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Archive for January, 2021

~ contributed by Jodi Kearns.

In the early 1950s, Lauren G. Wispé set out to study social and psychological factors associated with eminence in the field of psychology by analyzing selected psychologists’ responses to a 12-page questionnaire asking about family, early education, and socioeconomic backgrounds. If you want to read Wispé’s results, have a look at Traits of Eminent American Psychologists published in Science in 1963.

The Cummings Center has a small collection of the returned questionnaires, which have some coding marks from the data analysis, and no additional research materials. In a previous blog, we pulled excerpts from the Wispé survey question, Have there been any handicaps or factors which have interferred [sic] with your career?

Some other questions ask about parents’ ages at the psychologist’s birth, parents’ professions, and family members’ achieved levels of education. Questions cover work experience, mentors and influences, promising students, and prominent research and publications. The collection is a trove of eminent psychologist autobiography and self-awareness.

For National Mentoring Month, these excerpts focus on survey questions about leaders on faculties, field influences, and outstanding students.

Abraham Maslow, for example, wrote Harry Harlow in several places in his responses to questions about faculty leaders when he was a grad student.

Abraham Maslow’s responses to: Name of man (men) who supervised your dissertation
Abraham Maslow’s responses to: Name some of the outstanding Leaders on the faculty while you were [in graduate school]
Abraham Maslow’s responses to: As a student I was stimulated by

Though, Harry Harlow did not name Maslow as one of his outstanding students. Ope.

Harry Harlow’s responses to: Names of outstanding students who have worked with you

To add another branch to this genealogy of academic mentorship, Walter Miles lists Harry Harlow as an outstanding student, making Miles Maslow’s academic grandparent.

Walter Miles’ responses to: Name of outstanding students who have worked for you

Gordon Allport couldn’t wrap his head around the limitations of the survey and just could not bring himself to write down his influences because there were too many variables.

Gordon Allport’s response to: As a student I was most stimulated by

And Frank Beach hadn’t had any outstanding students in his first five years of practice.

Frank Beach’s response to: Names of outstanding students who have worked with you

Max Wertheimer‘s list of outstanding students looks like a Who’s Who of CCHP content.

Max Wertheimer’s responses to: Names of outstanding students who have worked with you
Köhler, Koffka, Duncker, Arnheim, Asch, Luchins

There are more than a hundred survey responses listing influences, mentors, and promising students in this collection, and my personal favorite is pulled from E. G. Boring‘s questionnaire responses.

Who chaired Boring’s dissertation? E. B. Titchener.

Who were the leaders on faculty at Boring’s grad program at Cornell? E. B. Titchener et al.

Who stimulated Boring’s thinking and academics? You guessed it.

What other facilities besides the library and the psychology labs were conducive to Boring’s research and study? The personality of E. B. Titchener.

To close the questionnaire, respondents were asked to break down habits and traits of their faculty leaders on a scale, where we learn that Titchener was not noted for his cooperativeness nor did he appreciate a good joke on himself.

Boring closes the checklist with a footnote, in much the same way he footnotes many of his responses to this questionnaire. And I’ll close with this transcription of E. G. Boring’s checklist summary where he compares his academic influencer to Jehovah and describes feeling relief upon his death. Oof.

“Whew! Good Lord! To reduce EBTitchener to check marks! How insulted he would have been, he who regarded any questionnaire as an insult and invasion of his privacy!

Checking col.1 is humorous, because so many of the checks are understatements. Was Titchener self-assured? Was Jehovah? Did he make others enthusiastic? Would he tolerate anyone under him being less that [sic] maniacally enthsuastic [sic]?

Titchener dominated us all, yet I could not answer items 26-27 [edit], p.3. His insistence on the correctness of his knowledge as to the proper conduct of the details of the lives of his graduate students and the fact that he was so seldom demonstrably wrong created ambivalent responses. More of his good students broke bitterly with him than remained loyal. I remained loyal, yet held my dissents rigidly, insisting on doing many professional things of which Titchener disapproved. You could say he was my chief stimulator, yet his death left me with a great sense of freedom (like John Mill when James Mill died in 1837) and all my effective productive productivity has been since this release came to me.”

And a shout out to my mentor, Dr. Brian C. O’Connor, who sealed my academic fate the day he dropped a copy of his mentor’s book on my desk in grad school, Patrick Wilson‘s Public Knowledge Private Ignorance.

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~ contributed by Nicole Orchosky based on her Capstone project for completion of the Museums & Archives Studies certificate. Know Thyself serves as an intro to an online exhibition Nicole has also prepared.

