that some AYA members were keen to exclude philosophers, but he also notes that a number of prominent and influential members worked just as hard to maintain ties between psychology and philosophy. Münsterberg, for instance, remarked at the very first AYA meeting that that his fellow experimentalists were "rich in decimals but poor in ideas" (Münsterberg, 1893, p. 11). Baldwin (1894, p. 389) argued that "the traditional connection with philosophy is not severed by the new directions of [psychologists'] effort, but on the contrary the are made more closed and reasonable." Ladd (1894), too, called for a strengthening of ties between psychology and philosophy in his 1893 AYA presidential address. In the end, Wilson (1990, p. 109) argues, "it was the philosophers who ended what was becoming an intolerable situation by creating their own association."

10. So let us examine in more detail what happened during the AYA meetings of the 1890s. First, was Article I of the AYA constitution designed to exclude philosophers from the organization? Most probably not. The term "science" covered a much broader range of activities than simply working in a laboratory. Indeed, there was a great deal of talk at the time about whether philosophy itself was or would soon become "scientific" (see Wilson, 1990, esp. chap. 4). This question meant different things to different individuals. In general it did not refer to philosophy becoming "experimental" in some sense, but rather that it would be rigorous, logical, reliant on empirical research for facts about the world, and more generally that it would become the province of recognized experts and professionals. The implicit contrast here was with the narrow and dogmatic theologians who had served as professors of philosophy in most American colleges up to that time (see, e.g., Hall, 1879). Did the members of the AYA all accept this characterization of "science"? Some did and some didn't, but given the number of philosophers who were members of the early AYA, it is unlikely that it was written with their exclusion specifically in mind.

11. There were a number of attempts to isolate or oust the philosophers from the AYA, but it is important to note that none of them wholly succeeded. It is true that some philosophical papers were presented having little to do with psychological matters, and these may well have irritated some AYA members, but it appears that the majority was happy to have papers on philosophical psychology included in the program. For instance, at the 1895 meeting of the AYA, the topic of forming a "philosophical society or philosophical section" was brought up in the business meeting (we do not know by whom), and was "referred to the Council [the ruling body of the AYA] with full power to act" (Sanford, 1896, p. 122). In 1896, an anonymous editorial in the American Journal of Psychology lamented that "the retirement of the experimentalists, -- emphasized further by the proposal to devote a certain amount of the time of each meeting to philosophical enquiries, -- cannot but be regretted" (Anonymous, 1896, p. 448).[2] "It is not that the systematic [philosophical] psychologists are forcing their way unduly to the front," the writer continued, "but rather that the plan and restrictions of the meetings are of a kind to favor them, and to debar their experimentally inclined colleagues from playing any large part in the session" (Anonymous, 1896, pp. 448-449). Perhaps as a result, at the 1896 meeting the "papers of a distinctly philosophical character" were grouped together into a single session. Also at the 1896 meeting Lightner Witmer of Pennsylvania moved that the AYA Council "select only such papers and contributions to the program of the annual meeting as are psychological in subject-matter." He also requested "a plan for the formation of an American Philosophical or Metaphysical Association," and that the names of nominees for membership be presented "together with a statement of the [nominee's] contribution or contributions to psychology" (Farrand, 1897, p. 109). Note however that, if adopted, this motion would not have excluded philosophers per se from the AYA, only those who were not working on psychological topics.

12. At the AYA meeting of 1897, the afternoon session of the first day was divided into two -- "Section A meeting for the discussion of physical and mental tests, and Section B, with Professor Creighton in the chair, for the reading of psychological[sic] papers" (Farrand, 1898). The wording is somewhat odd -- weren't all AYA papers "psychological papers," at least in principle? Possibly it is typographical error, and should have been "philosophical papers." Given that Creighton was an idealist philosopher from Cornell, and that there were a number of clearly philosophical papers (most, but not all, were on psychological subjects) among the abstracts in the proceedings, this is a likely supposition.

