In this issue

The origins of Div. 1 and its presidents

A condensed summary of the history and characteristics of the past 68 presidents of Div. 1.

By Donald A. Dewsbury, PhD

I have been asked to consider briefly the origins and development of Div. 1 (now called the Society for General Psychology). I have chosen to structure my piece in two brief sections. The first is a condensed discussion of the origins of the division structure in general, and of Div. 1 in particular. This can be brief because much of this information has already been discussed in some detail, with numerous relevant references provided by Doll (1946), Capshew and Hilgard (1992) and Benjamin (1997). Wertheimer & King (1996) provided a general history of the division. In the second part I will summarize highlights of a kind of biographical analysis of the 70 or so presidents the division has elected.


Founded in 1892, the American Psychological Association has generally been regarded as the primary organization of American psychologists. However, at various times in its history, assorted interest groups have founded separate organizations judged better to meet their specific needs. Prior to 1950, these included, among others, the Society of Experimental Psychologists (1904), the American Association of Clinical Psychologists (1917), the American Association for Applied Psychology (1937), and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (1936).

As the United States was engaged in World War II the National Research Council charged an Emergency Committee in Psychology of its Division of Anthropology and Psychology, chaired by Karl Dallenbach, to find ways of reforming and integrating psychology so it might be more inclusive and be a more effective national tool during the war and to plan post-war psychology as a science and profession.

A Sub-Committee on Survey and Planning for Psychology, chaired by Robert Yerkes, first met at the Vineland Training School in 1942 to consider various plans. At the broader Intersociety Constitutional Convention of 1943 it was decided to adopt a divisional structure incorporating the various existing groups and analogous to the organization of the United States, complete with a Council of Representatives analogous to the U. S. Congress. Ernest Hilgard chaired the continuing group.

A ballot was sent to members of various groups in 1944. The ballot listed 19 proposed divisions arranged alphabetically. A proposed division of general psychology was the fourth most popular first choice among the 19 proposed divisions, although a dozen others received more total votes than it did. The list was restructured as a function of the ballot results and 19 (soon to be 17) charter divisions were formed and the revised bylaws were approved. The division of general psychology had been the fourth most popular single choice (212 votes) on the ballots but was finished just 12th (877 votes) in total choices.

The final structure moved from an alphabetical organization to one probably designed to reflect, to some degree, the historical evolution of the field and moved from basic academic and scientific interests to the more applied. Thus the Division of General Psychology became Div. 1. Further, it initially was decided in the bylaws that all APA members had to belong to at least one division. Those not specifying a preference were placed in Div. 1, which served as the default division. That portion of the bylaws was soon abandoned by vote of the membership upon recommendation of the Committee on Elections. More specifically, the members voted “to delete Article VII, Section 3, which reads ‘Members of the Association not expressing a preference for a special division shall be members of a Division of General Psychology...” by a vote of 1,024 to 128, with 16 abstaining (Marquis, 1946, p. 503).

The first real division membership totals are from 1948. However one can get an idea of the impact of that deleted bylaw item from data on the divisions chosen by the 301 new APA associates elected in 1945 (Marquis, 1946). Approximately 71 percent of new associates were placed in Div. 1. In contrast to the 215 new Div. 1 associates, there were just 25 new associates in Div. 17 (Counseling Psychology) and 24 in Div. 12 (Clinical Psychology). It is interesting that just three of the 301 new associates listed more than one division. Div. 1 grew gradually from 543 members in 1948 to 1,137 in 1965 to peak at 6,234 in 1988 and decrease to 1,245 in 2013. The percentage of APA members in Div. 1 has gotten progressively smaller.


I turn now to the division presidents. I will gloss over many of the decisions I have had to make in order to conduct my analyses. There have been 71 presidential elections with three individuals, Edward Tolman, Robert Leeper, and Delos Wickens, elected twice; one, Virginia Staudt Sexton, was elected but was too ill to serve so her responsibilities fell to president-elect Charles Brewer. Where the availability of data permits, then, my N is 68. The Division Organizing Committee initially appointed Richard M. Elliott as a temporary chairman; he is not included as he was not elected.

Past Presidents of Div. 1 (l to r): Peter Salovey, Harold Takooshian, Donald Dewsbury, Janet Sigal, Dean Simonton, John Hogan, Florence Denmark.

Past Presidents of Div. 1 (l to r): Peter Salovey, Harold Takooshian, Donald Dewsbury, Janet Sigal, Dean Simonton, John Hogan, Florence Denmark. 

Note that there are missing data in some categories. The APA has replaced its printed directories with an on-line directory. This may respect privacy but provides significantly less information than the older publication, thus making projects such as this significantly more difficult. I filled in missing data by contacting individuals where I could. However, not all were available and two past presidents refused to provide missing information.


Elections as president have been strongly male-biased; just 13 presidents have been women (19 percent). Analyzing by halves, just 3 of the first 34 presidents (9 percent) were women contrasted with 10 of the last 34 (29 percent), including the last 3 elected. As with a number of my analyses, this is consistent with broader trends, in this case toward increased representation of women, in APA and even more broadly in society as a whole.

Affiliation When Elected

The home institutions at the time of election were fairly evenly distributed with 50 different universities represented among 67 different presidents. As best I can tell, one was unaffiliated. The Yale faculty could boast four presidents; Michigan and Penn had three each, and 10 schools two presidents each.

If one groups the universities by system, one finds that seven were from the University of California system; two each from the University of Massachusetts, City University of New York, and University of North Carolina systems.

Viewed geographically, there has been a northeastern prevalence. Thirty-four of the presidents have been from northeastern schools; 14 were from the West; nine each from the South and the Midwest. One was from Canada.

