Page 39

Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences: Vol 33(1), 39-60 Winter 1997                            ©1997 John Wiley & Sons. Inc.



This paper explores the development and subsequent transformation of a "radical" professional model in American psychology. Its focal point is Goodwin Watson and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), an organization Watson helped found in 1936. During the Depression, he and many of his SPSSI colleagues called upon psychologists to abandon value neutrality and political disinterestedness in favor of an explicit set of social democratic goals and left-wing political alliances. Government service and political persecution during World War II led Watson to conclude that his Depressionera calls for sweeping change in psychology had neglected a number of significant political dimensions. Of particular importance was the problematic interface between psychological expertise and policy formation. In response to this concern, Watson encouraged the development of the now familiar model of the psychologist as a disinterested purveyor of value-neutral expertise.

In 1939, the recently created Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) published an edited book entitled Industrial Conflict: A Psychological Interpretation.1 With articles on "workers as a potentially dominant class," a Marxist history of industrial conflict, and a critique of "liberal" social science, the book was a novel departure for American psychology. Not only did the book examine subjects traditionally avoided by American psychologists, it did so from a politically and intellectually unorthodox point of view. Most of the contributions to Industrial Conflict were clearly informed by a socialist politics, and many questioned either directly or indirectly the very possibility of an objective science. Although the book was by no means indicative of American psychology as a whole, it was, however, representative of a significant minority of the field's membership. Industrial Conflict spoke for many of the field's younger members, and perhaps more significantly, it represented the views of those psychologists who wished to expand the field's role in everyday life.

Less than ten years later, in 1945, the SPSSI launched its own journal, the Journal of Social Issues. The topic and the tone of the discussions in the new journal were very different from those that had appeared in Industrial Conflict. The 1945 issue on the "Problems of Bureaucracy" is a case in point.2 The revolutionary images that had colored the pages of the Depression-era book had given way to a gradualist vision of liberal progress. Concerns about the relationship between psychologists and the general public were eclipsed by an emphasis on the place of psychological expertise in bureaucracy. Finally, the self-criticism that had characterized Depression-era discussions of social science had been replaced by a quiet confidence in the discipline's methods and vision. Eleven years on, the progression from radicalism to liberalism, from disgruntled outsiders to contented insiders was complete. In 1956, David Krech and Dorwin Cartwright published a brief historical overview of the SPSSI that effectively captured social psychology's prevailing political mood.3 The organization was presented as a stable and robust entity dedicated to liberal reform through

Page 40

scientific research. It was confident in its methods and clear in its mandate. Conspicuous by its absence was any sign of the spirit of the social criticism, activism, and class-based analysis that had animated the organization during the Depression.

The political and institutional development of American psychology from 1935 to 1955 is one of the most important chapters in the discipline's recent history. For it was during this crucial period that the field was transformed from a predominantly academic system of ideas into the multifaceted profession that it is today. In recent years, historians have become increasingly interested in this period of American psychology. However, scholarly attention has been confined largely to either the Depression-era period, or the war and postwar period. Relatively few historians have examined the transition from one era to the other. The present study will try to shed some light on this movement by examining the career of Goodwin Watson (1899-1976). Watson provides a useful focus for those interested in the history of psychological expertise, because his career and thought closely parallel the ideological and institutional trajectory of the discipline's applied wing. During the Great Depression, Watson was one of the most influential critics of mainstream psychology. He repeatedly maintained that psychology needed to reconstruct its epistemology and its model of professional practice to better facilitate social change. Instead of regarding themselves as dispassionate observers of objective truth, Watson urged his colleagues to regard themselves as politically committed activists. To further this end Watson helped organize the SPSSI in 1936, a body that would later play a key role in moving the American Psychological Association in a more applied direction.4 Watson's ideas about psychology and social change underwent a marked change over the course of World War H when he was employed as a government expert. By the 1950s, he was advocating a model of "value-neutral" professional expertise similar to the much criticized model employed by contemporary psychologists. A consideration of Watson's experiences helps make clear the political and intellectual choices that psychologists made in their quest to exercise influence.


