Archive for February, 2015

– Contributed by Lizette Royer Barton with digitization assistance from Jodi Kearns.

Francis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954) was the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in psychology. He earned his degree on June 14, 1920 under G. Stanley Hall at Clark University upon defending his dissertation, “Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler.”


Francis Cecil Sumner in his doctoral robes.  Robert V. Guthrie papers

Francis Cecil Sumner in his doctoral robes.
Robert V. Guthrie papers


Listen to Kenneth Clark comment on Sumner’s high standards when it came to education at the link below.


Many of us recognize Sumner’s name because he was a “first.” However, it could be said that the most important part of his legacy was his work in establishing the Psychology Department at Howard University and the teaching and training of numerous African American psychologists.

Sumner joined the faculty at Howard University in 1928. As was common in many historically black colleges, psychology courses were taught in the education and philosophy departments. Sumner believed in order to properly train Black psychologists an independent department of psychology was of the utmost importance. In 1930, with the support of Howard’s president, Sumner established the psychology department and was promoted to full professor and head of the department that same year.

He was assisted in the department by Frederick P. Watts, a graduate student, and Max Meenes, a professor of psychology and fellow graduate of the Clark University doctoral program.


Listen to Max Meenes discuss the start of Howard’s psychology department below.


Howard offered training up to the Master’s level with a focus on laboratory and experimental psychology.


In the audio clip below Max Meenes discusses why they kept the program at the Master’s level and how they prepared students for doctoral work elsewhere.


Kenneth B. Clark, Mamie Phipps Clark, Max Meenes, unidentified. 1957.

Kenneth B. Clark, Mamie Phipps Clark, Max Meenes, unidentified. 1957.
Robert V. Guthrie papers


Well-known graduates of the Howard University Psychology Department include Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark, both of whom went on to earn doctoral degrees from Columbia University. Kenneth Clark in particular stressed the influence Sumner had on him while at Howard and the importance of his time in the department.


Listen to Kenneth Clark talk about Sumner’s influence on his own education and career as a psychologist. 


To learn more about Francis Cecil Sumner please check out Robert V. Guthrie’s seminal book, “Even the Rat was White: A Historical View of Psychology.” And to learn even more pay a visit to the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology and take a look at the Robert V. Guthrie papers, which include the incredible sound recordings featured above.

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– Contributed by Rhonda Rinehart

We mourn the sudden and terrible loss of Narcisse Blood and his colleagues on February 10, 2015.  Narcisse became a friend of the CCHP back in 2006 when he took part in the “Abraham Maslow and The Blackfoot Experience” two-day conference hosted by CCHP.

Narcisse immediately captured us with his dedication to broadening understanding of the Blackfoot way of life and his deep sincerity in doing so – from explaining Blackfoot storytelling practices to the importance of repatriation efforts.  His determination, sincerity and passion for cultural research were tempered with a sense of humor and warmth that will not soon be forgotten.

Blackfoot Announcement Flier revised

Our hearts go out to Narcisse’s family and friends, his professional acquaintances and all of those in the Blackfoot community who have lost a talented and generous comrade.


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– Contributed by Franklin Fitch.

Wilhelm Wundt (1832- 1920) and William James (1842 – 1910) are considered by many to be two of the most central figures in the establishment of experimental psychology. Both saw the discipline through its early stages as it branched off from the philosophical discourse of the time and became a field of its own. Both  established psychology labs during the very same year. These labs were the first of their kind, focused on the measurement and analysis of sensation, perception, and introspection. The historical narratives of these two early psychologists have been intertwined, due both to their historical proximity to one another and the role each filled in building the foundation of a discipline that was new in name, but had in truth existed for thousands of years. Wundt founded the first official laboratory and institute for psychology in Germany. James is said to have taught the first psychology course in the United States and published one of the first American textbooks in the field. Both laid the groundwork for a field of science that now spans the globe. Taking all that into account, the text at hand becomes particularly significant. Housed within the Cummings Center’s collection is this particularly spectacular artifact, one that establishes a material link between these two giants of modern thought.

front cover of Wundt book

The book is a first edition copy of Wilhelm Wundt’s Vorlesungen uber die Menschen- und Tierseele which translates to “Lectures about Human and Animal Psychology.” Wundt is recognized as a pioneer of experimental and comparative psychology.

spine of Wundt book

spine of Wundt book

The artifact itself is beautiful; the pages are thick and smell of years past (and are in good shape, all things considered). The interior portion of the binding is covered in a web of red and blue ink the likes of which I have never seen. It’s a wonderful example of turn of the 20th century craftsmanship and attention to detail.

inside front cover of Wundt book

inside front cover of Wundt book

Aesthetics aside, this copy has something that makes it extremely special. This particular copy belonged to William James himself!

William James' signature with date from first pages of Wundt book

William James’ signature with date from first pages of Wundt book

One can almost feel the weight of history when turning through the pages. On the back page, there is a list of annotations written by James. The staggering significance of the piece shines through when you flip to one of the pages mentioned in James’ personal index.

index of annotations in William James' handwriting

index of annotations in William James’ handwriting

For example, on page 136 James has written a paragraph worth of reaction to Wundt’s ideas. He notes, “… from the entire mass of comparative measurements absolute norms emerge.”

James' annotations of Wundt book, pages 136-137

James’ annotations of Wundt book, pages 136-137 (click to enlarge)

I feel honored to have the privilege of examining and commenting on this text. I can think of few artifacts that have such a personal and historical significance to the field of psychology. One founder of the field commenting on the work of another. This unique text, housed in the Cumming’s Center collection, serves as a tangible record of their interaction with each other. While the text is in many ways in remarkable condition, the pages are separating significantly from the binding. As always, your donations help preserve artifacts just like this one!

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