Saint Louis University

In 1883 a topic in psychology first appeared as a topic in the post-graduate curriculum. The course that included psychology was intended to acquaint the advanced student with the philosophical, scientific, historical, and literary issues and developments of the day and to instill a comprehensive academic underpinning to facilitate their understanding. Thus psychology surfaced as the focus of a series of lectures in what was termed special metaphysics, juxtaposed with lectures in ethics and history.

Shannon Hall, the home of SLU's Psychology Department, since 1984.

Conducted by the Rev. Walter H. Hill, S.J., who held the title of professor of mental and moral philosophy, the psychology segment of the course dealt with the following topics, each treated in a lecture: human reason, kinds of knowledge, Aristotle’s theory of intellectual knowledge, and the higher species of knowledge.

It was not until 1901 that the first bona fide courses in psychology anchored themselves in the School of Philosophy and Science. Two undergraduate courses were presented, ‘Psychology of the Senses’ and ‘Rational Psychology,’ both under the aegis of the Rev. Matthew McMenamy, S.J. Rational Psychology covered what is now called the philosophy of man. 1908 marked the debut of the Rev. Hubert Gruender, S.J., a name that would figure prominently in the early history of the department. Destined to become the first psychology professor as such at the University, he was appointed lecturer of Cosmology and Minor Psychology at this time and would be elevated to the status of professor of special metaphysics the following year. In 1912, Gruender went to Bonn, Germany to study experimental psychology. He returned in 1913 and in 1917 Gruender's title was changed to Professor of Psychology.

Fr. Gruender was a remarkable person. At one point he divided his time between three departments, simultaneously holding the posts of professor of philosophy and instructor in music appreciation. For many years he taught a well-received course in music appreciation, the hallmark of which was a polyphonic sound machine designed by him and constructed by Jesuit Scholastics under his charge. Clearly ahead of its time, this phonograph very nearly replicated the sound of a symphony orchestra. He used four speakers, each of which picked up tones in a certain range, which he would vary as he lectured.

Gruender’s professional life was impressive indeed. He devised a unique technique of curing stuttering, insisting that it is a nervous disorder, but the particulars of it are lost to history because he was oddly secretive about it. He was asked by the School of Medicine to lecture on the psychological dimensions of medical practice. Gruender also was an acknowledged authority on aphasia. His most significant contribution came in the areas of color sensation, specifically the affliction of color blindness. Employing an instrument made by an optician at his request, Gruender immersed himself in laboratory experiments in simultaneous color contrast. The pseudo-iso-chromato-psometer, otherwise known as the Gruender photometer, purported to be equipped not only to fix the condition of color blindness in a subject, but also to classify the type and disclose the extent and degree to which the subject is affected. His research was described in a book, Sense Qualities, published in Latin in 1910.

This brings us to the pivotal year of 1926; the year the department was constituted. Saint Louis University has the distinction of having the oldest psychology department at a Jesuit university. (The Catholic University in Washington, DC, had the first psychology department in a Catholic institution.) Fr. Gruender was the first chairperson and three others joined the departmental faculty with him. They were Fr. Raphael C. McCarthy, S.J., Fr. William J. Ryan, S.J., and William D. Commins. Fr. McCarthy's work is of special note. Besides his doctoral dissertation, The Measurement of Conation, an inquiry into volitional processes, two other, more extensive tracts were published. One, Training the Adolescent, made him something of the Dr. Spock of his day, although for older children. The other, Safeguarding Mental Health, provided his perspective on how to retain one’s composure and competence in times of crisis.

The year 1927 marked the setting of requirements for different degree programs. The undergraduate major consisted of three required courses (both sections of Introduction to Psychological Experiment and Introduction to Tests and Measurements) and twelve semester hours of upper-division coursework left to the discretion of the student. However, the prerequisites for entrance into the major were comparatively stringent: besides ‘Outlines of Psychology,’ two introductory biology courses were asked of the student, along with a course in physics and proficiency in either French or German.

By 1928 enthusiasm was running sufficiently high to merit the chartering of a psychology club. The club’s original members met every week to hear presentations by two of their peers on some aspect of practical psychology.

An unusual, significant event took place in 1933. A doctorate was issued to the Rev. Charles I. Doyle, S.J. He was the only Ph.D. until 1964. He went from here to Loyola University in Chicago, where he chaired the department for eleven years and was the force chiefly responsible for its development. Doyle had been ordained in St. Louis and worked for four years as associate editor of the serial America. He then returned to St. Louis where he registered at the University and began graduate studies in psychology under McCarthy’s direction. Doyle’s dissertation, An Experimental Investigation of the Process of Inductive Discovery with Groups of Closely Similar Problems of Variable Complexity, was stimulated by the theories of Alfred Binet and others.

Francis L. Harmon came in 1934 and would remain for the next 27 years. A graduate of Hampden-Syndey College, he went to Columbia University, where he completed his doctorate under Dr. Albert Poffenberger in 1933. He remained in the department leaving in 1961 to do personnel work for the Department of Agriculture. Harmon had a variety of interests. He was fascinated with industrial psychology. His dissertation had considered the bearing of noise on occupational efficiency. In the departmental division of labor, he was labeled a personality psychologist. His principal work in this area was Understanding Personality, describing personality development, diseased personality, applied personality psychology, and modern personality theory. Another text, Principles of Psychology, survived multiple editions.

Each year, the Severin Dinner honors
a person who has made
to the Psychology
Department. Francis Severin, S.J.,
(pictured above).