Watson's formative years and his reasons for entering psychology in the 1920s typify the experience of many of his reform-minded colleagues. Born in 1899, in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Watson was the eldest son of Walter Starr Watson, a Normal School biology professor, and Ellen Goodwin Watson, a teacher turned homemaker. Both parents had a reverence for education and for the precepts of Social Gospel Methodism. God, science, and a Wesleyan "enthusiasm for humanity" were the hallmarks of Watson's upbringing.5 Watson was ordained as a deacon in the Methodist Church at the age of eighteen and despite the uncertainties of faith he periodically experienced, he decided upon graduation from the University of Wisconsin to enter the ministry full time. He wanted to "save the world" and in his Methodist mind, the ministry was the best place from which to undertake such a mission.6 There could be "no hope for the ultimate solution of our social problems," he wrote in a 1920 diary entry, "except in the development of character," a province usually overseen by religious educators. 7

Watson's enthusiasm for religious education was pronounced, but it did not last long. Shortly after beginning his work as a religious educator he began to question his faith and the efficacy of the church as an agent of social transformation. He was no longer moved by religious symbolism and his practical experience as a church worker in Harlem convinced him that the church would never be able to bring about social change on the scale he hoped for. Science, particularly psychology, appeared to hold this promise. In 1923, Watson left the

Page 41

ministry and enrolled as a graduate psychology student at Teachers College, Columbia University. The discipline was to pick up where the church left off. It was to be a vehicle for furthering a moral cause: the building of a new, more humane society. In an autobiographical statement Watson recalled thinking that "we [in psychology] could do better the very things that the religious education program was trying to do."8

Watson obtained his Ph.D. in 1925, and he spent the rest of the decade developing measures of nonintellectual traits, a research interest that he had first developed in his dissertation, entitled "The Measurement of Fair-Mindedness."9 He published extensively in the field of personality and character and by 1930 he had established himself as a leading figure in personality testing. Much of his work was highly technical in nature but it rested on the straightforward conviction that personality psychology could contribute to social advance. But as the United States descended into Depression in the early 1930s, Watson began to experience a disillusionment with psychology not dissimilar to what he had experienced with programs of religious education. He became increasingly convinced that the customary course of life as an academic psychologist-running experiments, publishing papers, attending conferences-was too impractical and altogether too far removed from the social reform ethos that had inspired him to enlist in the field. The routines of scholarship were socially sterile: They simply were not inspiring change at the level or pace that Watson had envisioned. Given the country's dire economic circumstances and the political administration's apparent poverty of ideas, this situation was all the more intolerable."10

What was needed, Watson felt, was a psychology that would be socially engaged and politically responsible. He discussed the idea with several colleagues at the 1934 meeting of the American Psychological Association and found that there was support for a "psychology [that] could properly help in making plans for transient relief, . . . collectivization, community planning, adult education, labor struggles, social insurance, economic reforms and revolutions."11 With the help of Isadore Krechevsky (a.k.a. David Krech) and a handful of others, Watson made this idea a reality in September 1936, with the formation of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, a "national group of socially minded psychologists."12 With Watson as Chairman and Krechevsky as Treasurer, SPSSI declared its intentions in a bold statement of purpose. The Society would "work effectively for both the immediate and ultimate freedom of psychology to do its utmost to make contemporary American society intelligible to its members; and to test hypotheses regarding social change."13 In doing this, Watson hoped to inspire popular discontent, which he assumed would in turn bring about a scientifically administered, social democratic state."14

SPSSI's emphasis on the general public and its goal of bringing "the scientists one step nearer to the statesman" led to new forms of professional activity."15 One of the most important initiatives involved what one modern theorist has termed "conscientization": "the effort to enlighten men about the obstacles preventing them from a clear perception of reality?' It involves the "ejection of cultural myths which confuse the people's awareness:' 16 The "cultural myth" that Watson and many of his SPSSI colleagues endeavored to expose was the capitalist economy of the United States. Having surveyed the American social and economic landscape, Watson was convinced that America's economic organization was grossly unjust. Capitalism was a system of "scarcity" and "exploitation of the many by and for the few:" 17 What kept it in place despite its many failings was a powerful ideological framework that prevented ordinary people from seeing the "true" nature of social and economic relations. The task of the politically enlightened psychologist as Watson saw it was to penetrate this veil of false consciousness. He called upon psychologists to "help the average citizen see through the efforts to misconstrue our economic and political predicament" on the

