Department History

A Brief of History of Psychology at Iowa State University.

The history of Psychology at Iowa State divides naturally into three eras. Before 1920 psychology was primarily one of the few liberal studies either required or offered to the students in the agricultural or mechanical arts. From 1920 to 1960 psychology continued to conform to the college mission but began research and degree programs restricted to certain aspects of applied psychology. After 1960 the department was encouraged to develop a broad psychology program and was authorized to offer doctoral studies.


In the first forty-seven years of Iowa State College instruction, psychology was a regular course offering. Varieties of mental and moral philosophy were updated with the most recent psychological ideas and texts. Bits of evidence support the conclusion that the content of psychology at Iowa State was equal to that at any college in the country.


Psychology was first taught to the senior class by President Welch in 1872 with an advertised purpose not of “idle speculation” but to gain “…insight into human nature, and the springs of human conduct.” It remained a course taught by the president to seniors until a movement toward specialization was instituted at the turn of the century. Though the rhetoric claimed the psychology course was of the sort that fit with the practical arts and sciences of the college, the samples of readings and topic suggest that a typical psychology content was delivered, using the most recent textbooks. The difference perhaps reflected the power struggles that were rampant among the faculty and the regents in those first decades, battles that led to Welch being dismissed as president though retaining his teaching role. On Welch’s death in 1889, psychology was taught for two years by President William Chamberlain and for twelve years by President William Beardshear.


In 1901 Professor O. H. Cessna, a member of the first graduating class in 1872, was made Professor of Philosophy and History and placed in charge of the Department of Philosophy in which courses in Psychology and in Ethics were taught. Cessna was also College Chaplain, having earned a Doctor of Divinity degree at the University of Chicago. The Department of Philosophy then had three courses: Psychology, Ethics, and Educational Psychology.

In 1904 the catalog shows a name change to the Department of Psychology and an additional course in Educational History and Method. The next year’s catalog showed the two courses in educational psychology gone, with one reappearing in 1908. In 1909 there were courses in child psychology as well. Psychology of Business is listed in the 1911 catalog, alleged by some to be the first course in industrial psychology in the U.S. The 1913 catalog amplified the course description and noted that the three texts by Scott were used as well as those of Munsterberg, Taylor, and Gilbreth — all state-of-the-art.

Other noteworthy additions include social psychology in 1912 and Physical and Mental Tests in 1915. This last, too, is one of the earliest and well before the test development growth had begun. Records show that the department was authorized to offer M. S. work in history or psychology in 1913, but apparently no students did so. The name was Department of Psychology and Ethics starting in 1914. In 1915 Cessna was joined by Thomas Vance who earned a doctorate in psychology at Iowa.


The Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts was accurately named. Its mission was to educate Iowa’s young people in useful applications. Liberal studies were the province of the University of Iowa, and such courses were taught at Iowa State only as absolutely necessary for an adequate education. There was no possibility for psychology to be offered except in service of the college’s applied mission.


After World War I, there was a major restructuring including a shift to the quarter system. Psychology appeared as a separate department in the Division of Industrial Sciences. Professor Cessna and Associate Professor Vance handled about ten courses. The 1919 catalog listed General, Outlines, Mental Tests, Educational, Childhood and Adolescence, Business, Military, Social, and two religion courses.

During the 1920s new faculty appeared and disappeared and the courses expanded, all in applied directions. Among the faculty survivors were John Evans from 1922, Alvhh Lauer from 1925, and Martin Fritz from 1928. John Evans, a Columbia doctorate with strong interests in applied psychology, was appointed to lead the department.

In 1924 there was a new course in adjustment but also one called Abnormal Psychology in Relation to Certain Industry Problems. Business psychology was joined by two called Industrial Psychology, a seminar, plus Psychology of Employment and Vocational Selection. Courses in learning and in motivation were added but their content was that of use to teachers. The preamble to the courses listing in the 1927 catalog stated that they were “… formulated from the point of view of the practical needs of students in the industrial and vocational fields.” This was followed by a statement of these aims (after two more about understanding oneself): to present principles underlying teaching and to apply psychology to the human element in business and industry.

