Psychology Department History

A Century of Hampden-Sydney Psychology:
A Case Study in the Differentiation of Knowledge and Function
by Thomas E. DeWolfe
Hampden-Sydney College

The review of a century of psychology at Hampden-Sydney College offers a case study of the growth and the differentiation of knowledge. The pace and character of these changes have been influenced not only by trends in the science of psychology but by the idiosyncratic enthusiasms of this science's few local representatives and by the unique culture of the college itself.

A century ago in 1892 what was to become "Psychology" was taught at Hampden-Sydney much as it had been taught during most of the 19th century: as one part of philosophy, Mental Philosophy. Professor McIlwaine, who also instructed courses in Bible and served as president of the college, was careful to assign works on each of the mental faculties: Porter's "Intellectual Science," McCash's "On the Emotions," and Lock's "Essay on Human Understanding." In this enclave of Presbyterianism, the "Scottish School's" doctrine that the mind molds experience by virtue of the strength of mental processes or "faculties," must have appeared particularly compatible.

Yet even then the times were changing. In 1897 James Mark Baldwin's text, Elements of Psychology, acquainted students with the Darwinian view that behavior and consciousness have an adaptive, adjustive function. In 1906 Professor Stevenson Smith, who also taught Bible and Philosophy, changed the name of the required junior-year course to "Psychology" and included an important laboratory component. This, said Professor Smith, was compelled by "the increasing importance of experimentation in psychology." Between 1912 - 1915 the psychology course was instructed for the first time by faculty members who later became closely identified with psychology: Professor Walter Young and W. O. Beazley. Professor Young, who also taught biology, added a course on animal behavior to the curriculum. This course provided a laboratory for students to engage in investigations comparing cross-species intelligence. Professor Beazley, who followed Professor Young in 1914, added a course on education which explored the study of the "normal child mind." When Young and Beazley left Hampden-Sydney to head psychology programs elsewhere, they left securely established psychology courses as intrinsic parts of the Hampden-Sydney curriculum.

The years from 1915 to 1923, influenced by the dislocations of World War I, were difficult for Hampden-Sydney. The psychology program here seems to have adopted a holding pattern. Psychology courses pioneered earlier were instructed by a succession of professors whose primary areas were Bible and philosophy. These included the Reverend W. M. Holladay (1915 - 1916), Professor Long (1916 - 1917), Professor Colen McPheeter (1918 - 1920), and Professor J. B. Massey (1920 - 1922). In spite of the staggering breadth of these gentlemen's responsibilities, one can gather from their reading requirements that they were both open-minded in their viewpoints and quite zealous in assuring that Hampden-Sydney graduates were well acquainted with the psychological science of the time. Textbooks by McDougall, Angell, and sometimes Titchener were prescribed in full. Material on physiological psychology, sensory psychology, perception, and memory were followed by units on instinct, reasoning, and "the will." This author views their scope with considerable awe!

These fluctuations in psychology instruction were followed by a long period of stability. This occurred when the valedictorian (at age 18) of the class of 1916 returned from his Ph.D. work at Harvard to literally be the philosophy and psychology program for a period of 33 years and to participate in these departments for some 15 years thereafter. The weakness of the program was that the college expected from this man a scope of activities that was virtually impossible. The strength of the program was that this man was Denison Maurice Allan.

Dr. Allan's principal mentors were psychologists, William McDougall, Gordon Allport, Donald Super and philosophers, William Hocking and Alfred North Whitehead. An interest in motivation, in personality, and above all, psychology's contribution to enduring metaphysical riddles prevailed in his teaching as it did in his writings. By the mid-1920s the curriculum had expanded beyond the introductory course in the direction of his enthusiasms. Full-year courses in the normal and abnormal personality, in social psychology and its applied applications, and finally in education and mental measurement all became a part of the psychology offerings.

Because of Dr. Allan's eminence, psychology offerings at Hampden-Sydney became well known beyond the campus. A number of well-known psychologists (including UVA's Dick Henneman, a 1929 graduate of Hampden-Sydney) were first inspired by Dr. Allan. His Sprunt lectures at the Union Theological Seminary, his book, The Realm of Personality, his presidency of the Virginia Academy of Science, all enhanced the reputation of the college. Among his students, his patient, precise, unassuming, deliberative manner, what Hampden-Sydney Professor Brinkley has described as his "puckish humor" and his "paramount passion to give," made him a legend. Above all, he appreciated the interrelatedness of knowledge and kept the big picture in mind. He was a great man.