I expected the stronger East coast hegemony in the earlier years but found a slight reversal. Whereas 45 percent of the first-half presidents were from the East, 58 percent in the second half were eastern.

PhD Institution

The 68 individuals received doctorates from 34 different universities, two per school on average. The distribution is highly skewed with 22 different institutions producing one each. The leader was Harvard, which graduated eight future presidents (nine if one includes Tolman's two terms). Columbia and Iowa graduated six each; Penn and Yale four each, Brown, Clark, Duke, and Michigan three each, and Cornell, Ohio State, and University of California Berkeley two apiece.

Using traditional groupings in a changing array, a total of 28 individuals received their PhDs from Ivy League schools; 15 from Big 10 schools. The Atlantic Coast Conference produced five, the Pacific Coast Conference three, and both the Big East and the Southeastern Conference two each.

The diversity of PhD schools increased with time. The first 34 presidents were from 16 universities; the 34 serving after that time were from 27 schools. All three who were elected twice served during the earlier period. Six of Harvard's eight presidents served during the earlier period. Five in the earlier group were from Columbia and four from Iowa. During the later period there were just two from Iowa and one from Columbia.

Undergraduate Institutions

As might be expected, the distribution of undergraduate schools was more widespread than for graduate schools. There are many more undergraduate than graduate programs. The 66 presidents for whom I have information graduated from 52 schools. Leading was NYU with four future presidents. Penn and CUNY each produced three and seven schools produced two each. Remarkably, 15 of the presidents obtained undergraduate degrees from eight schools within the five boroughs of New York City.

Approximate Age at Start of Term

The ages of the various presidents were calculated using an online program. This, like some other estimates, required some assumptions. I calculated age as of Jan. 1 of the first year of each president's term. I had data for just 66 individuals as two refused to prove their birth dates.

The mean age for the 66 presidents was 57.4 (SD=7.1). The youngest president, Carl Hovland, was 39 when elected; the oldest was George Albee, who was 84. Sorted by decades, of course there was one each in their 30s and 80s, and there were 16 in their 40s, 19 in their 50s, 25 in their 60s and four in their 70s.

The first 34 presidents had a mean age of 53.7; the last 32 of 62.1. I speculate that during the first half there were many relatively new PhD psychologists who attended graduate school as fellowship programs expanded. The presidents in the second half waited their turn as the earlier group filled the presidency. It may also be that recent psychologists turned to general issues later in life as they matured after working in more specialized areas earlier in life. Further, the data are consistent with the general graying of the APA.

Field of Interest

Classifying fields of interest requires many decisions that may be partially subjective and vary from person to person. I relied most on the statements in the APA directories over the years but added some other considerations as well. Many of the presidents have had multiple interests but I tried to classify each according to a primary field. I came up with 24 different fields of psychology. The study of learning, both human and animal, led all fields with 19 presidents. There were eight social psychologists, four each from clinical, cognition, developmental, and history; and three each from motivation and sensory psychology.

I tried to combine similar fields of interest. With my lumping, 39 of the 68 presidents worked in the broad, traditional field of experimental psychology. Eight were in various applied fields; eight were social psychologists. Six were in various academic fields, four in developmental psychology and three had to be listed as miscellaneous.

There were some substantive changes over time. There were 16 subfields listed for the first half of the presidents and 15 in the second half. Fourteen of the 19 students of learning were in the first half, consistent with the dominance of that field during that phase of psychology. By contrast, six of the nine social psychologists were from the second half. All four clinical psychologists, historians of psychology, and cognitive psychologists were from the later period. When combined, 26 first-half presidents were from the traditional experimental fields and just 13 in the second half. All but one from the more applied fields were from the second half.


The Division of (or Society for) General Psychology has generally functioned as originally conceptualized by the founders of the division structure of the APA. It has provided a home for a diverse array of psychologists, most of whom seek an integrated approach to psychology that is not found in the other, more focused, divisions. As can be seen in the elections of its leaders, it has been, to some degree, a microcosm of psychology at large and of society in general over the past decades of its existence. The shifts in leadership mirror, in a microcosm, changes in the APA that have taken place over this period. Women have played an increasing leadership role. The backgrounds of its presidents have generally become more diverse, with respect to affiliations and educational backgrounds, over time as the field has spread and proliferated. The presidents have become somewhat older, on average, as has the general membership of the larger organization. Other factors may have played a role in that change. The changing fields of interest have been substantial as the presidents elected have become less tied to traditional experimental approaches and moved toward more applied, social, and other fields. The division/society continues to provide a home for those seeking to work in their own fields of interest but in a broader context of psychology at large.


Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (1997). The origins of psychological species: History of the beginnings of American Psychological Association Divisions. American Psychologist, 52 , 725-732.

Capshew, J. H., & Hilgard, E. R. (1992). The power of service: World War II and professional reform in the American Psychological Association. In R. B, Evans V. S. Sexton, & T. C. Cadwallader (Eds.), The American Psychological Association: A historical perspective (pp. 49-175). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Doll, E. A. (1946). The divisional structure of the APA. American Psychologist, 1 , 336-345.

Hilgard, E. R. (1945). Psychologists' preferences for divisions under the proposed APA by-laws. Psychological Bulletin, 42 , 20-26.

Marquis, D. G. (1946). Proceedings of the Fifty-fourth Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. American Psychologist, 1 (11), 493-532.

Wertheimer. M., & King, D. B. (1996). A history of Division 1 (General Psychology). In D. A. Dewsbury (Ed.), Unification through division: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (Vol. 1, pp. 9-40). Washington, DC