G. Stanley Hall: Clark University's First President
Established Adolescence as a Stage of Human Development
No one individual placed such an enduring stamp on the character of Clark University as did its first president, Granville Stanley Hall.
Through his personal achievements and commitments, he established institutional traditions that have endured to this day. Any treatment of those Clark people who have altered the way we view the world must begin with Hall.
In 1888, when he was tapped for the Clark presidency from the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, the 44 year-old Hall was already well on his way to eminence in the then emerging field of psychology. His establishment of experimental laboratories at Johns Hopkins, the first in the discipline, quickly became the measure of the fully modern psychology department. Over his 32 years as a scholar/teacher president at Clark, he had an astonishing influence over the future shape of the field of psychology.
Hall's voracious appetite for learning and prodigious work habits, his insistence on building theory from experience, and his penchant for bringing different fields of study together, would themselves have made him a formidable figure. But the force of his personality, his taste for controversy, and his untiring will added to the mix. Dorothy Ross, his biographer, wrote that from his extraordinary efforts came the "formative impulses of progressive education, child development, educational psychology, clinical psychology, school hygiene, and mental testing." Among his many students who made significant future contributions in fields he stimulated were the philosopher John Dewey (when Hall was at Johns Hopkins) and the famous psychologists Lewis Terman, Henry Goddard, and Arnold Gesell (when Hall was at Clark). By his very prominence and productivity, Hall created a demand for the scientific study of children and the field of child psychology.
His most direct influence in shaping our view of humankind came from his theories about adolescence. His fourteen hundred page, two volume work, Adolescence, published in 1904, fashioned a view of that period of human development that remains with us a century later. (The full title was actually, Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education.) As Thomas Hines, the author of The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, has written, "that people in their teens should be considered separately from others, which seems obvious to us today, was Hall's boldest, most original, and most influential idea." Hall "provided a basis for dealing with adolescents as neither children nor adults but as distinctive, beautiful, dangerous creatures." And Hall's idealization of adolescence—with its potential and its risks—subsequently contributed to our youth culture mentality in ways that likely would have appalled him.
Hall was a transitional figure between Victorian conservatism and early 20th Century modernism—reflecting major intellectual characteristics of each. As might be expected, that combination was not always well received by advocates from either camp. His controversial Adolescence was banned from some libraries because of its lengthy and sometimes lyrical treatment of sex. Yet, the book was also characterized by urgent religious strictures on behavior. A contemporary of Hall, E.L. Thorndike, described him as a man "whose doctrines I often attack, but whose genius I always admire." When commenting on Adolescence to another noted psychologist, Thorndike said that Hall's magnum opus was "chock full of errors, masturbation, and Jesus. He is a mad man."
What attracted some to Hall and his ideas, and alienated others, were his "music man" propensities. He was the promoter, the impresario par excellence. Hall could "put on a party," as he did with the extraordinary celebrations in 1899 and 1909, on the occasions of the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the opening of Clark University. He did so with an incomparable sense of daring—inviting major figures with unconventional, unpopular, or even scandalous ideas, and then promoting them with the press. He seemed always to be founding new journals or scholarly associations to disseminate his ideas and those of scholars whose perspectives were consistent with his own. Among his creations were the widely respected American Journal of Psychology and the American Psychological Association. He also helped found the Association of American Universities. Ross described this side of Hall as journalist, entrepreneur, and preacher.
Hall might be characterized as an indomitable university president, given far more to willful decision making than to consensus building, and not above being infuriatingly duplicitous when it served his purposes. He had legions of professional acquaintances, in the United States and abroad, in a day when it was an extraordinary effort to develop and maintain broad contacts. His personal life, during his presidential years can only be described as tragic. While recovering from a serious case of diphtheria at his family home in Ashland, Massachusetts, in 1890, he was informed that his wife and eight-year old daughter had died of accidental asphyxiation at the presidential home in Worcester. His second marriage saw his wife, after years of increasingly eccentric behavior, being admitted to a mental institution—apparently suffering from "arteriosclerosis of the brain." Those experiences had an understandable impact on Hall's disposition and his behavior, but through it all he continued to be, in an almost surreal sense, a ceaseless and tireless worker.
His conduct of the presidency resulted in periodic and damaging battles with faculty and somewhat strained relations with the trustees (most particularly with the University's founder, Jonas Gilman Clark). But, Hall had an extraordinary talent for hiring brilliant, controversial, and internationally recognized faculty, and often at modest pay—people attracted to Clark by the ethos of the institution that Hall created. Clark likewise attracted numbers of brilliant graduate students. Under his leadership, the University was characterized by high aspiration, intellectual excitement, extraordinary freedom, readiness to challenge the conventional, and always hard, hard work. The celebrated physicist, Arthur Gordon Webster, who studied with Albert Michelson at Clark and later taught at the University, said that the spirit of Clark was more important than its facilities. It was "the spirit of work, and work is life." Franklin Mall, a faculty member widely known for his contributions in anatomy, and a sometime critic of Hall's presidential style, put it simply: Hall "works harder than any of us do."
About the time of Clark's 25th anniversary, the president of Layfayette College, E.D. Warfield, wrote a critical essay about higher education in a popular magazine, in which he approvingly described Clark as going a different way from that of other universities. He criticized universities in general for duplication, replication, and waste, while "Clark University stands alone in its effort to do a few things exceedingly well." That was no a small testimony to G. Stanley Hall's commitment.
From Changing the World: Clark University's Pioneering People 1887–2000, by Richard R. Traina. Worcester, MA: Chandler House Press, 2005, pp. 10 - 15. ©Clark University