Gordon Willard Allport (1897-1967)
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Biographical and Theoretical Notes

1897 Nov 11 Born in Montezuma, Indiana as the youngest of four boys (Harold, Floyd, Fayette, & GW, in descending order of age).
Father was John Edwards Allport (b. 1863), a "country doctor" who came to this career after working in business; mother was Nellie Edith (Wise) Allport (b. 1862) who had been a school teacher.
Raised in Glenville (Cleveland), OH in a home "marked by plain Protestant piety and hard work" (Allport, 1967, p. 4)
His older brother, Floyd (1890-1978), attended Harvard University before Gordon, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. And while Gordon collaborated on two early papers with Floyd in the 1920s, their approaches to psychology diverged and they shared no further professional authorship together. G. W. did admire his brother's "fierce personal and professional integrity" (Allport, 1967, p. 13) and occasionally relied upon Floyd for professional advice and critique.
1915 Graduated 2nd in a class of 100 from Glenville High School
1915-1919 Attended Harvard as an undergraduate with interests in psychology and social ethics.
He studied psychology with Hugo Münsterberg, Edwin B. Holt, Leonard Troland, Walter Dearborn, Ernest Southard, and Herbert Langfeld. His brother, Floyd, also served as an instructor in experimental psychology (Allport, 1967).
While attending Harvard College, he did field and volunteer social work in the West End of Boston and through a variety of organizations including the Phillips Brooks House.
1919-1920 Taught English and Sociology in Constantinople (Istanbul) at Robert College
1920 Encounter with Sigmund Freud in Vienna at which Freud misinterpreted a remark of Allport's; this led to a lifelong distaste by Allport for quick psychoanalytic interpretations.
1920-1922 Doctoral studies at Harvard in Psychology. Ph.D. awarded for a doctoral dissertation: "An Experimental Study of the Traits of Personality: With Special Reference to the Problem of Social Diagnosis" (Mentor: Herbert S. Langfeld with William McDougall and James Ford as readers)
1922-1924 Sheldon Traveling Scholarship which brought him in 1922-23 to Germany and in 1923-24 to Cambridge University, UK
In Germany he studied with Stumpf & Dessoir, the Gestaltists (Werthheimer, Köhler, & E. Spranger) in Berlin as well as Heinz Werner and Wilhelm Stern (in Hamburg). He gained a very broad and deep understanding of the currents in German psychological research. He noted that "Germany had converted me from my undergraduate semifaith in behaviorism" (Allport, 1967, p. 12)
In England, he found himself mulling over much of what he had experienced in German psychology; he did work with both Frederick Bartlett and Ivor A. Richards in minor fashion.
1925 Married Ada Lufkin Gould who was trained as a clinical psychologist. Their son, Robert, was born June 29, 1927 and later became a pediatrician (Nicholson, 2003).
1924-1926 Lectureship in social ethics at Harvard University
1924, 1925 Taught a course, "Personality: Its Psychological and Social Aspects," at Harvard, perhaps the first offered in the U.S.
Profoundly influenced by Dr. Richard Cabot who taught both cardiology and social ethics at Harvard. He found in Cabot a man who "followed a theory and practice of philanthropy that appealed directly to my own sense of values. He believed as strongly as I in the integrity of each human life..." (Allport, 1967, p. 11). His involvement with Cabot led to assuming direction of the famed Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study following the physician's death.
1926-1930 Assistant Professor, Psychology, Dartmouth College. There he taught the introductory course as well as social and personality psychology.
1930-1967 Faculty, Harvard University (Assistant Professor to 1936; Associate Professor 1936-1942; Professor 1942-1967)
His collaboration with students have included psychologists such as Philip Vernon, Gardner Lindzey, Hadley Cantril, Jerome Bruner, Leo Postman, Thomas Pettigrew and many others.
During the late 1930s and the Second World War, Allport served the APA as head of an Emergency Committee in Psychology to deal with refugee scholars from Europe (Stern, Köhler, Lewin, the Bühlers, and others). He also worked with Henry A. Murray on issues of civilian morale and the problem of rumors. He extended these academic interests and professional activities subsequently to a broad research program examining prejudice and group conflict in both American and foreign societies.
1936-1946 Chair, Psychology Department at Harvard
1937-1948 Editor, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology
1937 Publication of Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, a book which "defined (for the first time) the topics which well-bred texts in the field of personality should cover" (Allport, 1967, p. 15).
1939 President, American Psychological Association
1944 President, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI)
1946 Cofounded the Department of Social Relations at Harvard which combined the social, personality and clinical psycological faculty with cultural anthropologists and sociologists. The department would rejoin with the more biologically and experimentally-oriented Psychology Department in 1972. No longer a department chairperson, Allport chaired the Committee on Higher Degrees which gave him an important role in fostering the graduate careers of many in the post-War growth of graduate studies at Harvard.
1954 Publication of The Nature of Prejudice.
1964 Received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award to Psychology from the APA.
1965 Publication of Letters from Jenny. For many years Allport had used a series of 300 letters from a woman (from age 58 to 70, the year of her death) as the focus of student discussion and analysis in a seminar on personality. This book gathers these letters together. This same year the Department of Social Relations moved into the new 15-story William James Hall; Allport left his Emerson Hall locale for practically the first time in 50 years. Allport began a "semiretirement" in 1965 (he was scheduled to teach only in Fall semesters with the Spring free for writing and traveling).
1967 Oct 9 Died in Cambridge, MA of lung cancer
Sources: Alic (2001), Allport (1967), "Allport, Gordon Williard " (1997). Evans (1970, pp. xv-xxv), Nicholson (2003), Pattullo (1999), Pettigrew (1999).