One noteworthy piece of service work in evidence was the activity of psychology faculty in obtaining and applying the group tests of World War I toward a battery of entrance tests. In this work they applied the instruments of L. L. Thurstone, then at Carnegie. Soon they were engaged in administering the testing program. They also began to consult with the health service.

In 1930 there were three faculty holding the professor rank and five instructors. The early 1930s were years of the depression with lowered enrollments and faculty reduced to part-time. Harold Gaskill appeared in 1932, later to become dean of the Industrial Sciences Division. In a twenty-year plan authored by Martin Fritz in 1935 he noted that “Very soon the department should be permitted to offer advanced degrees in certain applied fields. Such work could be done in cooperation with the University of Iowa….There is no school in the U.S. that offers a more favorable background for advanced work in Industrial Psychology.” Master of Science work was authorized in 1937, according to the catalog, but the first degree was not granted until 1946.

Nonetheless, the department was still in a service role, as shown by a statement of Dr. Evans to the faculty at the beginning of the 1939 academic year: “As you know, the applications of psychology are emphasized rather than theoretical aspects. As a supporting department, I feel that we must give applications as we are not training embryo psychologists, but those who are seeking a few psychological tools to use in their chosen field.”

At the end of the decade, on the eve of World War II, the 1940 catalog showed 27 courses of which 11 were apparently at the graduate level. These were taught by about seven faculty.


No notable changes came during the war. In 1946 enrollments began to greatly increase. In 1948 Evans was succeeded as chair by William Owens who held a Minnesota doctorate in industrial psychology. An undergraduate major in psychology appeared in 1949. By the end of the decade twenty three BS degrees and five MS degrees were granted. In 1950 there were 44 courses, 20 apparently at the graduate level. There were now seven professors and three assistant professors. John Bath, Don Charles, and Thomas Hannum were the survivors among those who joined the department in the late 1940s.

In the early 1950s the department had no particular growth. Its mission was distinctly applied with strongest leanings toward industrial and educational psychology. The 1956 college advertisement sent to prospective students listed only Industrial Psychology among the BS curricula in the Division of Science. Near the end of this decade Owens twice proposed that the department offer a doctorate in a rather narrow specialty of industrial psychology. His requests were refused, and he left in 1959. In his last years he added faculty in both applied and academic areas, including Arthur Mackinney, Edwin Lewis, and Leroy Wolins. Don Charles was acting Head until Wilbur Layton was appointed at the beginning of the 1960 calendar year. Charles recruited and appointed George Karas.


Moves toward broadening the mission of Iowa State developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its name was changed to its present form, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, in 1959, and that was more than surface gloss. There was intent to make Iowa State a modern university with traditional programs of study including social sciences, arts, and humanities. The Division of Science became the College of Sciences and Humanities.

In 1960 Layton was Department Head with about 18 faculty. He had been promised by President Hilton, the provost, and the dean of the college that a doctorate in psychology would be approved. A proposal to offer the doctorate was prepared and submitted in October of 1961. The department was given resources to expand and broaden the faculty expertise. The concept was that the science of psychology be a base for applications. In the early 1960s Layton added a social psychologist, Timothy Brock, and built up experimental psychology by appointing David Edwards, Ronald Peters, John Schuck, and later, Wayne Bartz.


In April of 1964 the department was authorized to offer study toward a Ph.D. degree in Psychology, and the first doctorate was granted in 1966. In the twenty plus years of offering the doctorate, some patterns are apparent. In the first two half-decades of the program more than half of the doctoral students were in academic areas of psychology, particularly experimental, but the industrial and counseling specialties had substantial strength. Beginning in the last half of the 1970s, the relative numbers of students in counseling and experimental reversed. The 1970s were the period of the greatest numbers of degrees granted, averaging five per year. In the 1980s that rate had been cut nearly in half and most of reduction appears in the tallies as an absence of experimental specialty students. Industrial doctorates have been granted at a relatively steady rate of less than two per year.