Between 1954 and 1966 psychology at Hampden-Sydney took a new direction due to fortuitous events both external and internal. In 1954 Dr. Allan was chosen to direct the new Presbyterian Vocational Guidance Center on campus and, therefore, needed to reduce his commitment to instruct. Secondly, in 1957-58 the college began to require majors for graduation. This necessitated the hiring of new faculty members in psychology who also had appointments in the Guidance Center. The first of these, graduate O. W. Lacey arrived in 1954 and left in 1956 to continue his career at Franklin and Marshall. His replacement, Alvin H. Smith, a counseling psychologist from the University of Missouri, stayed sufficiently long to leave his permanent imprint on psychology.

During this period, psychology offerings were greatly expanded. In 1956 a year- long laboratory-based sequence in Experimental Psychology was added; in the early 1960s courses in developmental psychology, learning, industrial counseling and clinical psychology all became part of the curriculum. In 1962 a chapter of Psi Chi, the national honorary society in psychology, was organized. In 1963 Dr. D. R. Ortner, a Michigan State Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, was hired to co-direct the Guidance Center. Dr. Ortner was quickly needed to teach some of these emerging courses. Dr. Smith, who wished to avoid victimizing his young family by Price Edward County's school closing, left the campus in 1965. He left behind a vigorous department offering a full major staffed by four half-time faculty serving a small constituency of dedicated psychology majors as well as the liberal education of the entire student body.

Between 1966 and 1970, a new structure for the psychology department was being formed. This structure was to endure for the next twenty years. Dr. Allan retired from the faculty to work in the Guidance Center and engage in useful thought for the last six years of his life. The author, a clinical Ph.D. from the University of Houston, became the first faculty member hired exclusively for instruction in psychology. In 1972 Dr. D. R. Ortner left the position of Dean of Students to chair the department.

While the author was compelled during the late '60s and '70s to instruct virtually every psychology course, department members were gradually added according to a plan formulated in the late 1960s. In 1973 Dr. William Hughes was hired for an experimental-physiological position. Dr. Hughes, a charismatic teacher, involved many students in his biofeedback research. In 1975 Dr. Frank Simes, former Academic Dean, was chosen particularly to instruct the popular industrial-organizational sequence of courses. Dr. Ortner broadened the base of psychology by introducing the school's only sociology courses under the psychology umbrella. The author became the unworthy legatee of Dr. Allan's social-personality-history and systems responsibilities. In 1978 Dr. Hughes left the college finally to head Behavioral Sciences at VMI. In 1980 the experimental position was divided into an experimental-motivation-learning position staffed by Robert Herdegen and a physiological-sensory-perception position staffed by John Harrell and, at present, Dan Weese. In 1990 Dr. Robert Herdegen, who had developed a sort of grant writing, budgeting specialization, was elected as department chairman.

The 1980-1990 decade reflected other indications of progress. Archaic laboratory equipment was replaced by equipment that permitted microsurgery and automated operant conditioning, an animal lab was added, and microcomputers were utilized in undergraduate research. These changes have been reflected by a slow increase in the number of majors and by a more dramatic increase in the volume and sophistication of undergraduate research. Since the early 1970s individual student research for academic credit has been an option. In the 1980s an independent research project by every senior major became a part of Professor Herdegen's required advanced experimental psychology. Several students have become involved in more extensive projects for "Honors in Psychology." Undergraduate psychology research has been published, presented at regional conventions, and has won competitive awards at graduation.

The story of a century of Hampden-Sydney psychology has been a story of differentiation. Mental philosophy has become psychology which has been subdivided into specialties and sub-specialties. Timeless, global philosophical quandaries have been broken down into questions that are smaller and more precise. Research has become more important because such questions can have research answers. This process continues here and has gone much further elsewhere. This can be progress. The lesson of our faculty ancestors, however, is that it will be progress only if we do not lose their capacity to see the big picture. The comparative advantage of a psychology department like Hampden-Sydney's is that it can educate students not only with the technical skill to find answers, but the wisdom to ask the important questions.


The author wishes to express his appreciation to Professor John L. Brinkley whose generous help in referring him to archival materials and in sharing information from Professor Brinkley's forthcoming history of the College contributed greatly to this paper.


Allan, D. M. (1947). The Realm of Personality. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, New York.

Angell, J. R. (1908). Psychology: An Introductory Study of the Structure and Function of Human Consciousness. Henry Holt, New York.

Brinkley, John L. (1974). "A Paramount Passion to Give: Dr. D. M. Allan." Hampden-Sydney Record, 50, Vol. 1, 7 - 9.