13. Again at the 1898 meeting, a motion was put forward, this time by E. C. Sanford of Clark:

First, that the matter of the organization of the Association with reference to a possible philosophical section be referred to Council, to be reported on at the next meeting; Second, that the Secretary be instructed in arranging the programme for the next meeting to gather philosophical papers as far as practicable into the programme of one session; Third, that the Secretary be instructed to send out during the course of the year a circular letter requesting, for the information of the Council, the opinion of the individual members of the Association on the above mentioned question of the organization of the Association. (Farrand, 1899, p. 147-148)

Because few members were actually present at the business meeting, a final decision on Sanford's motion was postponed (Bliss, 1899). The only published comment on the motion was by Charles B. Bliss, who opposed it in part on the grounds that "our best psychologists are among our best philosophers," and that "philosophical papers are already welcome whenever they offer contributions to psychology" (Bliss, 1899, p. 237). We do not know the outcome of the mail-in poll of the members on Sanford's motion, but the 1899 meeting of the AYA saw the last two days (of three) of the program divided into "Section A (Experimental)" and "Section B (Philosophical)." Perhaps this means that Sanford's motion was approved by a majority of the membership, but this sort of arrangement seems already to have become fairly standard practice at the AYA meetings of the previous few years. Interestingly, the size of the philosophical section seemed to be increasing year by year.

14. Three days after the 1899 meeting of the AYA, a group of philosophers met in Kansas City to found the Western Philosophical Association (WFA). Of the 46 charter members of the WFA only 6 were also members of the AYA. This is a deceptively small figure, however, because only 10 of the AYA's 127 members (in December 1900) lived west of the Mississippi River. Of those 10, 6 became charter members of the WFA:

Max Meyer, University of Missouri
G. T. W. Patrick, University of Iowa
Carl E. Seashore, University of Iowa
Frank Thilly, University of Missouri (first WFA President)
Norman P. Wilde, University of Minnesota
H. K. Wolfe, University of Nebraska

Of the 4 AYA members living west of the Mississippi who did not join the WFA, 3 (C. M. Bakwell and George M. Stratton both of the U. California, Lillie J. Martin of Stanford) were from California, whereas no WFA member was from further west than Colorado. The fourth was G. W. A. Luckey of the U. Nebraska (Hill, 1901). Given the low overlap in the organizations' memberships, it appears that the impetus to form the WFA was driven more by geographical factors than by disciplinary ones.

15. The character of papers presented at the first WFA meeting show how intimately philosophy and psychology were connected at the time. Thilly's presidential address was on mind-body interactionism. Patrick delivered a paper on the psychology of profanity which later appeared in Psychological Review. E. L. Hinman gave a paper on the will, J. D. Logan on the "psychology of style," and T. L. Bolton and C. A. Elwood presented papers on the psychology of imitation. Indeed, only two papers were not on obviously psychological topics: F. J. E. Woodbridge's on Greek philosophy, and J. R. Brown's on the philosophy of just-deceased Unitarian theologian James Martineau.

16. In the spring of 1902, a larger group of philosophers met at Columbia University to form the American Philosophical Association (AFA). Of the 98 charter members of the AFA, 62 were also members of the AYA.[3] The first president of the AFA, J. E. Creighton of Cornell, had been a member of the AYA since 1895. Some of the most significant figures of the AYA were among the first to join the AFA: James Mark Baldwin, Mary Whiton Calkins, James McKeen Cattell, John Dewey, G. Stanley Hall, George Trumbull Ladd, Henry Rutgers Marshall, Hugo Münsterberg, Josiah Royce, Edward L. Thorndike, Margaret Floy Washburn, and Robert S. Woodworth. Interestingly, William James did not join the AFA immediately, saying:

I don't foresee much good from a philosophical society. Philosophical discussion proper only succeeds between intimates who have learned how to converse by months of weary trial and failure. The philosopher is a lone beast dwelling in his individual burrow. -- Count me out!" (cited in Gardiner, 1926, p. 148)

Of course, James ultimately did join the AFA in 1904 (the year of his second presidency of the AYA, incidentally), and became AFA President in 1907 (Gardiner, 1902).

17. The papers at the first meeting of the AFA were not dominated by psychological topics to the same degree as were those at the first WFA meeting. J. E. Creighton's presidential address was on the purpose of a philosophical association. Of the 14 other papers presented, only two were clearly on psychological topics -- H. H. Bawden's "The Functional View of the Relation Between the Psychical and the Physical" and G. S. Fullerton's "The Atomic Self." A few others had some relation to psychology: E. H. Sneath's "The Æsthetic Element in Human Nature," E. B. McGilvary's "The Consciousness of Obligation," and J. A. Leighton's "On the Study of Individuality."

18. The founding of the two new philosophical associations, the larger of which drew almost two-thirds of its members from the AYA, seems to have had little impact on the AYA's own membership numbers. At least initially, few philosophers dropped their AYA memberships to join either the WFA or the AFA. Indeed, at the Winter 1902-1903 meeting the AYA's membership was 135, an increase 8 members from the previous year. The AYA met in conjunction with the WFA or the AFA (among various scientific groups) several times during the first decade of the 20th century.

