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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2014
Special Anniversary Reprint: Message From the
First Historian of Psi Chi
Frederick Howell Lewis, Scarsdale (NY)

To commemorate Psi Chi’s 85th Anniversary, we will reprint some past messages from the Psi Chi Newsletter. In 1969, Psi Chi founder Frederick Howell Lewis, wrote the following:

To All My Psychological "Grandchildren:”

Just as my 1928 letter to the chairmen of college and university psychology departments was a first, so is this message to you a first.

As I indicated in my 25th anniversary Psi Chi talk to you, this 22 year old graduate student had the nerve in the spring of 1928 to address an inquiry to all the moguls of psychology—names I saw in gold lettering on the covers of formidable tomes on the library shelves. That letter was really more than an inquiry as to whether they (1) had a psychology club at their institution and (2) whether they didn’t think that a national honor society in our field might be desirable. The clear assumption of this unknown upstart was that such a society was unquestionably desirable, and not just because practically every other academic discipline on campus already enjoyed this privilege.

With all the mathematical and statistical developments since I departed the campus in 1940, I suspect that the Gaussian curve of distribution may have gone down the drain along with short haircuts, college grades, and an awe of professors. But the responses were bell-shaped, or in the language of that ancient day, operational. A few replied "Great”—a few said "Nuts”—and most were lukewarm.

Undaunted, as kids are, Eddie Newman and I were undismayed by the massive and enthusiastic indifference. We tried out the idea that May at the Midwestern Psychological gathering in Madison, Wisconsin, and called a meeting on the then unruffled Christmastime campus of Columbia University at the 1928 APA Convention (psychologists preferred earmuffs to air conditioning for their national gatherings in those days).

Come the New Haven ... [Ninth] International Congress of Psychology on the Yale campus in 1929, we were ready to deliver the baby after about 16 months of gestation. And after all the promotion and persuasion, only eleven institutions showed up for the delivery. Charter members, no less!

So the magical age of 40 for Psi Chi has arrived and I do wonder what Eddie Newman will be alleging as he assesses "psychology and psychologists forty years later.”

As I think about "psychology and psychologists forty years later,” I am impressed by how much we still don’t know about Homo sapiens. The Psychological Review, The American Journal of Psychology, The Journal of Experimental Psychology, et al...and let’s include that highly profitable publishing venture Psychology Today—have markedly swelled the periodical literature since I departed the halls of learning. One must assume that their pages over a thirty year period have shed some light on the ways of man.

As I recall the kind of research problems that absorbed the attention of psychologists during my graduate school days, I am appalled at the triviality of many of them. To be sure, psychology was struggling toward the same status as a science enjoyed by physics and chemistry—and unless a problem could be so prescribed so as to lead the prediction and control, it was avoided.

The effect of this timidity was to discourage imagination and to limit innovation, yet the paralyzing fear of making a mistake in the conceiving of a research project—as in most areas of human endeavor—is the greatest mistake of all if psychology is to progress as an academic discipline and to justify its existence as a member of society.

From my vantage point, it appears that the whole area of concern for life in the urban ghetto has received scant attention from psychology. What is being done seems to come from the sociologists, anthropologists and most everybody else.

Reading the above, I apparently have forgotten in this recital that this is supposed to be a "Happy Birthday message.” And indeed it really is, for I am proud of the good health and vigor of Psi Chi, and the increasing role it is assuming in so many campuses in drawing faculty and students together, and in inspiring psychology majors toward excellence in their field. The birthday will be a happier one though, if the look is a forward one, frankly assessing the present and the future possibilities for psychology and psychologists to combine their analytical skills and research techniques with a sense of commitment and concern for the problems of human relationships which become more complex and more urgent every year.

And speaking of years, I hope to be lucky enough to be present when Psi Chi cuts the 50th birthday cake. Who can predict what the next decade will be like—for the world, the nation, the campus, Psi Chi? The speed of change seems ever to quicken. Our hope and aim as an honor society must be to keep pace.

*Read by the National President of Psi Chi, Dr. Francis A. Young, in introducing the first National President of Psi Chi, Dr. Edwin B. Newman, who delivered Psi Chi’s Fortieth Anniversary Address.

From "Message from the First Historian of Psi Chi,” by Frederick Howell Lewis, Psi Chi Newsletter, 1969, Fall, p. 7. Copyright 2014 by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology. Reprinted with permission.

Copyright 2014 (Volume 19, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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