Psychology museum is recognized travel stop

National Psychologist July/August 2013, Vol 22, 4, p 5.

Psychology museum is recognized travel stop

By Paula E. Hartman Stein, Ph.D.

Akron, Ohio — Celebrating the third anniversary this August of the move to its current location, the Center for the History of Psychology has made it onto the list of recommended sites to visit by the travel website,

“The Archives of Psychology began in 1965 with nothing but letterhead and good intentions,” said David Baker, Ph.D., executive director of the center and a professor of psychology with the University of Akron. “Now in 2013 the museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and has the largest collection of psychology-related objects and books in the world.”

Through a $1.5 million dollar gift from Dr. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings, the collection was able to move out of a department store basement into its current remodeled space, a 100-year-old four story former warehouse. “It’s a great thing that Nick did. No one else had the courage or vision,” said Baker.

Baker recently conducted a behind- the-scenes tour for Cummings, a former APA president, his wife Dorothy, their children and grandchildren and a small group of friends.

“I had great respect for the founder of the Archives of Psychology, Dr. John Popplestone,” Cummings said, “but I could not get him interested in the history of clinical psychology as he was fixated only on academic research. When Dr. David Baker became director in 1999, we worked in the cramped quarters donated by the University of Akron.”

That changed, Cummings said, when Roadway Express vacated the warehouse and Baker persuaded its owners to donate it to the Archives. “The building needed repairs and remodeling,” Cummings said. “With no money available for this, our foundation stepped up and provided the funds to restore the building. The Center for the History of Psychology then became an attractive place for donors to make bequests.”

Only part of the first floor of the 75,000-square-foot building has been remodeled. Baker said much more funding is needed before other areas are accessible to the public.

Baker said after the Cummings Foundation gift, APA began to contribute to the museum. Every three years APA Council of Representatives authorizes annual donations. Baker is scheduled to give a presentation before Council this August for reauthorization of funding. The Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation had funded Baker’s position with a nearly $3 million dollar contribution. The center is supported by individual contributions. Seven founding psychologists donated $100,000 each.

The first floor of the museum is currently open every day, free to the public, to learn about the science and practice of psychology. “We offer programs at all levels, for psychology groups, high school students, and activities such as a ‘night at the archives’ for the Girl Scouts,” said Baker. The Center recently accepted a Fulbright scholar from Moscow and provides offices for visiting scholars.

The first exhibit that catches a visitor’s eye is a glass showcase of testing instruments used to evaluate immigrants who came through Ellis Island, part of the collection of Henry Goddard, who popularized IQ testing. The items were loaned to the National Park Service but due to hurricane damage of the New York museum, the objects are being displayed in Akron.

The psychological test collection goes back to 1918, containing more than 6,000 three-dimensional and paper-and-pencil tests, including achievement and personality measures as well as obscure tests of homemaking ability, spousal compatibility, and religiosity.

Among the 1,000 instruments and objects in the collection, some of the best known are Bandura’s Bobo doll and Harlow’s wired surrogate monkey. The APA traveling exhibit from 1992 is there as well as hand-written letters from Sigmund Freud, Harry Houdini, Carl Jung and Helen Keller. Baker acquired a 90-second home movie of Freud with his children and grandchildren in Vienna. “When I first projected it on my office wall, it was like seeing an apparition,” he said. “It humanizes an iconic figure.”

Janet Cummings, Psy.D., Nick and Dorothy’s daughter and president of the Cummings Foundation, expressed audible oohs and ahs as the group made its way from one exhibit to another. “I loved seeing the artifacts that I’ve read about for years – the Skinner box, the uniforms from the Zimbardo prison study, IQ tests from the 1920s. Seeing these museum pieces really made what I’ve read come to life.”

The museum houses the personal papers, private correspondence and drafts of manuscripts of more than 700 psychologists. Authors include luminaries such as Abraham Maslow and David Shakow, the chief architect of the Boulder model of science and practice. According to Baker, “We don’t process the papers until the death of the donor. We don’t sanitize things, but we are sensitive to privacy issues.”

Another section contains over 120,000 technical military reports including descriptions of the beginning of manned space flights. A reading room housing 50,000 volumes that is open by appointment only was included on the tour. “I refer to this as Fort Knox,” Baker said. “Scholars and researchers from around the world come here, allowed in with a pencil or laptop. Nothing goes out the door.”

The oldest volume is a small Italian “pocketbook” of natural history from 1533, restored through a grant. “Because such knowledge was the purview of the church at the time, people read these books in secrecy and kept them in their pocket,” said Baker. He pointed out a volume from 1752 that the church banned and burned because of its claims that man was a machine, an automaton.

“We have the collective memory of psychology here that includes philosophy to physiology, with records starting from the 1500s,” said Baker.

More on the center is available at


Paula Hartman-Stein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and consultant in Kent, Ohio. She may be reached at her website: