-Contributed by Emily Gainer & Rhonda Rinehart.
Welcome to the first installment of Book of the Month! The CHP is excited to launch a Book of the Month feature that spotlights our special collections. The selection might be rare, have a special story, or be important to the history of psychology. Whatever the case, the selection will be interesting and generate discussion! Check back at the first of each month for the next title.
February’s spotlight is on The Elements of Mental and Moral Philosophy, Founded upon Experience, Reason, and the Bible by Catharine Esther Beecher. The CHP copy of Elements was digitized in partnership with the American Psychological Association and is available online in the Repository.
Printed in 1831, Beecher’s Elements is a work of substantial importance to historians of philosophy and psychology. It is one of the first philosophical works to use a psychological analysis to understand theological issues, and it is considered the first psychological treatise written by an American woman. Catharine Beecher, an early educational reformer who lobbied for the employment of women in the education system, wrote Elements for her students at the Hartford Female Seminary.
This particular work is extremely rare. At a time when female authors, particularly on these subjects, were almost non-existent, Beecher was not confident about the book’s reception, so she had it printed, bound and then erased her name from the title page (see photographs above and below).
She sent it to a few select critics, and the reviews she received were indeed quite critical; she consequently withdrew the book from circulation and it was never officially published or sold. The World Catalog lists only fourteen other copies of the book in existence. Dr. Robert Wozniak, who has authored six books and more than 25 articles on the history of psychology, has described Elements as “one of the very rarest books in the history of American psychology” (Wozniak, R.H. Mind and Body: René Descartes to William James.)
Of the 21 published works authored by Beecher, CHP has three: Common sense applied to religion, or, The Bible and the people, 1857; Letters to the people on health and happiness, 1856; Physiology and calisthenics for schools and families, 1856.
What’s a Book of the Month without some discussion? Feel free to discuss the book, the author, the history, etc. in the comments section below.