19. In December 1904, a fourth group, this one composed of both philosophers and psychologists, met in Baltimore to found the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SSFY). Of its 36 charter members, 7 were members of the 1902 AYA.[4]: E. F. Buchner of U. Alabama, Christine Ladd Franklin of Johns Hopkins, E. H. Griffin of Johns Hopkins, Max Meyer of U. Missouri, E. A. Pace of Catholic U., and G. M. Stratton who had recently moved from U. California to Johns Hopkins. In addition, James Mark Baldwin, who had recently moved from Princeton to Johns Hopkins, was elected the first President of the SSFY. The SSFY aimed to keep united what had apparently been torn apart by the establishment of the WFA and the AFA. The presentations at its meeting were both empirical and philosophical, as the proceedings of the first meeting bear out (Buchner, 1905). On the empirical side, there was a paper by W. M. Steele on the Poggendorf illusion, another by H. J. Pearce on complex perception, and a third by G. M. Stratton on sensory discrimination and memory. On the philosophical side, there was a paper by J. A. Quarles on dualism and one by G. L. Raymond on the impact of the "American mind" on the development of philosophy. Somewhere in between were J. W. Baird's paper on introspective method and D. B. Purinton's on the comparative study of religion. Baldwin delivered a presidential address on the history of psychology.

20. Almost from their beginnings, there were multiple efforts to bring about an amalgamation of the WFA, the AFA, and the SSFY into a single national philosophical organization. Various discussions were held and proposals tabled, but little came of them. It was not until 1914 that the WFA and AFA even held a joint annual meeting. In 1919 the AFA more or less unilaterally voted itself to become the Eastern Division of a largely hypothetical greater AFA that would ultimately include the WFA as the Western Division. In 1922 the two Divisions held a joint conference. In 1924, a newly formed Pacific Philosophical Association was invited to join as Pacific Division of the (still rather amorphous) greater AFA. It was not until 1927 that an agreement was worked out giving the greater AFA a national executive (made up of executive members of the three Divisions). To the present day, however, the three Divisions (now Eastern, Central, and Pacific) of the AFA meet separately and elect their officers independently . The SSFY never joined, and continues on as a separate organization (see Pate, 1993).

21. One other development during the first decade of the 20th century warrants notice. At the 1900 meeting of the AYA, some of the western members -- mainly Dewey, Bryan, and Jastrow -- complained that the conference was always held in the east, making it difficult for them to attend.  One immediate response to this was to hold the 1901 AYA meeting in Chicago.  A more lasting response, however, was to allow for the foundation of regional AYA branches, specifically in Chicago, New York, and Cambridge, MA.  The Chicago branch was formed in April 1902 and held its first meeting December of the same year.  It would later transform into the Midwestern Psychological Association (see Benjamin, 1979, Russell, 1993).  The New York branch was more or less created from the group of psychologists who had been meeting with the Anthropology and Psychology subsection of the New York Academy of Sciences (first formed in 1896). It held its first independent meeting in 1903. As with the greater AYA, philosophers played a significant role in the New York branch's early years, accounting for a quarter of the papers presented (Benjamin, 1993, p. 74). The New York branch later became the Eastern Psychological Association. The Cambridge branch, it would appear, never got off the ground.

-- Christopher D. Green


Footnotes

[1] Despite this, it is interesting to note that Hall described the history of philosophy as being his "first love" (cited in Bringmann, Bringmann, & Early, 1992) and insisted that many of his students study the topic.

[2] Sokal (1992, p. 119) says that the comment was "almost surely written by Titchener."

[3] Technically there were only 60 AYA members in the list of charter members of the AFA because J. H. Hyslop of Columbia and A. T. Ormond of Princeton, both of whom had become AYA members in the first year of its existence, dropped their AYA memberships just before joining the AFA, and so their names do not appear in the list of AYA members for the 1901 meeting.

[4] No complete membership lists exist for the AYA in late-1903 or 1904.


References

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Baldwin, J. M. (1894). Psychology, past and present. Psychological Review, 1, 363-391.

Benjamin, L. T. (1979). The Midwestern Psychological Association: A history of the organization and its antecedents, 1902-1978. American Psychologist, 43, 201-213.

Benjamin, L. T. (1993). The Eastern Psychological Association. In J. L. Pate & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), No small part: A history of regional organizations in American psychology (pp. 69-95). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

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