How does the work of Allport contribute to narrative in psychology or the social sciences generally? There are are at least three aspects of his work -- methodological, theoretical, and pedagogical -- which prepared the way historically to the eventual development of the narrative perspective. While Allport generally supported rigorous experimental and quantitative approaches to research, he did not dismiss other methodologies, grounded in more qualitative means of data collection and analysis, as many of his purely experimental colleagues did. Allport knew the tradition of Geisteswissenschaften in the works of mentors like Wilhelm Stern and Eduard Spranger in Germany. He had studied with them as a post-doctoral visitor in the early 1920s. And, while Allport was hesitant about the absence of quantitative and methodological precision in their work (Nicholson, 2003), he also advocated a variety of non-experimental approaches to data collection and analysis in the development of personality psychology. These approaches were summarized in large measure in his 1942 monograph, The Use of Personal Documents in Psychological Science, which he prepared at the behest of the Social Science Research Council.

1. Methodological: Verstehen

2. Theoretical

3. Pedagogical

At the opening of his autobiography, Allport (1967) posed a set of empirical questions: "How shall a psychological life history be written? What processes and what structures must a full-bodied account of personality include? How can one detect unifying threads in a life, if they exist? The greater part of my particular work can be viewed as an attempt to answer such questions through piecemeal and stepwise research and writing" (p. 3) This interest in the entire life, the full personality,

Internet Resources

Personality Theories (Dr. C. George Boeree, Shippensburg University, PA) General resource which summarizes the major personality theories and their proponents during the past hundred years.

GORDON ALLPORT 1897 - 1967
Why should we care about Gordon Allport? (Chuck Huff) A talk given at the March 14th, 2001 Allport Award Dinner to the St. Olaf Psychology Department Facultyand Students

Bibliographical: Author's Works (Selected)

Books and Monographs

Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Henry Holt.

Allport, G. W. (1942). The use of personal documents in psychological science. (Bulletin 49). New York: Social Science Research Council.

Allport, G. W. (1950). The individual and his religion. New York: Macmillan.

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Allport, G. W. (1955). Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology of personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Allport, G. W. (1960). Personality and social encounter. Boston, MA: Beacon.

Allport, G. W. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Allport, G. W. (1965). Letters from Jenny. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Allport, G. W. (1968). The person in psychology: Selected essays by Gordon W. Allport. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

A second retrospective set of essays (to his 1960 Personality and Social Encounter) which Allport gathered shortly before his death and published posthumously. It contains a fairly complete bibliography of his published books, papers, and reviews to 1963 with newly published (rather than reprinted) works after that date. The four parts to this volume include (I) Which Model for the Person, (II) Personal Conditions for Growth, (III) Prejudice in Personality, and (IV) Persons [William Stern, William james, John Dewey, Karl Bühler, Kurt Lewin, Richard Clarke Cabot, and himself in autobiography].

Allport, G. W., & Odbert, H. S. (1936). Trait-names: A psycho-lexical study. Psychological Monographs, 47 (Whole No. 211).

Articles & Book Chapters (selected)

Allport, F. H., & Allport, G. W. (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 16, 6-40. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1924). The study of the undivided personality. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 19, 132-141.

Allport, G. W. (1924). The standpoint of Gestalt psychology. Psyche, 4, 354-361.

Allport, G. W. (1927). Concepts of trait and personality. Psychological Bulletin, 24, 284-293. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1928). A test for ascendance-submission. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 23, 118-136.

Allport, G. W. (1929). The study of personality by the intuitive method: An experiment in teaching from The Locomotive God. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 24, 14-27.

Allport, G. W. (1931). What is a trait of personality. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 25, 368-372.

Allport, G. W. (1937). The functional autonomy of motives. American Journal of Psychology, 50, 141-156. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1940). The psychologist's frame of reference. Psychological Bulletin, 37, 1-28. [Allport's 1939 APA Presidential Address.] Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1954). The historical background of modern social psychology. In G. Lindzey, (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 3-56). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Allport, G. W. (1962). The general and the unique in psychological science. Journal of Personality, 30, 405-422.

See, below, Holt (1962).

Allport, G. W. (1966). Traits revisited. American Psychologist, 21, 1-10.

Allport, G. W. (1967). Autobiography. In E. G. Boring & G. Lindzey (Eds.), A history of psychology in autobiography (Vol. 5, pp. 3-25). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Allport, G. W. (1968). An autobiography. In G. W. Allport, The person in psychology: Selected essays by Gordon W. Allport (pp. 376-409). Boston: Beacon Press.

