John Wallace Baird: The First Canadian President of the American Psychological Association

Article excerpt

John Wallace Baird (1869-1919) was born and raised in southwestern Ontario, earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in 1897. He would ultimately rise to become the first Canadian-born president of the American Psychological Association at a critical turning point in the discipline's history, during World War I. He was also the director of the laboratory in the famed Clark University psychology department, led by G. Stanley Hall, and died just months before succeeding Hall into the presidency of Clark. Baird studied briefly with Wilhelm Wundt, earned his PhD from ?. B. Titchener, and taught at Johns Hopkins and the University of Illinois. When he was stricken with what would be his fatal illness, he was serving as Vice-Chair of the Psychology Committee of the U. S. National Research Council.

Keywords: applied psychology, American Psychological Association, Canada, journal editing, perception

One of the most significant Canadians in the history of psychology has been nearly forgotten. He studied under several of the most prominent members of the early discipline-Wilhelm Wundt, Joseph Jastrow, and ?. B. Titchener. He won one of the earliest research grants for psychology from the Carnegie Foundation. He taught at some of the most prestigious universities: Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Illinois, and Clark. He conducted and published influential and controversial research on visual perception. He served in editorial positions with the American Journal of Psychology, Psychological Bulletin, and the Journal of Educational Psychology. He was a founding editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology. He ultimately rose to become president of the American Psychological Association (APA) during one of the discipline's most critical times. During his term he also served as Vice-Chair of the Psychological Committee for the U.S. National Research Council. He was within months of succeeding G. Stanley Hall as president of Clark University when his life was cut short. And yet, despite this level of accomplishment, today his name is known to few: John Wallace Baird. The aim of this article is to sketch the story of Baird's life and career, reminding Canadian psychologists of one of their most illustrious predecessors.

John Wallace Baird (see Figure 1) was born on May 21, 1869 into a farming family living in Motherwell, Ontario, about 50 km north of London. His father and mother had moved there just 15 years before, purchasing land from the government to establish a farm. They then started a family of, ultimately, 12 children. John was the eighth child. It was an interesting time in Canada West,1 as the area of what is now southern Ontario was then known. Responsible government had only come to Canada West in 1848, finally breaking the grip of the Family Compact and allowing people of the non-Anglican majority to share in their own governance. Ongoing disputes between the predominantly English-speaking Canada West and predominantly Francophone Canada East led to the capital of the so-called United Province of Canada moving from Québec City to Toronto and back to Québec again, before finally settling in Ottawa in 1866. As is well known, the two provinces confederated with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and were renamed Ontario and Québec in 1867, just 2 years before John Baird's birth.

The elder Bairds' first child, Andrew Browning Baird (1855-1940) grew up to become a prominent Presbyterian minister. He is best known for having brought the church to Edmonton, then little more than a rugged trading post of about 300 people, protected by a fort, located in the lower portion of the old Northwest Territories (Alberta did not become a separate province until 1905). In 1887 he moved to Winnipeg, where he taught at Manitoba College, one of the denominational institutions that would ultimately unite to form the University of Manitoba. In 1916, Andrew would become the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada for 2 years. …


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