Page 42 

assumption that working class awareness of the shortcomings of capitalism would precipitate significant political change." 18

Along with conscientization, Watson also urged his SPSSI colleagues to undertake an intellectual program similar to what Prilleltensky has termed "annunciation": "conceiving a just social arrangement in which the well-being of the population is fostered."19 In Watson's view, psychologists could help determine the character of the ideal society and the means by which that society could be brought to pass. The discipline could identify "the liberties most essential to human satisfaction" and "define, for the intelligent leaders of social progress, the conditions under which the state can be made a dependable instrument of peaceful social transformation." 20

Amid the economic uncertainties of the Depression, Watson's suggestions seemed credible to a significant number of American psychologists. However, it was a credibility born more out of professional confidence and a strong desire to be socially useful rather than a thoughtfully considered analysis of psychology's expertise. At the time of Watson's proposal, the field had very little social change know-how, as prospective SPSSI recruit Raymond Willoughby noted in a letter to Isadore Krechevsky:

And what research projects would you promote? Can you see anything in sight, in any direction, that you could do that would have any bearing on anything? I can't. The journals are crammed with tripe, in social as well as other fields, which no sensible person    bothers to read. Suppose you "collected, analyzed and disseminated" data to your    heart's content-to whom would it make the slightest difference?" 21

In addition to the absence of a marketable product, Watson's proposal also raised troubling questions about the manner in which psychological expertise was constituted and deployed. Expertise involves speaking on behalf of something. An individual or profession is recognized as the legitimate spokesman for a given subject to the extent that they are able to withstand with Bruno Latour has termed "trials of strength"-a sustained challenge of the expert's interpretation. Historically, psychology has not fared especially well in its trials of strength. Common sense, psychics, ministers, spiritualists, and other academic disciplines continue to offer alternative, and in some cases more popular, explanations of psychological phenomena. What authority psychology has managed to consolidate has come through careful attention to two related aspects of scientific salesmanship. First, early psychologists spent a lot of time enrolling the support of scientific objectivity."22 Controlled experimental procedures, brass instruments, statistics, and laboratories were introduced into psychology in an effort to give academic psychological explanations an appearance of accuracy and objectivity."23 To the extent that they were able to maintain this appearance, psychologists have been able to defeat some opponents in trials of strength by portraying themselves as the representatives of nature and their opponents as the representatives only of prejudice or ignorance.

Psychology's ability to constitute facts has also been enhanced by a network of judiciously conceived alliances in schools and business. The discipline has prospered in these administrative niches by providing officials with new and politically useful ways of calculating and explaining. Psychology's great appeal lay in its promise to simplify and rationalize the complex network of considerations with which modern authority must contend. Watson's 1936 proposal for a new, politically relevant psychology was problematic as a statement of professional expansion because it did not adequately address the manner in which the psychotechnology was to be packaged-the issue of objective science-nor the audience to which the expertise was to be sold-the matter of alliances. Watson did inform his audiences that SPSSI's authority on social psychological questions was based on its "devotion to

Page 43

scientific methods" and its "objectivity and readiness to face the facts."24 At the same time, he weakened his rhetoric by urging psvchologists to ally themselves with preconceived goals and to cast aside notions of objective truth and disinterested scholarship. He called upon psychologists to become "participant observers at the most strategic points of reconstruction" and for them to employ a pragmatic, politically motivated conception of scientific research:

Research should be thought of not as hewing rocks of ages to be laid in foundations of    towers which rise ever higher, but as giving a brief push or steer to ongoing currents.    What really matters is not a publication embalmed in archives, but an influence on the    flow of thought and action.25