Toward the end of the 1700s, a young Franz Joseph Gall sat in a schoolroom and glanced around at his fellow classmates. Gall caught on to a trend that fascinated him–he noticed that the students with excellent memorization skills often had prominent eyes and large foreheads. This discovery led Gall to hypothesize that the physical structure of one’s head may correspond to one’s personality traits in consistent and predictable ways. As Gall grew older he began to lecture on the subject, he expanded his theory into the science of phrenology, which quickly gained traction in Europe before spreading overseas to America by way of Gall’s own student Johann Kaspar Spurzheim [1]. 

Franz Joseph Gall, credited as the creator of phrenology.
Image credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Franz Joseph Gall 1758-1828).” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 25 Nov. 2016.

Phrenology, now considered pseudoscience, was widely popular in the 19th century among the general public as a way to make sense of human behavior. Middle class Americans were drawn to phrenology as one may be drawn to the predictions of astrological horoscope. They took comfort in the notion that something as unpredictable and subjective as the human psyche could now be quantified by a series of cranial measurements. The skull was divided into regions called “organs,” and the physical measurement of an organ would determine if you exhibited more or less of the personality trait corresponding to that organ. Gall theorized that the more developed the trait, the larger the organ, and the larger a protrusion it formed in the skull [1].

Phrenological bust from Fowler and Wells’ Phrenological Cabinet showing the “organs” of the brain and labelled with corresponding characteristics. Visit the National Museum of Psychology to see a phrenological bust up close.
Image credit: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Phrenology, By L. N. Fowler.” Smithsonian Learning Lab. 29 Jan. 2020. Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. 06 Dec. 2020.

As soon as brothers Orson and Lorenzo Fowler learned of the theory from visiting lecturer Spurzheim, they turned Phrenology into their life’s passion and joined with fellow phrenological enthusiast Samuel R. Wells to establish America’s most prominent phrenological hub, The Phrenological Cabinet in New York City [2]. The storefront functioned as a museum, medical office, and publishing house all in one. Busts, both real and replica skulls, and phrenological diagrams and literature were displayed and sold here. Anyone could walk in and have their own skull measured and examined to gain a better sense of self as well as discover ways in which they could correct their negative behaviors. Magazines like The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated were published and distributed here, including writings by the Fowlers themselves, who spent much of their time lecturing about their theories all over the country.

Samuel R. Wells, Charlotte Fowler Wells, and Lorenzo N. Fowler stand in the doorway of S.R. Wells & Co., The Phrenological Cabinet, with two other men.
Image credit: Fowler and Wells families papers, #97. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

While the Fowlers gallivanted around America on lengthy lecture tours, who was left to take care of the family business? Samuel R. Wells oversaw the publishing side of The Phrenological Cabinet, but it was primarily the three men’s wives who took on the managerial and sometimes medical responsibilities within the office. Phrenology allowed women a sense of autonomy by allowing them a better understanding of their own mind and body, and for many women phrenology was a socially acceptable entry point to begin to seek out scientific knowledge.  Abigail Fowler-Chumos, wife of Orson Fowler, became “Orson’s business manager, property manager, publisher, and phrenologist-in-training” [3]. Charlotte Fowler Wells, wife of Samuel Wells and sister to the Fowlers, “was the firm’s longstanding and highly respected business manager” and was even known as the “Mother of Phrenology” [3]. Lydia Fowler Wells, wife of Lorenzo Fowler, “was the second woman to receive an M.D. in the USA, after [British] Elizabeth Blackwell,” making her the first American woman to receive an M.D. [4]. When it came to the business of phrenology, middle-class American women were not only the number one consumers; they ran the show. 

Lydia Folger Fowler, M. D, was the first American female doctor of medicine. She was also the first female professor at an American medical college.
Image credit: “The Late Mrs. Lydia F. Fowler, M. D.” Wheaton College, c. 1880. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lydia_Folger_Fowler.jpg#metadata

During the Civil War, women stepped up to run their households in their husbands’ absences. Women were not about to let go of their newfound autonomy during the following Gilded Age, and phrenology was one of the earliest scientific fields in which women could practice and participate. You would be surprised to learn how progressive the Fowlers were as they “combined the business of phrenology with the work of reform, linking the science to temperance, dress reform, diet reform, water-cure and women’s rights” [4]. 

You can learn more about phrenology and women’s role in the field in the “Know Thyself” virtual exhibition.

Thirteen complete issues of The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated are now available as digital editions of the Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. Popular Psychology Magazine Collection.

Sources Used:

  1. Morse, Minna Scherlinder. “Facing a Bumpy History,” Smithsonian Magazine, 1997 Oct. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/facing-a-bumpy-history-144497373/
  2. “Orson S. Fowler,” The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 84-85, pp. 196-198. 
  3. Lilleleht, Erica. “‘Assuming the Privilege’ of Bridging Divides,” History of Psychology, vol. 18, no. 4, 2015, pp. 414-432.
  4. Bittel, Carla. “Woman, Know Thyself: Producing and Using Phrenological Knowledge in 19th-Century America,” Centaurus, 19 April 2014, pp. 104-130.

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