Time Capsule

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most important book, "On the Origin of Species." Recognizing those anniversaries, many countries around the globe are issuing Darwin stamps this year. But not the United States. Evidently, postal authorities are afraid of the political firestorm that would ensue from such recognition. So instead, we got a stamp in May honoring Bart Simpson.

Every year, the U.S. Postal Service issues about 40 new stamps. To be chosen as a U.S. stamp, nominators compete in an annual political competition, sometimes involving 20,000 recommendations or more. The nominations go to the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee—a group of 15 people selected from all walks of life—that recommends a small list of finalists. The postmaster general makes the final selections. About 15 of the new stamps issued each year are commemoratives, honoring an individual, organization, event, country, state, vocation and so forth.

The first commemorative stamp recognizing a vocation was issued in 1869, a two-cent stamp honoring the Pony Express. Since then, U.S. stamps have honored actors, architects, dentists, engineers, librarians, ship builders, steel workers, letter carriers, poultry farmers, fire fighters, petroleum workers, teachers, truck drivers, physicians, nurses, bankers, lawyers and many other occupations.

Alas, there is no stamp for the vocation of psychologist.

Why not have one honoring William James? Or John B. Watson? Perhaps Carl Rogers or B.F. Skinner? None of those well-known psychologist heroes have made it on a stamp. But some lesser-known names have. Education pioneer John Dewey (1859–1952) appeared on a 1968 stamp. Although Dewey made contributions to psychology, he was not a psychologist by training or by practice. Anthropology professor Allison Davis (1902–83) appeared on a commemorative 1994 stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series. Though most of his contributions were in anthropology, he published important work on personality development and on intelligence and cultural differences—work that clearly is in psychology's domain. According to Davis's biographer, Dallas Browne, Davis often described himself as a psychologist.

However, only one person with a PhD in psychology has been featured on a U.S. stamp. This psychologist wrote a book on management in 1914, had 12 children, held patents for an electric food mixer and refrigerator door shelves, served as an adviser to five American presidents, received more than 20 honorary degrees, was the first woman elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, and was the subject of the 1950 film, "Cheaper by the Dozen," starring Myrna Loy. That psychologist was Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878–1972).

Gilbreth, who appeared on a 40-cent stamp issued in 1984, combined her training in industrial psychology with an interest in human engineering, stimulated in part by work with her husband, Frank Gilbreth. They pioneered time and motion studies intended to increase productivity and reduce worker fatigue.

She received her stamp thanks primarily to a proposal from the National Society of Professional Engineers. The stamp's initial design featured the words "America's First Lady of Engineering." APA supported the stamp proposal, though some psychologists expressed concern that the stamp did not label Gilbreth as a psychologist. But the association decided not to raise a protest that might derail the stamp. In its final version, the stamp included only Gilbreth's name and no indication of her profession.

APA and others have sought, and failed, to secure a stamp honoring psychologists' work. For example, in 1986, APA proposed a stamp honoring William James (1842–1910) to appear in 1992 in conjunction with APA's 100th anniversary. Some psychologists called for the addition of APA's founder G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924) to the stamp. APA's Board of Directors eventually approved the James-Hall stamp and appointed a Centennial Stamp Committee to organize a letter-writing campaign. Unfortunately, their efforts went unnoticed. The 1992 USPS list included wildflowers, hummingbirds, minerals and Christopher Columbus among others, but not James or Hall.

In 1999, a coalition of organizations came together to lobby for a series of stamps on mental health, in the hopes that the stamps might reduce the stigma of mental illness. Tipper Gore lent her support to the effort, as did APA, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and Mental Health America. But after months of campaigning, only 35 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives had endorsed the effort. The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee eventually rejected the proposal.

In March of this year, the American Philosophical Association contacted APA about supporting its proposal for a William James stamp in 2010, evidently to coincide with the centennial of James's death. Given the lead time required for such stamp campaigns, this one is likely to fail as well.

The lack of stamps honoring psychologists or psychology is a glaring omission, as psychologists have contributed much good to the world as educators, scientists, practitioners and social advocates. Mental health issues, too, might benefit from such prominence as, for example, the stamps issued for public awareness of breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Wildflowers and hummingbirds are nice; both add to our quality of life. So do psychologists. Maybe one day the USPS will agree.


Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., PhD, of Texas A&M University, is the historical editor for "Time Capsule."

 

Eliot spatial test collection now online

Materials from the Eliot Spatial Test Collection from the Archives of the History of American Psychology are now available at http://drc.ohiolink.edu/handle/2374.OX/19835. The collection contains materials related to spatial tests and spatial intelligence. Resources include The Nature and Measurement of Spatial Intelligence, an unpublished manuscript by John Eliot, and the Eliot Spatial Research Database, a reference tool that provides bibliographic information on spatial intelligence.

Further Reading

  • Benjamin, L.T., Jr. (2003). Why can't psychology get a stamp? Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 5, 443–454.

  • Gilbreth, F.B., & Carey, E.G. (1950). Belles on their toes. New York: Thomas Crowell. Gilbreth, L.M. (1914). The psychology of management. New York: Sturgis & Walton Co.

  • Perloff, R., & Naman, J.L. (1996). Lillian Gilbreth: Tireless advocate for a general psychology. In G.A. Kimble, C.A. Boneau, & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), Portraits of pioneers in psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 107–116). Washington, DC: APA.