Watson's assessment of potential allies for psychological expertise was equally problematic. He proposed to link the field's intellectual products to the interests of the politically disadvantaged on the assumption that a psychologically equipped working class would be a politically powerful force for social change and a receptive market for further professional expansion. What was troubling about this proposal, beyond its dubious political feasibility, is that it equated the extensive deployment of psychological expertise with political progress. The arrival of the social scientists in positions of political influence would coincide with the start of a new enlightened political era. This kind of thinking left Watson unprepared to deal with more politically ambiguous circumstances where opportunities for the deployment of psychological expertise existed alongside and in the midst of conservative political agendas. More specifically, the revolutionary metaphors through which he construed the political landscape in me 1930s obviated the need to think about mobilizing psychological expertise in the existing political context. For instance, Watson did not consider the question of controlling psychologists intellectual products once they had been given over to an interested party. Nor did he consider the role that interest groups play in constituting the objects over which psychology exercises its authority. Most important, Watson gave little thought to the problems of sustaining a politically informed psychology within a politically complex bureaucratic context.

The strategic shortcomings of Watson's program for the SPSSI did not become apparent until World War II. Mobilization brought many SPSSI members to Washington to serve as opinion researchers, military personnel specialists, morale consultants, and propaganda analysts. Though many of these jobs did not involve psychology directly, they nevertheless highlighted a complex array of political and intellectual relationships that must be successfully negotiated in order to develop scientific authority and have one's expertise mobilized.


The American mobilization for war put Watson in a difficult position. In September 1941 he was offered the job of Chief of the Section on Analysis in the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).26 But as a social democrat of long standing, he felt that the war was essentially an imperialist struggle and thus not worthy of support. The war "was not, in itself the crisis.' he wrote, "but only a symptom of our deeper problems," namely the existence of the "capitalistic world."27 At the same time, however, mobilization offered him in an instant what years of intense and often unrewarding political struggle had failed to achieve: government recognition as an expert and a clear sense of direction. By modifying his ideological principles, SPSSI's cherished goal of having the social scientist and the statesman working hand in hand would become a very practical reality.

Page 44 

Watson's initial reaction was to stand by his assessment of the war's real meaning. He wrote a letter declining the offer, but "somehow," he wrote, "I wasn't ready to send it in." He cited public jingoism as a factor but his main reason for deciding "to enlist" as he put it, was a sense that the government needed him personally and psychology in general. "I came to realize." Watson noted, "that there are really not many people trained in social psychology. who have had much contact with political theory and forces in other lands."28 Thus, in November 1941 Watson went to Washington, D.C. to begin his duties as Chief propaganda analyst.

Whether Watson entertained any quixotic thoughts of reforming the system from within is uncertain. In a later commentary on government bureaucracy he noted that "the young newcomer thinks of Washington, before he comes there, in terms of hope for the country and hope for the world."29 If Watson was one of these idealistic newcomers, his reforming thoughts are likely to have been dispelled by the harsh political realities of Washington life. To his undoubted dismay, Watson discovered that he had been made one of the subjects of an anticommunist probe by Texas Congressman Martin Dies, the chairman of the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). The details of Watson's confrontation with Dies are worth reviewing in some detail for the case was not only among the most widely publicized "loyalty trials" in wartime America, but it also made a significant impression on the thought of Watson and other SPSSI members with respect to the manner in which they deployed their expertise.

When Watson went to Washington in 1941, Martin Dies was well known among the politically literate as the country's leading anticommunist. He was suspicious, conspiratorial, and overly emotional -a quintessential practitioner of what Richard Hofstadter called the “paranoid style in American politics."30 He had built his influence through a vicious and often hysterical campaign of character assassination in the late 1930s. A bitter opponent of Roosevelt's New Deal, Dies was determined to do almost anything to undermine its measures and further his own conservative agenda."31 Within days of Watson's arrival in Washington, the well-informed Dies publicly accused him of being a "propagandist for communism and the Soviet Union." "I am deeply concerned over this appointment," Dies said, "as it clearly bears out an observation which I have had occasion to make to the President in recent years, namely, that there is a new influx of communists and fellow travelers into official Washington."32

