Time Capsule

The Trojans of the University of Southern California are perennial powers in college football. Who was their first head coach, the only undefeated head coach in USC football history?

Give up? How about a few more clues: He coined the word "moron." He was a member of the Ohio Committee on the Sterilization of the Feeble Minded. And he brought the Binet intelligence scale to America, publishing his version in 1908.

Still no idea? It was Henry Herbert Goddard (1866–1957). In 1888, Goddard had just graduated from Haverford College where he played football. At USC, he taught Latin, history and botany in addition to his coaching duties. He left USC after one year with a record of two wins and no losses, moving east where later he would earn his doctorate in psychology with G. Stanley Hall at Clark University in 1899.

After teaching at West Chester State Normal School in Pennsylvania for several years, Goddard got the chance to move into a full-time research position. The superintendent of the New Jersey Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys, in Vineland, N.J., invited Goddard to join the school as director of research, charged with making a "psychological study of the feebleminded children." Goddard was interested in discovering ways to assess the children's intellectual functioning, but he was mostly clueless about how to do it. In the summer of 1908, Goddard made a two-month sojourn to Europe to study methods other researchers used in working with mentally challenged children. It was there that he learned of the intelligence test that French psychologist Alfred Binet had developed a few years earlier. Upon his return to New Jersey, Goddard translated the Binet test and began to use it with the Vineland children as well as children from public schools.

In December 1908, he published his version of the scale, "The Binet and Simon Tests of Intellectual Capacity." Use of the test spread rapidly, largely due to Goddard's eager promotion. According to biographer Leila Zenderland, PhD, Goddard quickly convinced American physicians to use the test. By 1911, he had introduced the test to public schools. By 1913, he had tested immigrants at Ellis Island. In 1914, Goddard became the first psychologist to introduce evidence from Binet tests in a court of law.

Intelligence testing was gaining popularity in America, and it became the bread-and-butter for many early psychologists. Although Lewis Terman later supplanted Goddard as the authoritative voice on intelligence testing, it was Goddard who created the intelligence testing industry. Thus, he's responsible for popularizing psychological science in America and providing psychology practitioners with their chief assessment tool.

Goddard's work at Vineland led him to conclusions about the origins of "feeblemindedness." He expressed those views in his most popular book, "The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness" (Macmillan, 1912). Using a fictional family name, Goddard shared the story of a family begun by an American Revolutionary War soldier who married a "worthy Quakeress," but also "dallied with a feeble-minded tavern girl." According to Goddard, descendents of the marriage produced generations of normally functioning people, whereas the union with the "tavern girl" produced intellectually inferior descendents, even criminals. The book sought to illuminate the role of heredity in "feeblemindedness" and provide a moral lesson emphasizing the societal harm that can result from casual sex.

In fact, Goddard argued that society should keep feebleminded people from having children, either through institutional isolation or sexual sterilization. As a result of its seductive mix of science and ideology, Goddard's book became a favorite among eugenicists. As such, Goddard's views were part of a dark chapter in American history.

There were always skeptics though, including psychologists, and recent research suggests that Goddard ignored family data that were inconsonant with his views.

Goddard was a far more complex and nuanced individual than this brief account implies. His papers, housed at the Archives of the History of American Psychology at the University of Akron, give considerable insights into his important and varied work. Those papers were used, along with many other sources, as the basis of Leila Zenderland's 1998 book, which is both a fascinating biography of Goddard and a history of intelligence testing in America.


Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin Jr. is a professor of psychology and educational psychology at Texas A&M University.

References

  • Goddard, H.H. (1912). The Kallikak family: A study in the heredity of feeble-mindedness. New York: Macmillan.

  • Zenderland, L. (1998). Measuring Minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and hte origins of American intelligence testing. New York: Cambridge University Press.