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History of Psychology at UGA

The University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, GA, is the oldest state-chartered University (1785) in the United States of America.  Abraham Baldwin wrote the Charter at the request of Governor Lyman Hall (one of Georgia's signers of the Declaration of Independence), and Baldwin was one of Georgia's two signers of the United States Constitution on 17 September 1987.  However, a location for the UGA was delayed due to political competition for its location.  Circa 1800, the 633 acres for the original of the site of the University of Georgia were purchased, and on 31 May 1804, the first class graduated.  Meanwhile, North Carolina charted the University of North Carolina (UNC) on 11 December 1789 and began constructing its first building in October 1793.  UNC enrolled its first students on 15 January 1795.

Psychology was represented in UGA's first curriculum in a course titled "Moral and Mental Philosophy." Over the years, psychology-related courses evolved from "Mental Philosophy" to "Mental Science." "Psychology" first appeared as a UGA course in 1897, but the course remained philosophically oriented. In 1900, William James's scientifically-oriented textbook, Psychology, Briefer Course, was used.

Oscar S. Straus, a German-Jewish emigrant to Georgia who served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor under Theodore Roosevelt, funded the establishment of a laboratory at UGA in 1902. It was equipped similarly to E. B. Titchener's (1867-1927) laboratory at Cornell University, and Titchener's textbook and laboratory manuals were used.

From UGA's beginning until 1908, psychology was joined with philosophy within the Franklin College (later, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences). When the Peabody College of Education was established (1908), psychology and philosophy were transferred to Peabody College. In 1912, the construction of Peabody Hall to house the Peabody College was nearing completion, and UGA's first bona fide doctoral psychologist, Ludwig Reinhold Geissler (Ph.D., 1909, Cornell, supervised by E. B. Titchener; see more below) was given the responsibility to design separate rooms for the study of Vision, Audition, Taste, Smell, Kinesthesia & Etc., Attention, and Memory, as well as rooms designated Research, Darkroom, and Workshop.

Ludwig Reinhold Geissler 1879-1932

Geissler was born in Leipzig, Germany.  He immigrated to Texas USA in 1902 to join his brother and sister. In 1905 he earned a Baccalaureate Degree in Literature.  In 1909 he earned the PhD in Psychology under the supervision of Edward B. Titchener, who had earned his PhD under Wilhelm Wundt in 1892.  Geissler was the first bona fide psychologist on the faculty at UGA (1912-1916).  In 1916 while at UGA, he began the actions that led to the founding of the Journal of Applied Psychology.  For more about Geissler, see Thomas (2009) in References below.  A copy of Thomas (2009) may be downloaded from Thomas's website under Retired Faculty on the Psychology Department website.

Please note that in addition to Geissler, Edwards, Parrish (PhB), and James (below) studied with Edward B. Titchener, so in a significant way, Titchener was a founding influence of this Department of Psychology


Austin S. Edwards 1885-1976

In 1916, Austin Southwick Edwards (Ph.D. 1912, Cornell, Titchener) replaced Geissler who moved to Clark University (Worcester, MA). Soon after his arrival, Edwards was called to the U.S. Army where he served as a Captain under Major Robert M. Yerkes in the group that developed the Army's Alpha and Beta tests. Returning to UGA in 1919, Edwards soon realized that the Peabody College administration did not support psychology as a science, and Edwards led a successful "mutiny" (his word) to have psychology returned to the College of Arts and Sciences. The present-day Department of Psychology originated in 1921. Edwards also succeeded in having psychology grouped with the natural sciences, a legacy which today finds psychology grouped with the biological sciences as well as the social sciences; however, the department offers only B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees.

 Despite having earned his doctorate as an experimental psychologist, Edwards published in experimental, social, educational, and clinical psychological journals. He founded the Psychology Clinic (officially recognized in 1930) and served as its Director until 1950. Edwards also served as department Head until his retirement in 1951. Georgia was among the earlier states to pass state licensing laws for psychologists, and Edwards served on the committee that drafted the law, he served on the first state Board of Examiners, and he received license #1 in the state of Georgia.