The department doctoral programs followed the national trends toward increased numbers of applied students, especially in counseling, and fewer academic area students. The counseling program, under the leadership of Fred Borgen, was accredited by the American Psychological Association in June of 1973 and that added a valued power to the department to attract potential students. The school psychology program, offering M. S. education since 1963, was refurbished by Daniel Reschly and authorized to grant the Specialist in School Psychology degree in 1978. The Specialist degree was new to Iowa State and School Psychology remains its only variety.

According to the 1970 Graduate Program brochure, a faculty of thirty-seven (including adjuncts) offered eleven areas of concentration for graduate study including General-Experimental, Human Factors, Industrial-Organizational, Social, Personality, Counseling, Developmental, Educational, School, Quantitative, and Psychological-Measurement/Insitutional-Research/Program-Evaluation. Since that time, the variety of specialties of concentration in the doctoral graduate program has been modified several times. Trimmed from the list were Human Factors, Industrial-Organizational, Personality, Developmental, and Educational. Parts of these were integrated into a new area of concentration: Psychometrics and Applied Individual Differences. School Psychology was elevated to the doctoral level to join Counseling, Experimental, and Social Psychology. These latter are the five areas current in 1995.

A subsequent external review, coupled with the departures of several faculty, led to further changes in departmental structure. Both the School Psychology and the Psychometrics & Applied Individual Differences programs were dropped. Some of the School Psychology faculty moved to the Iowa State University College of Education. Many aspects of the Psychometrics & Applied Individual Differences program still exist in the current three Ph.D. programs in Social, Counseling, and Cognitive psychology.

In 1999, a new plan was designed to help in formulating a new long range plan for the department. That plan was completed and approved by the faculty in the Spring Semester of 2001. It calls for the addition of a program in Developmental Psychology, broadly defined, one that is highly integrated with the other three programs. The plan also calls for the department to expand to 32 FTE faculty over the next decade.


Over the seven years of Layton’s first tenure leading the department, 22 faculty were appointed, though 8 of these were employed primarily in the Student Counseling Service. The number of department faculty remained largely unchanged in the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1970 there were 33 faculty holding rank, and in 1980 the number was 32. In 1995 there were 29 rank-holding faculty. Fluctuations in numbers largely reflected appointments and departures of faculty holding rank but budgeted elsewhere in the university. Little change in budgeted faculty occurred despite gradually increasing enrollment in psychology classes.

Budget shortfalls at the state level in 2000-2001 led to budget cuts at the department level. Because of the high productivity in all of its major missions (teaching at the graduate and undergraduate level, research, external grants, service to state-and nation-wide constituencies), the Department of Psychology had one of the smallest budget cuts of any department. So far, the cuts have not slowed the department’s growth, and it is expected that the department will be among the first to received additional resources once the state budget recovers.


Until 1967 the department was housed in various spaces on the second, third, and fourth floors of Beardshear Hall. With expanding laboratory needs and other pressures, including unfortunate appearances of escaped laboratory animals in lower floor administration offices, the department moved to lightly-remodeled temporary quarters in the condemned Old Botany Hall. That occupation was to last more than twelve years. After the department’s departure, the building was largely sealed as unsafe until it was reconstructed to appear in its 1892 glory beginning in 1994 and to be renamed Carrie Chapman Catt Hall.

Animal laboratory and physiological psychology research facilities were provided on the fourth floor of Sciences Building in 1976. That followed occupation for many years of one of three wood-framed residences, Coburn House, north of Pammel Drive on Morrill Road. Coburn House was demolished following the department’s animal laboratory move to Sciences Building. The original plan was to relocate the animal laboratories on a seventh floor of Sciences II, but that floor was eliminated when funding was short.