Bruner, J. S., & Allport, G. W. (1940). Fifty years of change in American psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 37, 757-776.

The research reported here serves to support the concluding portions of Allport's (1940) APA Presidential Address.

Bibliographical: Secondary Literature

Alic, M. (2001). Allport, Gordon Williard (1897-1967). Gale encylcopedia of psychology. Available online at FindArticles.com.

Allport, Gordon Williard (1997). In N. P. Sheehy, A. J. Chapman, & W. A. Conroy (Eds.), Biographical dictionary of psychology (pp. 9-11). London, UK: Routledge.

Barenbaum, N. B. (1997). The case(s) of Gordon Allport. Journal of Personality, 65, 743-755.

Barenbaum, N. B. (2000). How social was personality? The Allports' "connection" of social and personality psychology. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 36, 471-487.

Craik, K. H., Hogan, R., & Wolfe, R. N. (Eds.). (1993). Fifty years of personality psychology. New York: Plenum Press.

The papers in this volume were originally presented at symposia held in 1987 on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allport's personality text and Ross Stagner's (1937) Psychology of Personality. Discussions of the historical and personal background to these texts is followed by a broad set of papers on the current status of both personality in psychology and the contribution of these two psychologists more particularly.

Evans, R. I. (1970). Gordon Allport: The man and his ideas. New York: E. P. Dutton.

This is volume VI in a series, "Dialogues with Notable Contributors to Personality Theory" and contains a transcript of a filmed set of interviews with Allport. Included, too, are the results of a 1969 symposium at the APA meeting in Washington reflecting upon Allport's contributions to personality and social psychology.

Hevern, V. W. (1999, August). Allport's (1942) Use of Personal Documents: A contemporary reappraisal. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, MA. (Available from the author.)

Holt, R. R. (1962). Individuality and generalization in the psychology of personality. Journal of Personality, 30, 377-404.

Extremely influential and frequently anthologized attack upon the Allportian nomothetic-idiographic distinction which, in the opening words of the article, is described as "one of the hardiest perennial weeds in psychology's conceptual garden". Though not written expressly to answer this article, Allport's (1962) essay on "the general and the unique in psychological science" was offered by the journal editor as a type of response.

Maddi, S. R. (1972). Humanism in personology: Allport, Maslow, and Murray. Chicago, IL: Aldine/Atherton. [BF698.M2367]

Nicholson, I. A. M. (1997). To "correlate psychology and social ethids": Gordon Allport and the first course in American personality psychology. Journal of Personality, 65, 733-742.

Nicholson, I. A. M. (2000). "A coherent datum of perception": Gordon Allport, Floyd Allport, and the politics of "personality." Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 36, 463-470.

Nicholson traces the development of Gordon Allport's interest in the study of personality, the role of the brothers' interpersonal exchange and intellectual disagreements over this issue, and the status of "personality" as a field of study in the 1920s.

Nicholson, I. A. M. (2002). Inventing personality: Gordon Allport and the science of selfhood. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

The long-awaited (and only available) biography of Allport which covers his life to the late 1930s. "Nicholson masterfully combines biography with intellectual history to reveal the ways in which Allport's science was embedded in the cultural politics of America in the 1920s and the 1930s. He argues that personality's emergence as an object of science was linked to the gradual demise of character and the self-sacrificing, morally grounded self that it supported." (from APA blurb)

Pandora, K. (1997). Rebels within the ranks: Psychologists' critique of scientific authority and democratic realities in New Deal America. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Based upon Prof. Pandora's thesis in the Science Studies program at UC San Diego, this groundbreaking study approaches the work of Gordon Allport and the Murphys -- Gardner and Lois Barclay -- within the social, economic, political and scientific context of the US during the 1930s and 1940s. The questions raised by the wider social issues of the day "suggested to Allport and the Murphys that psychological research could be used to critique American culture and thus to help create a more democratic polity" (p. 3). She situates all three psychologists within their own educational and personal histories and details common and unique themes across their research programs and professional engagements. 78 pages of endnotes serve as a grand treasure trove of leads and contemporary resources related to Allport and his colleagues. Essential.

Pattullo, E. L. (1999). Department history. Available at the website of the Psychology Department, Harvard University.

Pettigrew, T. F. (1999). Gordon Williard Allport: A tribute. The Journal of Social Issues, 55(3), 415-427. Available online at FindArticles.com

Smith, A. H. (1997). Gordon W. Allport: A becoming personality. In W. G. Bringman, H. L. Lück, R. Miller, R., & C. E. Early, (Eds.), A pictorial history of psychology (pp. 356-363). Chicago, IL: Quintessence Publishing Co.

Smith, M. B. (1993). Allport and Murray on Allport's "Personality": A confrontation in 1946-1947. In K. H. Craik, R. Hogan, et al., (Eds.), Fifty years of personality psychology (pp. 57-65). New York: Plenum Press.

Winter, D. G. (1997). Allport's life and Allport's psychology. Journal of Personality, 65, 723-731.

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