This article originally appeared in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 18, October 1982.
Robert I. Watson was instrumental in the founding of Division 26 of the American Psychological Association (the Division of the History of Psychology). This article traces Watson's involvement in the in the prehistory of the division and describes his installation as its first president in 1966.
My first opportunity for more than a casual acquaintance with Bob Watson came in July 1961 while I was teaching in the summer session at Northwestern University. He was already interested in promoting the history of psychology, and the first American Psychological Association (APA) discussion group had been held the autumn before. He told me then of his hope to gain access to the Franz Brentano papers that were in the hands of Brentano's son, an emeritus professor at Northwestern University, who was reluctant to make them available.
Bob's widespread interests and expeirences in psychology were an advantage to him in his later work in history. Although I recognize the distinctiveness of the history of psychology as a specialty requiring skills and training of a unique kind, I also believe that a person immersed in the day-to-day world of research and planning for psychology has some advantages over the total outsider because of his acquaintance-with as well as his knowledge about, as William James might have put it. Bob was well prepared for hi snew role in this respect for he really did not become committed to history as a career until 1959, by which time he was fifty years old and had already earned a substantial reputation as a psychologist. The favorable response to his review article "A Brief History of Clinical Psychology," which appeared in 1953, eventually persuaded him that history was his calling.
Others contributing to this symposium have reflections on Bob's role as historian and as teacher of those preparing for historical careers; my purpose is to record how he iniated the Division of the History of Psychology, known as Division 26 of the American Psychological Association.
The first step was a meeting in Evanston in 1960 of three people: Bob, David Bakan, and John C. Burnham. I had seen David Bakan on several occasions in Columbia, Missouri, while he was teaching at the University of Missouri, for I was a frequent vsitor as a member of the Board of Stephens College, located in the same city. There I learned to respect David's restless and inquiring mind. I had met John Burnham when he was a graduate student at Stanford; he had consulted me about his doctoral dissertation, which was already in the history of psychology. It was propitious that the group of three included one trained specifically in and committed to scholarly history as a career. The three of them offered to convene a discussion group on the history of psychology at the September 1960 APA convention in Chicago. Of those invited, twenty-six turned up and fifteen expressed interest but sent regrets. I am sorry that I too had to send my regrets, and thus I canot give a personal account of that first meeting of a "special interest group." Fortunately, the Archives of the History of American Psychology under John Popplestone and Marion White McPherson have preserved copies of the invitation and attendance lists, and of the first minutes distributed in the name of the group. Those minutes were probably prepared by Bob Watson, although attributed to the convening committee, because the later minutes and newsletters, of which this became the first, were actually signed by Bob. A minor note on the matter of consulting records: Bob's memory of the first meeting as reported in his autobiographical account was that "fifteen or so showed up." In fact, as noted, the number was actually twenty-six - a memory loss of 42 percent of those attended, protected by Bob's "or so," just as my "probably" with regard to the author of the minutes saves me the necessity for confirmation.
In the same year, 1960, Bob had prepared and published an article in the American Psychologist entitled "The History of Psychology: A Neglected Area," designed to stir up interest. Annual newsletters, the next three under Bob's authorship helped keep the interest alive between the annual discussions at the APA conventions, each with more formally arranged symposia. The fifth newsletter was edited by a new committee consisting of Cedric Larson, Ronald Mayer, and Leonard Ferguson. It contained length abstracts of talks given in Saint Louis in 1962. By this time the membership list, or at least the mailing list, of the History of Psychology Group totaled 111 names. By the time of the tenth newsletter, 24 May 1965, the progress report indicated that the 200 necessary signatures had not yet been received. Fortunately, in the twelfth and final newsletter of the History of Psychology Group, in the summer of 1965, it could be announced that Bob Watson had succeeded in getting 226 signatures by 8 June, and a new division was assured. The final meeting of the History of Psychology Group was at the Chicago convention on 6 September 1965, and it was at that meeting that the new Division 26 was approved by the governing body of the APA, with 211 charter members.
It takes more than this to get a division underway, with officers to be elected, constitutions and by-laws to be set up, and all the rest that is necessary to keep it viable. It was a matter of course that Bob Watson would be the first president when the first meeting as a new division was held in 1966, and the rest is history. Bob continued to play an important role as the founding father.
The matter of installing Bob Watson as the first president was more colorful than my chronological account has indicated. There was some problem about how to honor Professor Edwin G. Boring, for he did not want to run for president, although he was approached initially because of his eminence as the leading historian of psychology at the time. Hence it was proposed that Boring be made "honorary president," and that title for him was announced on the election ballot.
The next step was to persuade Boring to present Watson at the first official meeting. Because of his increasing deafness, Boring did not wish to attend the meeting. After a considerable exchange of letters, Boring wrote to Josef Broiek indicating that he expected Broiek to be the real master of ceremonies, that Boring would have his say through John Popplestone as a medium, and then Watson could introduce himself. On one of the postcards for which Boring is famous, he had earlier written that such an introduction would be proper, a point that is repeated in the statement that Boring sent to be read by Popplestone as his representative at the introduction of Watson:
Introduction by Robert I. Watson, President of the Division of the History of Psychology, by Edwin G. Boring, a ghost, speaking through the medium, John A. Popplestone.
