The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions

By Margaret P. Munger | Go to book overview
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Edward Bradford Titchener (1867–1927), a formal and frank Englishman with an imposing
beard, arrived at Cornell University in 1892 having just received his Ph.D. from the Uni-
versity of Leipzig. A fine musician, Titchener provided music instruction at Cornell until a
formal music department was established, presenting weekly concerts at his home fol-
lowed by casual conversation. In the course of developing one of the largest psychology
programs in the United States, he maintained a firm, some say iron-fisted, understanding of
what ought to considered psychology. Titchener deplored the inclusion of applied fields,
arguing that the application of psychology would be best accomplished by separate disci-
plines (e.g., that educational psychology should be under the education department).
Titchener became intrigued with experimental psychology while a student at Oxford Uni-
versity, translating Wilhelm Wundt's (p. 296) Principles of Physiological Psychology from
the original German before traveling to Leipzig to study with Wundt. In an era when the
Trustees of both Harvard University and Columbia University refused to allow women ac-
cess to graduate study, Cornell's doors were open to any who sought instruction. In fact,
Titchener's first graduate student was Margaret Floy Washburn (p. 203), who wrote that he
had two great gifts, “his comprehensive scholarship and his genius as a lecturer,” but
an unfortunate tendency to isolate himself from his surroundings. Titchener was a product
of his times and felt that while women could be trained, and ought to be hired, as scien-
tists, it was personally inconceivable to have truly collegial relations with them. In 1904,
he organized the “Experimentalists” as an annual meeting for the critical presentation and
open discussion of experimental psychology. The guest list included the heads of all the
prestigious psychological laboratories in North America and their male junior colleagues
and graduate students. This forum provided invaluable exposure and contacts, but Titchen-
er did not allow women in the group, despite a handful of obviously qualified and inter-
ested women—he felt their presence would diminish frank criticism and place restrictions
on smoking. Women, even active scientists, in his mind, were simply incapable of engag-
ing in open, critical discussion. He was not alone in this opinion, and despite some spirit-
ed protests by Christine Ladd-Franklin, an incredibly active researcher with part-time lec-
turing positions at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University, women were not
invited until the group reorganized two years after Titchener's death in 1927.

From E.B. Titchener, “Ideational Type and the Association of Ideas.” In Experimental Psychology: A Manual of Laboratory Prac-
tice (pp. 195–206). New York: Macmillan 1927.


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