Edwards was the only psychologist in the professorial ranks at UGA until 1933. System-wide budget cuts during the economic depression resulted in the reassignment of psychologists Florene Young (1901-1994) and May Zeigler (1882-1976) from the Georgia State Teachers (located in Athens and closed permanently in 1933).   Florene Young served as assistant director in the Clinic until the directorship was passed to her in 1950; she remained as Clinic Director until her retirement in 1968. Young (1969) compiled an unpublished but accessible history of the department that includes an essay titled "Building a Department" by A. S. Edwards. Zeigler published an abbreviated history of psychology at UGA (Zeigler, 1949).  For more information about Young and Zeigler see Thomas (2022).

When Edwards retired in 1951, the department had approximately seven faculty members; "approximately" applies to faculty numbers here because there has long been a mix of full-time and part-time appointments not necessarily resulting in a whole number. The faculty numbered 10 by 1959. By 1968, the department had 40 faculty members and was spread over three campus buildings. In 1969, a new six-story building was opened for exclusive use by the Psychology Department. To date and at its peak, the department had approximately 45 tenure-track or tenured faculty members.  Budget cuts in the past decade have reduced that number, and non-tenure track Lecturers with PhD degrees have been hired to help the department meet its undergraduate teaching obligations.

In 1970, the department was subdivided into five Ph.D. specialty programs: Applied which included Industrial-Organizational, Biopsychology subsequently renamed Neuroscience and Behavior, Clinical, Experimental subsequently renamed Cognitive-Experimental, and Social. In 1987, the Life-span Developmental program emerged.  The most recent departmental reorganization resulted in three doctoral programs, Clinical Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, and Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Table 1 lists all department heads and their terms in chronological order. In most cases a link to an autobiographical or biographical sketch is included.


Celestia S. Parrish 1853-1918

As indicated earlier with Geissler and Edwards, Titchener's influence was strong in the early establishment of psychology at UGA. Two other Titchener students had a significant impact on psychology's development at UGA. Preceding Geissler was Celestia S. Parrish who is best remembered for having established the first psychology laboratory in the south, which she did at Randolph-Macon Woman's College (R-MWC) in Lynchburg, VA, in 1894. Parrish was in charge of mathematics and pedagogy at R-MWC when she volunteered to obtain the necessary education to enable R-MWC to offer psychology. She persuaded Titchener to take her on as a part-time student. By attending summers she earned a Ph.B. (bachelor) degree under Titchener in 1896. In 1902, Parrish became Professor of psychology and pedagogy at the Georgia State Normal School which was also located in Athens, GA. She also taught child psychology at UGA during the summers, before women were on UGA's regular faculty and before women were admitted as students. Circumstantial evidence suggests that she was likely instrumental in establishing the psychology laboratory at UGA in 1902 (see above). Additionally, with funding donated by George Foster Peabody, she oversaw construction of a building on the State Normal School campus to be used for practice teaching, and she built a state-of-the-art experimental psychology laboratory there that was modeled after Titchener's and the one at R-MWC.

William Thomas James (1903-1998) enrolled at Cornell in 1926 hoping to earn a Ph.D. under Titchener, and he had classes with Titchener before his death in 1927. James then earned his Ph.D. under H. P. Weld and subsequently worked with Howard Liddell at the Cornell Farm. Liddell had worked with Pavlov and was among the early American psychologists to bring Pavlovian research to the United States. In 1946, James established UGA's first animal research laboratory where he did both comparative and physiological research. Young's history (1969) also includes an essay by James titled "Establishing Animal Laboratories at the University of Georgia."