Anticommunists traditionally justified their investigations by appealing to the interests of national security. The nation was said to be threatened by an insidious conspiracy to replace capitalism with some form of socialism. This conspiracy was thought to involve senior government officials and key administrators in education, religion, and the media. Committees such as the HUAC were needed to identify these agents of subversion before the country was completely destabilized. In making this argument, anticommunists implied that there was a widely accepted definition of what constituted subversive activity and that the investigations themselves were dictated by some rational albeit vaguely defined plan. These notions were politically necessary if the HUAC were not to appear arbitrary and vindictive, yet they were seldom borne out in the actual investigations themselves. Goodwin Watson's encounter with Martin Dies and the HUAC is a typical example. Watson appears to have been targeted not because he was a legitimate threat to national security, but because his downfall would advance the personal and political agendas of two senior members of the HUAC.

The first of these was Joseph Brown Matthews, the HUAC's chief investigator. Matthews had a particularly strong motive to go after Watson. During the early 1930s, Matthews had been one of the most prominent leftists in the nation, having been associated

Page 45

with some sixty radical organizations including the Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Trotskyite Workers Party. "No other person in the United States," Matthews wrote in a fairly accurate self-assessment, "had such an impressive united front record."33 During this period, Matthews was also an executive and member of the board of directors of Consumers Research, an organization committed to protecting consumers from hazardous products. In 1935 its employees went on strike after a handful of them had been fired for trying to organize a union. When personally confronted by this tangible proletariat. Matthews revealed the depths of his political convictions. He adopted a hard line with the strikers by refusing all attempts at arbitration and by ignoring a National Labor Relations Board decision to reinstate the employees who had been dismissed. In the face of Matthews intransigence, most of the workers left and with the assistance of Watson, set up a rival and shortly more profitable company called Consumers Union."34 With his company's resources depleted and his reputation in radical circles in tatters, Matthews suddenly discovered that he was not a leftist after all but a "political and economic conservative ."35 He left radical politics and after a tour through conservative organizations such as the American Patriots, the League for Constitutional Government, and Father Coughlin's Social Justice, he joined the HUAC as Dies' chief investigator. There Matthews proceeded to hunt down and charge with disloyalty those people with whom he had been previously involved as a radical.

Given that Matthews knew Watson during his radical days-the two had met in the early 1930s when Matthews was a member of the Trotskyite Workers Party-and that he knew of Watson's involvement in the splintering of his company, it seems likely that he was using a Congressional institution as a respectable cover for a personal vendetta. Indeed, the very speed with which Dies picked up on Watson's case-within days of his arrival at the FCC-and the vigor with which he pursued it, suggests that there was an embittered voice close to Dies with a knowledge of Watson's past. Watson himself suspected as much. He remarked in his reminiscence that "I'm inclined to think it was my association with Consumers Union that made him [Matthewsl want to make me a target."36 The other HUAC member who had a political interest in Watson's fortunes was Martin Dies himself. Dies was convinced that the New Deal could eventually be defeated by portraying it as a step on the road to communism. One of the more effective ways of doing this was to "expose" President Roosevelt's appointees as communists or fellow travelers. James Fly, the chairman of the FCC, was one of his targets. Dies and his supporters hoped to discredit Fly by uncovering communists in his agency."37

Whatever the motivation, there is no doubt that Dies had targeted Watson for a HUAC hearing. On the basis of Dies accusation, the FBI initiated an investigation of Watson, directing its special agent in Washington to "develop complete information concerning the subject's connections with any subversive organizations" in order to determine "whether or not this individual is engaged in activities inimical to the best interest of the government. "38 The Bureau easily established Watson's leftist sympathies, but they could find no clear connection between Watson and the Communist Party or any of its known front organizations. In fact, the investigation revealed numerous instances of Watson opposing communist takeovers of trade unions."39 This finding was corroborated by the results of an internal investigation conducted by FCC Commissioner Clifford Durr. Durr reported that he "could find nothing which would lead me to regard him as a dangerous character. In fact, he impressed me as an intelligent and responsible citizen."40