In 1940 Fr. Francis T. Severin, S.J., came as instructor. Severin’s protracted career bore witness to the rise of the department from a small unit that almost disappeared during World War II to one of the largest in the Arts and Sciences college. Severin’s first appointment in psychology was as an instructor in 1940. This was one of many roles he would fill. He was Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1945 to 1950.

During that period he was promoted to Assistant Professor (1947) and served as Acting Chairman of the Department from 1947 to 1949. He was Director of Counseling Services from 1950 to 1955. In preparation for this he studied student personnel administration at New York University during the 1951-52 academic year. His promotion to Associate Professor came in 1955. Severin specialized in physiological psychology although he taught a variety of courses because of the department’s small size. One of his interests was the philosophy of science as related to psychology. These interests may seem peculiar given the fact that in the 1960s he was one of the founders of the humanistic psychology movement in the United States.

In 1947 four lecturers signed on, including the first women on the psychology faculty, Sr. Ann Marie Skinner, R.S.M., Joseph A. Gavin, Mary Louise Garesché, and Mary G. Kane. Sr. Skinner, who was also a registered nurse and who formerly had taught psychology at St. John’s Hospital’s School of Nursing, earned her master’s degree in psychology here in 1936 after receiving a B.A. in education just down Laclede Avenue at Harris Teachers’ College (now Harris-Stowe State College). Garvin held a B.S. from the University, and as for Garesché and Kane, both were alumni of the corporate colleges, Garesché coming from Maryville and Kane from Webster, which at that time were for women only. Each had a master’s degree: Garesché’s was from Saint Louis University, Kane’s from Catholic University.

The person who would play a major role in moving the department ahead in the post war years arrived in 1949. Walter L. Wilkins had received his Ph.D. from Loyola in 1948, and his M.A. in 1931 and Ph.D. in 1933 from Northwestern University. With the onset of World War II, he retooled as a clinical psychologist. He logged 27 months with navy psychiatric units and 30 with the Marines. After the war he taught at Notre Dame, for three years until enticed by the State of Indiana with the post of clinical consultant in the Department of Public Welfare. When Saint Louis University advised him that the chairmanship was available, he readily packed his suitcases. He did not pack again until 1960, when the Navy invited him to command a unit of 50 psychologists at its research lab in San Diego.

Wilkins had a national reputation. He was certified as a diplomat in clinical psychology by the American Psychological Association. Along with Fr. Doyle of Loyola and a third psychologist from Fordham, he was instrumental in setting up the American Catholic Psychological Association. In 1956 he was chosen to be Missouri’s delegate to the Conference of State Psychological Associations. Wilkins’ research was on personality variables and the prospective performance of officer candidates in the armed forces. He signed a long-term contract to study the emotional stability and fortitude of officers in the Marine Corps. The final product of his research was the Wilkins-Miles Self-Description Inventory, an instrument employed in officer screening. The selection of female Marines was another of Wilkins’ projects. In fulfillment of a sizable grant awarded by the Office of Naval Research, he studied the possibilities of women in the Navy.

Wilkins moved the department’s headquarters out of DuBourg Hall, where it had been housed since the beginning, and into Aquinas Hall, which would be razed in 1958 to make room for the Pius XII Library. This was a temporary arrangement, as the department moved again in 1951 into a three-story building purchased solely for Psychology. Canisius Hall (now a parking lot) held offices, classrooms, and laboratories.

The Saint Louis University chapter of Psi Chi, the psychology honor fraternity, scheduled its opening meeting in 1954. Thirty-eight students were initiated originally. The society vowed to meet at weekly midday meetings, to sponsor lectures, and to assist in departmental projects. A faculty advisor, Marilyn Rigby, was appointed to oversee the fledgling group.

The 1956 appointment of Marilyn K. Rigby was significant. She was the first full-time female faculty member and had a great impact on the direction of the department. After securing her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, she came here in 1951, along with Pairlee J. Stinson, as a research assistant to Dr. Wilkins, and taught some classes on the side.  She was a great asset to Wilkins and was lauded as an eminently qualified researcher. Many of the technical reports, which set down Wilkins’ discoveries, were written by her. In September of 1950 she was the first woman to be promoted to Associate Professor of Psychology with tenure. She was certainly one of the first, if not the first, woman to receive tenure at this University. Marilyn, along with Richard Nickeson, John Napoli, and Fr. Severin would establish our doctoral program in psychology.

Events in Doctoral Education in Psychology

  • Ph. D. programs in experimental and clinical psychology were announced on March 5, 1961. The first graduates of this program in 1964 were Nancy Brown, John Cross, Gerard Egan, Mary Ghromann, and Richard Nickeson.
  • In October of 1984 the department moved into Shannon Hall. We had been back in
    DuBourg since 1960.
  • Harvey R. Austrin joined the department in 1963 as the first full-time Director of Clinical Training. Our first formal APA accreditation was received in May of 1964.
  • The Experimental Psychology graduate program changed its name to Applied-Experimental in 1978. The long history of experimental psychology began with Fr. Gruender’s research in sensory psychology. Applied (non-clinical) psychology began with Nick Collarelli’s Institute of Organizational Psychology, which was created in 1968. That institute was transformed into the Center for the Application of Behavioral Sciences (CABS) in 1971. 
  • A school psychology graduate program was proposed in 1972, with the first students
    beginning in the Fall of 1974. A series of events, including University financial difficulties led to termination of the program a few years later. 

These highlights were prepared for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of our Department, April 28, 2001. We hope to see you for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of our doctoral program in 2011 and for our centennial in 2026.