G. Stanley Hall Essay

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Stanley Hall founded the American child study movement, shifted the American school curriculum to the developing nature of the child as part of early progressive educational reforms, advanced psychology and human development as integral dimensions in the study of education and its professional practice, supported the beginnings of the educational testing movement, and furthered the study of education and higher education as academic multidisciplinary fields of study. During his lifetime, his theories and practices were known as Hallianism, as his biographer Dorothy Ross describes.

Born on February 1, 1844, Hall grew up in rural western Massachusetts. After preparatory studies, he completed his bachelor of arts at Williams College in 1867. Seeking to become a Congregational minister, his academic career led him to divinity studies at Union Theological Seminary. Yet Hall’s growing intellectual appetite pushed him toward more philosophical interests, especially positivism and evolution. Upon the advice of American theologian Henry Ward Beecher and others there, he went to study philosophy at the University of Berlin.

With the Franco-Prussian War, he returned to Union and finished his bachelor’s in divinity in 1871. As pastoral duties did not suit him, he took a faculty position at Antioch College the next year until 1876. He further embraced there the philosophical ideas of Hegel, the evolutionism of Spencer, and the psychology of Wundt. This mix of academic “fads” of that day led him next to study psychology under William James at Harvard, where he earned the first American Ph.D. in the developing discipline in 1878.

Eventually, Hall gained lecturer positions in pedagogy at Harvard in 1881 and in psychology at Johns Hopkins University in 1882 through offering public lecture series on education to enthusiastic teachers in Boston and Baltimore. This emergent study of psychology, of which Hall became one of the first major proponents, thus was derived from philosophical, historical, scientific, and educational studies and literatures. His successes resulted in being appointed professor of psychology and pedagogics at Johns Hopkins in 1884.

As one of the first professors of education in the country, he launched the evolutionist branch of what became early educational progressivism, complementing Hegelianism and Herbartianism. In 1888, he became president of Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts, and held its professorship of psychology and education. In these positions, his critiques of educational practice, critical studies of education, a major journal, degree programs in education and higher education, master’s and doctoral graduates, and the central place of psychology in the early study of education secured his founding role in launching the multidisciplinary field of education as one of the modern social sciences.

Hall became the founder of the American child study movement at Johns Hopkins. His assessment of educational practices in a series of articles led him to proclaim a new “natural” method of education, following his idea of the child’s evolutionary nature rather than the old cram method of content study in 1882. In bringing psychological development to education, Hall championed the slogan “the child’s nature as it actually is” for the movement, which focused on the study of children’s behaviors in an article for the North American Review in 1883. His first empirical studies centered on children’s knowledge and their learning through an observation questionnaire method.

The force of his lectures and studies also played a major role in developing the study of education. His major book, Bibliography of Education, offered one of the first taxonomies of the field in 1886. At Clark University, he furthered child study through beginning the first modern educational research journal, The Pedagogical Seminary: An International Record of Educational Literature, Institutions, and Progress (currently The Journal of Genetic Psychology) in 1891. Two years later, he began an annual education summer school and then graduate degree programs in education and higher education.

His fundamental two-volume works on Adolescence in 1904 and Educational Problems in 1911, as well as three other books for teachers, shifted pedagogical focus to child development and learning in schools. Hall called his natural method “a slow Copernican revolution” in his 1923 autobiography, yet “its effects” were “legion” in creating the “pedocentric school,” according to educational historian Lawrence Cremin in his 1958 classic book, The Transformation of the School. Unfortunately, he argued against coeducation and women’s higher education generally, because of his pervasive “evolutionism” and fear of race suicide. Nonetheless, child study led to pedagogical reform and was one force along with the significant influence of his Johns Hopkins student, John Dewey, and others in the later social progressive changes to public schooling.

Not only did Hall influence schooling, he greatly furthered the academic study of education by beginning the first graduate program in education at Clark University, leading to it becoming a multidisciplinary field of study in the social sciences at other universities. In his courses and lectures, he argued for a more theoretical approach to education and teacher education, grounding it in psychology and human development. His doctoral graduates as faculty championed the role of psychology in teaching education at major research and state universities.

Hall’s study of children’s psychology also led his doctoral students, Henry Herbert Goddard and Lewis Terman, to develop American intelligence testing. Concerning the study of higher education, he launched the first program and spoke often of its condition and problems as president. Finally, Hall retired from the presidency in 1920, and died on April 24, 1924.


  1. Cremin, L. A. (1961). The transformation of the school: Progressivism in American education, 1876–1957. New York: Vintage.
  2. Goodchild, L. F. (1996). G. Stanley Hall and the study of higher education. Review of Higher Education, 20, 69–99.
  3. Goodchild, L. F. (2006). The beginnings of education at American universities: Curricular conflicts over the study of pedagogy as practice or science, 1856–1940.
  4. In R. Hofstetter & B. Schneuwly (Eds.), Passion, fusion, tension: New education and educational sciences, end 19th–middle 20th century (pp. 69–105). Bern: Lang.
  5. Hall, G. S. (1923). Life and confessions of a psychologist. New York: Appleton.
  6. Ross, D. (1972). G. Stanley Hall: The psychologist as prophet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  7. Zenderland, L. (1998). Measuring minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the origins of American intellectual testing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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