Courses in psychology were offered at Whitman College as far back as 1882, only three years after Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. Psychology courses were initially taught by the early presidents of the college (A. J. Anderson and later, Stephen Penrose), and were regular fare within the department of philosophy until 1920. Until that time no more than two courses in psychology were available. For instance, the 1894-1895 college catalog lists “Psychology” and “Physiological Psychology” as the complete set of psychology courses that a student could take at Whitman.
Psychology merged with education in the 1920-1921 school year, and the two-man Department of Education and Psychology (Profs. Keezel and Penrose) offered courses designed primarily to lead to teacher certification. Keezel, however, was the first to teach psychology as its own discipline rather than as part of the field of education. When Penrose discontinued his teaching activities, William Hunter joined the college toward the end of the Great Depression (1939). With Hunter, Whitman now had its first professor trained specifically in psychology (in an interview conducted in the late 1970s, Chester Maxey described that “real psychology” began at Whitman with William Hunter). Eleven different courses soon became available to students, including General Psychology, Applied Psychology, Mental Hygiene and Personality, Industrial Psychology, and Genetic Psychology. Psychology continued to gain popularity with the addition of Max Bown, a talented psychologist and educator who taught at Whitman during this time.
The 1950s was associated with two major changes to the Department of Education and Psychology. First, in 1952 psychology and education split into separate departments. Second, the number of professors in psychology was increased from one and a half (one full-time and one part-time) to two and a half. By the end of the 1950s, Professors Jerry Fogarty, Richard Suinn, and Merle Meyer were regularly teaching courses in social, abnormal, physiological, and child psychology, with statistics and experimental courses rounding out the course offerings.
During the 1960s, resignations and subsequent vacancies that were left unfilled did not encourage growth in the Department of Psychology. Nevertheless, a young professor named Jay Eacker joined the staff in 1965, soon assumed a leading role within the department, and became instrumental in hiring several new colleagues. Jack Metzger was hired in 1969 and Stephen Rubin joined the College in 1971. With the addition of Deborah DuNann Winter in 1974, this four-person department enjoyed an incredible 25 years of stability together. During that time the department moved out of the old Billings Hall that it had called home for several decades, resided briefly in Reynolds Hall (now Olin), then moved into the third floor of the newly-built Maxey Hall in 1977.
The Department of Psychology underwent rapid change as the “fabulous four” retired. Matthew Prull joined the staff in 1999, Walter Herbranson took up residence in 2000, Melissa Clearfield was hired in 2001, and Brooke Vick graced our halls beginning in 2006. New labs focusing on cognitive, social, comparative, counseling, and developmental aspects of psychology have been created in recent years, and a strong research orientation emerged in the department.
Despite these changes, certain aspects of the major have remained constant. Psychology continues to be taught from the same empirical perspective that was established in the late 1800s. The department also continues to require a senior thesis of its majors, as it has done for over 100 years. Students can still take Physiological Psychology, which was first offered by Stephen Penrose in the late 1800s.
These are exciting times in the department of psychology, and we invite you to participate in our “making of history” in psychology at Whitman!