In the early 1980s part of the former Veterinary Medicine Quadrangle buildings were remodeled for the department and the College of Education. Space was allocated based on the existing size of the department and projections of reduced enrollments. The centerwest building had been originally built as an animal hospital, where many of the current faculty offices had begun as horse stalls. The classrooms on the east side of this building were created anew in a form unlike the original building design. The classroom hallways were originally anatomy laboratories with tracks for suspending partially dissected carcasses of large animals. The basement held vats for preparing and preserving animal bodies for study and research. Adjoining the west of the building was a kennel filled with beagles in a longevity study, and the basement passage to the eastern Quadrangle building held the city dog pound. The southwest building was new in the early 1960s, designed as a Biomedical Engineering research facility. The Quadrangle was named Lagomarcino Hall after the Dean of the College of Education at the time. Virgil Lagomarcino was instrumental in garnering state-wide support for the remodeling project.

Additional laboratory spaces were later remodeled from former storage areas in the basement of the centerwest building of Lagomarcino Hall, and in 1994 more space was granted to the department in the basement of Sciences Building.

Major purchases of specialized equipment were made in the late 1960s with N.S.F. grants to the department. In those before-computer years large sums of money were required to purchase simple calculation devices; a four-work-station calculator doing less than a $5 calculator cost about $1300. Up-to-date solid-state switching and controlling modules were acquired for the research laboratories. With the move of the department to its present remodeled spaces the department was again given funds for equipment improvement. All new furniture was purchased along with some specialized psychology apparatus. At this time the department acquired modern video devices and the first generation of desktop computers. Apple II computers, WordStar word-processing programs, and NEC Spinwriter printers gradually, if noisily, replaced the office IBM typewriters. Computer equipment has been improved gradually, staying close to the state-of-the-art. With money from student computing fees and from department and grant funds, a well-equipped and continuously up-dated computer laboratory is now open to student and faculty use.

Currently, all of the Psychology faculty and graduate students are housed in the west wing of Lagomarcino Hall and in the adjoining Science Hall building. Major laboratory and office renovations were completed in both buildings in 2000 and in 2001. Computer equipment and lab space is state-of-the-art. With money from student computing fees and from department and grant funds, a well-equipped and continuously up-dated computer laboratory is now open to all students and faculty. In the fall of 2001, a multimedia computing laboratory was opened for use by Psychology graduate students and faculty.


Coincident with the move to Old Botany Hall in 1967 (some would say because of it), Layton accepted a new position as Vice President of Student Affairs and remained behind in Beardshear Hall. Arthur Mackinney, a department industrial psychologist educated at Minnesota, was appointed Department Head. He accepted a central administration appointment elsewhere after three years, Charles again served a year as Acting Head, and Thomas Turnage, experimental psychology doctorate from California, Berkeley, was appointed Head in 1971, moving from the University of Maryland. After three years he moved to an Associate Dean position in the College of Sciences and Humanities.

In 1975 David Edwards, an experimental psychologists educated at the University of Iowa, was appointed from the department and began a period of nine years as Department Chairman. In 1984 Layton again was appointed to lead the department. After an open search he was succeeded in the spring semester of 1989 by Gary Wells, a social psychologist educated at Ohio State University and coming from the University of Alberta. In 1992, Camilla Benbow, educated in individual differences (gifted) at Johns Hopkins, was appointed from the department to be Chair. In 1996 Benbow was appointed interim Dean of the College of Education and in 1998 assumed an education dean position at Peabody. Douglas Epperson was interim chair of the department from 1996 through 1999. In 1999, after an open search, Craig Anderson, a social psychologist educated at Stanford University and most recently at the University of Missouri, was appointed chair. Douglas Bonett, a quantitative psychologist educated at UCLA, was appointed interim chair in 2005 and then appointed chair in 2006. Carolyn Cutrona, a clinical and counseling psychologist educated at Stanford University, University of New Mexico and University of California, Los Angeles, was appointed chair in 2009.