Department Heads Term(s) of Service
Austin Southwick Edwards 1919-1951
Florene M. Young  1951-1952 (agreed only to serve until ASE's replacement was hired)
Hudson Jost 1952-1959
William T. James  1959-1962
Joseph C. Hammock 1962-1969
Charles L. Darby  1969-1974
Milton H. Hodge 1974-1976
R. Bryan Payne (Acting Head) 1976-1977
William B. Pavlik  1977-1984
Roger K. Thomas  1984-1993
Joseph D. Allen  1993-1999
Garnett S. Stokes 1999-2004
Roger K. Thomas (Interim Head) August 2004-February 2005
Irwin S. Bernstein (Interim Head) March 2005-July 2005
Patricia H. Miller  2005-2009
W. Keith Campbell 2009-2017
L. Stephen Miller 2017-2021
Adam Goodie 2021-Present


Perhaps the first national contribution to psychology in general by a UGA psychology faculty member resulted from L. R. Geissler's role in founding and editing the Journal of Applied Psychology. It has been shown (Thomas, 2009) that Geissler was the principal founder (together with G. Stanley Hall and J. W. Baird) and was chief editor for the first four years. It is also clear that Geissler began working to found the journal during his last year (1916) at UGA; he solicited the participation of the 19 "co-operating editors" shown in the first issue as well as manuscripts for the first issue. Geissler's additional contributions included writing a defining article for the first issue, "What is applied psychology?" which, among other things, differentiated between "applied" and "pure" psychology on the dimensions of "AIM," STANDPOINT," "SCOPE," "PROBLEM, "and "METHOD. In volume 2 Geissler published "A plan for the technical training of consulting psychologists" which outlined academic programs and requirements to become an "assistant consulting psychologist," a "consulting psychologist," or an "expert consulting psychologist" depending on one's level of education (bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees, respectively).

Systematic records have not been maintained of faculty contributions to psychology, so information here should be seen as highly constrained by limited records. In the category of teaching, the department currently confers approximately 350 B.S. degrees each year, and for decades conferred approximately 20 M.S. degrees and 20 Ph.D. degrees each year. In recent yeras and by design the M.S. and PhD numbers have declined slightly, but this academic year (2015-2016) 18 PhD degrees were conferred.  The quality of graduate teaching is reflected in faculty members who have been honored by former students with festschrifts. Three that are known to this writer are:(1)  "A Biopsychology Festschrift in Honor of Lelon J. Peacock" (occasioned by his retirement in 1990), Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Atlanta, GA, March, 1991' papers from the festschrify were published as a special issue of the Journal of General Psychology, 1993, v. 120, No. 1.(2)  "From Perception to Social Organization to Conservation Biology: Research Contributions in Tribute to an Outstanding Mentor, Irwin S. Bernstein." American Society of Primatologists, San Antonio, TX, August, 2006. Abstracts were published in American Journal of Primatology, 2006, v. 68, and  (3) "Honoring the Contributions of Roger K. Thomas to Behavioral Neuroscience Research." at the 2015 meeting of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology.

Most faculty members over the years have published at high rates in highly ranked journals and many receive extramural funding with considerable success. Four faculty members at UGA have served as presidents of three international or national academic societies: International Primatological Society (Dorothy Fragaszy), American Society of Primatologists (Irwin Bernstein & Dorothy Fragaszy), and Comparative Cognition Society (Jonathan Crystal). There have been five presidents of four Divisions of the American Psychological Association: Development Psychology (Patricia Miller), Society for Personality and Social Psychology (Abraham Tesser), Society for Clinical Psychology (Karen Calhoun), and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (William Owens & Donald Grant). Four members of this department have served as Presidents of the Southeastern Psychological Association (Henry Adams, Karen Calhoun, Joseph Hammock, and William Pavlik). Regional in name but national in membership, the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology,whose presidents have included such notables as John B. Watson, has had five presidents from UGA (Austin Edwards, Ludwig Geissler, Lelon Peacock, Clyde Noble, & Roger Thomas). Thomas succeeded Ulric Neisser as President of the SSPP.

