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A Brief History of Psychology at Whitman

1882-1919: An Early Beginning

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 Philosophy Department 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.

1920-1950: The First Expansion

Psychology merged with the Department of Education in the 1920-1921 academic year, and the two-person 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 in 1939. In Hunter, Whitman College now had its first professor trained specifically in psychology, and thus "real psychology" (according to Chester Maxey, in an interview conducted in the late 1970s) began at Whitman. 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 psychologist Max Bown.

1950-1998: Individuation

The 1950s were 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 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 Psychology Department. 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, the four-person department enjoyed an incredible 25 years of stability. 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 to the third floor of the newly-built Maxey Hall in 1977.

1999-present: The Second and Third Expansions

The Psychology Department underwent rapid change as the "fabulous four" retired, and a new generation of psychologists came to the permanent faculty in our department. Matthew Prull, Walter Herbranson, and Melissa Clearfield joined us in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Brooke Vick and Deborah Wiese worked alongside us until they transitioned in their careers. Pavel Blagov and Erin Pahlke arrived in 2009 and 2012. Even with growth in the number of departmental faculty, the popularity of our courses often required that we hire visiting and adjunct professors. After we welcomed Tom Armstrong, Stephen Michael, Nancy Day, and  Chanel Meyers in 2014, 2015, 2019, and 2020 we grew to eight permanent, full-time faculty members. A strong research orientation has emerged in the department with laboratories that focus on cognitive, social, personality, educational, developmental, comparative, and abnormal psychology and neuroscience.

Despite these changes, certain aspects of the major have remained consistent. Psychology continues to be taught from the same empirical perspective that early psychology faculty at Whitman adopted. The department also continues to require a senior thesis of its majors, a tradition that goes back 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 Psychology Department, and we invite you to participate in our "making of history" in psychology at Whitman!

An archival monochrome photograph of Stephen Penrose, PhD
Prof. Stephen Penrose taught some of the first psychology courses at the College.

An archival monochrome photograph of Deborah DuNann Winter, PhD

Prof. Deborah DuNann Winter was the first professor in the Psychology Department who was a woman, and she pioneered the field of peace psychology. The annual graduation Award To an Outstanding Psychology Major is named after her.

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