Warren, Howard Crosby

Warren, Howard Crosby (1867-1934), first chairman of the Psychology Department, was badly burned by a lamp when eighteen months old, and suffered great pain from a succession of operations during the first five years of his childhood. As a result of this ordeal, he developed powers of endurance and emotional restraint that remained dominant traits of his personality. Although he carried through life deep facial scars and a useless hand and eye, there were apparently no emotional scars -- in his autobiography he said his early life was ``the story of a happy childhood, a pleasant home life, and congenial playmates.''

His family was financially able to give him every assistance in coping with his early handicap (and later to leave him a substantial inheritance, which he used with characteristically self-effacing generosity to advance the science of psychology). Although brought up in a puritanically religious household, he developed at an early age a skepticism toward conventional beliefs and explanations, which in college ripened into a revolt against religious mysticism and a belief in a deterministic interpretation of mental processes.

He prepared for college under a private tutor, graduated from Princeton in 1889, and received an A.M. two years later. In 1893, after advanced study in Leipzig, Berlin, and Munich, he became a demonstrator in Princeton's new psychological laboratory in Nassau Hall. His advance was rapid: he became professor in 1902, director of the laboratory in 1904, and Stuart Professor of Psychology in 1914. He worked with persistence toward the formal separation of psychology and philosophy, and in 1920 became the first chairman of a separate department of psychology. Through his efforts and with his financial help, Eno Hall, a building devoted entirely to psychology, was erected in 1924.

Warren was profoundly honest and deeply scornful of insincerity and vanity; he also had a fine sense of humor. These qualities were in evidence when in 1916, two years after his appointment to the Stuart Professorship, he became a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. He had not bothered to take a degree at the normal time in his career and now concluded that it was not proper for him to examine Ph.D. candidates without having the degree himself. He spent the entire academic year 1916-17 in residence at Hopkins, where he gave lectures instead of attending them, presented a thesis, and successfully completed the final oral examinations in which, one observer said, ``one could not tell who was the examiner and who was the candidate.'' He thus earned his Ph.D. three years after the completion of his term as president of the American Psychological Association.

Toward the end of his life Warren was threatened with total blindness; ``it will be an interesting psychological experiment,'' he told a colleague, ``to find out what personal adjustments I shall have to make.'' He patiently carried on the work of compiling a dictionary of psychology, with which he had been occupied for a decade, and pushed it almost to completion, even though he could see the print only with the greatest difficulty. He left the manuscript, and $5,000 for editorial expenses, to the trustees of Princeton, and the dictionary was published posthumously, ``a memorial,'' his faculty colleagues said, ``to his careful scholarship and . . . supreme courage.''

He also left to Princeton his extensive psychological library; it is housed in Green Halls which replaced Eno Hall as the home of psychology in 1963.

In his honor the Society of Experimental Psychologists, which he helped found, annually awards to one of its members the Howard Crosby Warren Medal.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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