UGA psychology faculty members who serve or have served as Associate Editors, on Editorial Boards, etc. are too numerous to list, but Editors include those for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Abraham Tesser), the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment (Henry Adams, founding Editor), and Psychological Inquiry (Leonard Martin). National honors and recognition include the Distinguished Primatologist Award (Irwin Bernstein), the Mentoring Legacy Award from the American Academy of Management (Lillian Eby), Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Irwin Bernstein, Dorothy Fragaszy, Lelon Peacock, Robert Pollack & Roger Thomas). Irwin Bernstein is a Fellow in the Animal Behavior Society, Dorothy Fragaszy is a Fulbright Fellow, and several Charter Fellows of the American Psychological Society came from this department. National research awards include Robert H. Pollack (deceased) and Lelon J. Peacock (deceased) for the best article in the Journal of Sex Research in 1982. "Organization Research Methods Article of the Decade" by Charles Lance (retired) and by Robert Vandenberg who earned his Ph.D. in this department and is a faculty member in the UGA Terry College of Business), "Best Paper Published" in the 2005 volume of Group and Organizational Management, (Lillian Eby) and "Research Article Award" for 2007 by a member of the American Society for Training and Development (Lillian Eby).


NOTE: the department reorganized in 2011. None of the specialty areas associated with Distinguishd Alumni below, except Clinical, exist presently (2016) as such.

Samuel M. Turner (1944-2005) was the first African American to earn a Ph.D in Psychology at UGA (1975; Clinical)).  Turner had a highly successful career which culminated in his receiving the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Professional Contribution Award in 1997 and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Association of Medical School Psychologists in 1998. Subsequent to his untimely death of brain cancer in 2005, the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12 of APA) established the "Samuel M. Turner Award for Distinguished Contributions to Applied Clinical Psychology."

Antonio E. Puente (M.S. & PhD, 1978; Biopsychology) is the 2016 President-elect of the American Psychological Association, and he will serve as President of APA in 2017.  Puente has also served the presidencies of the National Academy of Neuropsychology, the North Carolina Psychological Association, and the Hispanic Neuropsychologocal Society.

Stephen H. Hobbs (M.S. 1970; PhD 1972; Biopsychology) served as President of the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) in 2003-2004.  Georgina S. Hammock (M.S. 1984; PhD 1986; Social) served as SEPA President in 2012-2013.

          Graduate School Alumni of Distinction Award. In 2013, the University of Georgia Graduate School created the "Graduate School Alumni of Distinction Awards." In that seminal year, Donald K. Ingram (M.S.1977; PhD 1978; Biopsychology) and Thomas L. Lyons (M.S. 1971, Biopsychology) were among the recipients; Lyons also earned the M.D. degree in Colorado while playing offensive guard for the Denver Broncos. In 2014, Alumni of Distinction Award recipients from this department were Phillip J. Brantley (M.S. 1977; PhD 1980, Clinical), Michael Feurstein (M.S. 1975; PhD 1977, Clinical), and Pamela Ebert Flattau (M.S. 1972; PhD. 1974, Experimental).  In 2015 Alumni of Distinction Award recipients from this department were Antonio E. Puente (M.S. & PhD, 1978, Biopsychology) and Michael Tomasello (M.S. 1977; PhD 1980; Developmental).  The 2016 Alumni of Distinction Awards recipient from this department was Ariel Y. Deutch (M.S. 1979; PhD 1983; Biopsychology)..  


Photograph of Celestia Parrish is courtesy of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the UGA Libraries, Athens, GA. Also in the Hargrett Library are:

L. R. Geissler Papers:

Austin S. Edwards:

Department of Psychology records:

William T. James papers:

Florene Young papers:

Thomas, R. K. (2009). Ludwig Reinhold Geissler and founding of the Journal of Applied Psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 122, 395-403.

Thomas, R.K. (2022). Florene Mary Young and Margaret May Zeigler: The first women in Professorial Ranks, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia.  American Journal of Psychology, 135, 225-236.


Young, F. M. (1969). History of the Psychology Department of the University of Georgia to 1969. Included in Psychology Department Papers; see above).

Zeigler, M. (1949). Growth and development of psychology at the University of Georgia. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 75, 51-59.

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