Members and Friends of the new Division of the History of Psychology: Ladies and Gentlemen:
The Episcopus, the Bishop, and thus the Overseer of the History of Psychology in America has properly and happily been elected the First President of our new Division and is now about to inaugurate this enterprise of our reaching back into the past to reincarnate it in the present by making the Division's first presidential address. He is, as I understand it, to have a trinity of introductions, for it takes three layers-on-of-hands to make a Bishop. Our First President is to be blessed by one flesh-and-blood master of ceremonies, by one ghost, and then, like Napolean seizing the crown from the hands of Pius VII, by his very own self. You'll see.
The ghost, of course, is I. I cannot be with you because I could not hear all your wisdom were I there (it's my Organs of Corti), but like any good returned ghost I can speak through a medium as I am doing now. I am a ghost of History Past, when the interest in the history of psychology had not yet become as vigorous as it is now, and by a miracle I have been named Honorary President of our Division, whereas Bob Watson had to wait on his election before he could be as sure as he is now that you all wanted him. The old question of which existed first, the chicken or the egg, is now answered in one case. The egg did, for I am it and Bob is about to crow for you. I like having been given this privilege of telling from afar how wise you were to elect Bob Watson, something that you knew all along and that you will realize once again in just a moment.
When I am through, Bob will introduce himself and will tell you why. I know, for he has let me read his self-introduction, which is sanctioned by no less a psychologist than Descartes, who started us running on two of our present tracks. If you are not already aware of it, you will see his erudition then, but after that will come the real paper and you will see how wise a man can be made by reading and thought and intelligence. Bob is, of course, being borne on a wave of the Zeitgeist, for so we all are. He still believes in Great Men and has written a book which everyone reads about the Great Psychologists. And he is quite right, for history can be continuous and yet need extraordinary minds to carry it along. And we will talk about prescriptions in psychology - at least eighteen of them - the directives of psychological thinking in the past and its formats in the present, thus showing you how the history of thought in a science can be analyzed through trends, a much more instructive perspective than the staccato enumeration of the spurts of the Great Men who bore the trend forward through the years. But all this belongs to Bob and not to me.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in a moment Robert I. Watson will introduce himself and then make good on his introduction.
Bob did, of course, make good, and the division grew slowly but steadily, and owes everything to his initiative and leadership.
1. The early steps are recounted in Watson's autobiographical account, Robert I. Watson, "Working Paper," in The Psychologists, ed. T. S. Krawiec, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 286-288
2. William James, Principles of Psychology, vol. 1 (New York: Henry Holt, 1890), p. 221
3. Watson, "Working Paper," p. 297; Robert I. Watson, "A Brief History of Clinical Psychology"
4. Watson, "Working Paper," p. 287
5. John C. Burnham, "Psychoanalysis in American Civilization before 1918" (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1958). Psychological Bulletin 50 (1953): 321-346
6. Watson's figure of "fifteen or so" can be found on p. 288 of his "Working Paper." The invitation, signed by Waston, Bakan, and Burnham, called the meeting for 3 September 1960, in the Old Chicago Room, Hotel Sherman. Those in attendance were listed in the informal minutes, which became the first "newsletter" (undated, signed by the typed names of Watson, Bakan, and Burnham). The following twenty-six were listed in attendance: James Barclay, Michael Wertheimer, Robert MacLeod, Alexander Mintz, Edgar O. Wood, Paul Montjoy, Paul Singer, Keith Davis, (Rev.) Walter Farrell, Faye Karpf, Abraham Luchins, F. Theodore Perkins, Abram M. Barch, Carolyn Hardin, Gabriel Ofiesh, Cedric A. Larson, Ronald W. Mayer, Kenneth Kunert, Saul Rosenzweig, Edgar Gregory, Harold Grant, Virginia Staudt Sexton, Nicholas Hobbs, Robert Watson, and John C. Burnham. Three of these later became presidents of the new division, and a number of others were to hold elective offices. Of the fifteen listed who were invited but unable to attend, four later were elected presidents of the division.
7. Robert I. Watson, "The History of Psychology: A Neglected Area," American Psychologist, 15 (1960): 251-255
8. The first two "newsletters" were neither named as such nor signed. The second, signed by Watson, was dated March 1961, but it was not identified as a newsletter. The next, bearing the title "Newsletter: History of Psychology Group," was indicated as No. 3, thus identifying the earlier communications as belonging to the series of newsletters. It was dated November 1961 and signed by Watson as editor. He edited the fourth in August 1962. After that the other editors took over.
9. The approval was noted in the American Psychologist, 20 (1965): 1034
10. Watson was president of the division in 1966-1967. The following persons succeeded him as president:
Gardner Murphy (1967-1968)
Robert MacLeod (1968-1969)
Karl Dallenbach (1969-1970)
David Bakan (1970-1971)
Mary Henle (1971-1972)
Solomon Diamond (1972-1973)
Josef Broiek (1973-1974)
Nicholas Pastore (1974-1975)
John Sullivan (1975-1976)
David Krantz (1976-1977)
Michael Wertheimer (1977-1978)
John Popplestone (1978-1979)
Virginia Staudt Sexton (1979-1980)
Ernest R. Hilgard (1980-1981)
Barbara Ross (1981-1982)
Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. (1982-1983)
11. Robert I. Watson, The Great Psychologists: ed., without subtitle, 1987. From Aristotle to Freud (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1963; 4th)
12. The statement by Boring for Watson's introduction was kindly made available for my use by John A. Popplestone and accompanied a letter dated 11 August 1981. The material included, in addition, copies of the letters and the postcard referred to, all part of a Popplestone's personal correspondence and not a regular holding of the Archives of the History of American Psychology.