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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: May 2019

11 - Early American Psychology (1890–1920)


Psychology in the United States had its origin in the same set of ideas that inspired the psychologies of Germany, Great Britain, Russia, France, and Austria, but, like those, it also had a unique development. To understand this development, we need some knowledge of US society in the latter half of the 1800s.

Some Features of Nineteenth-Century American Society

While much of the nineteenth-century United States had once been a British colony, independence in 1776 had severed the political-administrative but not the cultural connections between the two states. The new nation was dominated by people who spoke English as their native language and whose roots were in British culture and thinking. The social order was based on British traditions, and all this remained so far into the 1900s.

The United States underwent great changes in the period after the Civil War (1861– 65). Before the war, the greater part of the population had lived and worked on farms of relatively modest size. Afterward, in the years following 1865, rapid technological development took place in agriculture. The use of new machinery created a revolution, and the production of food increased enormously. At the same time, great changes also took place in ownership; large agricultural areas came to be owned by relatively few people, and the number of agricultural workers increased. Industry experienced explosive growth, and people poured into the new industrial areas, which rapidly became large cities. At the same time, streams of immigrants began arriving in the new Promised Land, needing food, housing, education, hospitals, and churches and bringing with them rapid changes in US society.

People emigrated to North America for different reasons. Most probably hoped to find a means of subsistence for themselves and their families. Some sought wealth, some political freedom, and some sought to practice their religion according to their convictions. Common to all was that they left countries in which they did not feel they had sufficient opportunities. A desire for self-realization and freedom came to mark Americans, for whom individualism became a central value. The craving for individual freedom and the possibility of amassing substantial capital helped make the United States a society characterized by capitalist ideas.

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A History of Modern Psychology
  • Online ISBN: 9781316272442
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