With this dearth of conclusive evidence, it is possible that the entire affair might have been dropped. However, any chance of that happening was dashed on 5 January 1942 when a Newsweek article noted that Martin Dies was being praised by German propagandists. The

Page 46

story cited an unnamed source in Watson's section of the FCC, who reported that Dies had been the recipient of "as many favorable references in Axis propaganda as any living American public figure."41 This report enraged Dies who countered by mustering enough support in the House of Representatives to push through a special amendment to the FCC appropriation."42The amendment stipulated that no portion of FCC funds were to be used to pay Watson's salary. It was rejected by the Senate, whereupon Dies initiated a full-blown campaign to oust Watson and two other FCC employees.

Dies put Watson's name on a list of thirty-nine officials whom he described to the House of Representatives as "irresponsible, unrepresentative, radical and crackpot." We must "take immediate and vigorous steps to eliminate these people from public office," Dies declared. "All of us must break a lance in defense of constitutional government. We must say to the bureaucrats and the crackpots and the Communists and all of the disciples of totalitarianism, Americanism must live, America shall live."43 With these melodramatic words, Dies handed over his list and the HUAC's copious files to the Kerr Committee, which was a newly created subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. The Kerr Committee had the "confidence of the House, to hear such charges [of subversion] against any employee of the Government, and if the charges are sustained, take immediate action to see that he is promptly separated from the pay-roll."44

Despite the fact that there were several other people on the list with pasts far more radical and government posts more sensitive than those held by Watson, the Committee picked him as one of its first six defendants for investigation. He was "invited" to appear before a closed session of the Committee and answer questions not about his performance at the FBMS, which was beyond reproach,"45 but about his past political activities and his views on socialism and capitalism. As one might expect, it proved to be a highly unsettling experience for Watson, who, like all the accused, was denied the benefit of any defense counsel, outside witnesses, or cross-examination."46 "I had never before been in a situation in which I had the continuous feeling that they were trying to "get something' on me,' Watson recalled. He added that the pressure of the hearings gave him "a great compulsive cramp in the belly that just persisted for days.”47

Alone and undoubtedly intimidated by the Committee. Watson decided to adopt a conciliatory posture. He apologized for some of his more radical pronouncements and affirmed his loyalty to the current social order. "I think [the United States] is the best government the world has ever seen," he opined. "I think it is the best country the world has ever seen."48  Watson explained to the Committee that his leftist orientation was a response to the Depression and not a deeply held conviction. He said that the New Deal and the Hitler-Stalin pact had changed his view about the need to replace capitalism and of the benevolence of communism." "I do not [now] believe in any such sweeping substitution of one economic order for another. Now it looks to me as though any change we have in this country is likely to be a normal process of growth and modification of existing institutions."50

Unfortunately for Watson, what must have been a rather humiliating climb down did not clear his name. The Committee rejected his explanations of his past and ignored testimony about his current work. They also ignored numerous character references from Watson's colleagues in psychology."51 In its report of 21 April 1943 the Committee concluded that the "membership and association of Dr. Goodwin Watson ... and his views and philosophies as expressed in various statements . . . constitute subversive activity . . . and he is therefore unfit for the present to continue in Government employment."52 On the basis of this decision, a "rider" was added in the House of Representatives to the $134 million de-

Page 47

ficiency appropriation bill. "No part of any appropriation, allocation or fund," it stated, "shall be used to pay any part of the salary. . . of Goodwin B. Watson."53 If passed, the measure would terminate Watson's government service as of 15 November 1943.

