Psychology The first psychology course was offered at Smith College in the fall of 1878, but only to the senior class. It was a General Psychology course and was listed under the Department of Mental and Moral Philosophy until 1900, when the Department of Philosophy was created. At the same time, the first professor was hired to specifically teach psychology – Arthur Henry Pierce, after whom Pierce Hall, home to the Psychology Department offices for many years, is named. Advanced coursework started to be offered and included laboratory work, which is still an important aspect of psychology instruction at Smith today. During the 1910-11 year, the department moved from Seelye Hall to the top floor of College Hall.
In recognition of the growing interest and importance of psychology, the department title changed in 1916 to the Department of Philosophy and Psychology. The next year, David Camp Rogers was named the first Professor of Psychology. In 1922 an independent Department of Psychology was formed, with Rogers acting as chairman. The curriculum now included courses in educational psychology, social psychology, mental testing, abnormal psychology, and experimental psychology in addition to the introductory course.
Psychology soon became one of the most popular course topics at Smith, in great part because of the distinguished faculty. Three professors in particular contributed significantly to the field. James J. Gibson (1928-1942, 1945-1949) taught experimental psychology and later went on to write the influential The Perception of the Visual World (1950). Eleanor Jack ’31 went on to teach at the college and later married Gibson. The two published collaborative papers, but Jack’s focus was on infant perception. Kurt Koffka was one of the founders of Gestalt Psychology and came to Smith in 1927 as the first occupant of the William Alan Neilson Chair of Research. He was involved with the Society of Experimental Psychologists and wrote the important book Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935). During the 1930s, he made Smith an intellectual center this for school of thought.
The 1950s and early 1960s were a time of change and growth as young professors were trained to replace the older generation. The department outgrew Pierce Hall and in 1964 moved into the new Science Center, where all the other natural sciences resided. Burton Hall was home to the Psychology Department until a move in 1995 to the new Bass Hall, where modern laboratories and observation areas had been constructed for student research.
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