The rider sparked a heated debate on Capitol Hill that was covered extensively in the New York Times and the Washington Post. At issue for the opponents of the measure was the constitutionality of a legislative trial and the legality of ex post facto law, "imposing punishment for an act that was not punishable at the time it was committed."54 The Senate believed these matters to be sufficiently in question that they unanimously rejected the bill. Senator Barkely typified the upper chamber's view of Watson's case when he called the amendment "legislative assassination" which "outrages all principles of fair play and democracy as we think we are now fighting to preserve it in the world."55 The proponents of the measure in the House were not concerned with such constitutional and legal niceties. For them it was simply a question of business: Does an employer have the right to fire an employee? "We [the Congress] have the right," Representative Hoffman explained, "to say we do not want a certain class of people or certain individuals on the payroll. It may be because their hair is red or because they are bald, or because they wear it down over their coat collars. It makes no difference at all." Representative Cannon put it more starkly: "We can lop off the salary of any person we see fit."56 The majority of the House agreed with Cannon and passed the measure only for it to be rejected again by the Senate. This sequence happened three more times until the Senate finally relented and passed the measure.

In the face of the House's commitment they had little choice. The appropriation bill to which Watson's rider was attached contained the money to pay the salaries of thousands of federal employees. Refusing to pass the appropriation meant that all of these people would go without wages. There was no way of killing the Watson rider without also killing the entire appropriation. With great reluctance, then, the Senate passed the bill and sent it on to President Roosevelt who was also troubled by the constitutionality of the Watson rider. It was, he remarked, "not only unwise and discriminatory, but unconstitutional" and an "unwarranted encroachment upon the authority of both the executive and judicial branches." 57 He added that he would veto the appropriation were it not for the fact that doing so would jeopardize the salaries of so many other people. Roosevelt thus authorized the bill in July 1943 and on 15 November 1943, Watson's name was duly struck off the federal payroll."58

After his dismissal, Watson went back to New York and took up a full-time position as associate director of the Bureau of Applied Social Research before returning to Teachers College in 1944. It was quite a comedown for Watson, who went from being the head of an important government unit to being in charge of a study of Americans' attitudes toward drinking wine."59 He was understandably bitter about his fate, especially given the cynical circumstances that had precipitated his downfall. He felt that he had been the victim of a "terrific injustice.60 He had voluntarily left his teaching post to go to Washington at the request of the FCC, and he had performed his duties competently. He received in turn two years of unremitting political persecution that included not only the inquisitional proceedings of the Kerr Committee and the almost farcical pronouncements of Dies but also death threats from ultraright extremists in the American Legion. "Get the G D [sic] Red off the U.S. Pay Roll or we'll see that he is shot off. If there ever was a communist here's one. If there is any one special university that should be closed by U.S. authority it is Columbia. A hot-bed of red teachings and subversive activities, and Watson is one of your red leaders." 61

Page 48  


The Kerr Committee investigation was an instructive experience for Watson and many of his SPSSI colleagues. Dies' uncompromising conservatism and his ability to defy the will of the President and the Senate was a dramatic lesson on the professional importance of political legitimacy and the difficulties of functioning in a government context. More specifically, Dies' manipulation of legislative procedure-the notorious "rider"-and his clever use of smear tactics to discredit the office of individuals whose policies he was opposed to, demonstrated conclusively that psychological expertise could not function independently of political circumstances no matter how incisive it might be. Psychologists had to know the system and know who was in the system. They needed to acquire a detailed knowledge of the Executive and Legislative Branches; their respective powers and their points of tension. They needed to forge meaningful alliances with the agencies responsible for implementing new policy. Finally, they needed to realize that the relationship between policy implementation and empirical research was in a state of constant flux. Therefore psychologists had to know the system of knowledge production employed by each government branch and, as Kurt Lewin remarked in a 1942 address to the SPSSI, they ought to know how to defend against attacks from other branches of government:

The study of social relations, of groups and of their culture, will, of necessity, bring us in close contact with all the social forces which are ruling the life of these groups. We might be able to handle these problems more or less cautiously and more or less wisely. But we will have to be prepared for occasional attacks by local or national politicians. Goodwin Watson, the editor of the yearbook of the SPSSI. . . has been honored by such an attack (emphasis added) .62

In the 1930s, Watson and most of his SPSSI colleagues had little appreciation of the political intricacies of large-scale research and policy implementation. He later recalled that he "encountered [government] bureaucracy with bewilderment."63 Four years of exposure to the political maneuverings of Dies, Matthews, and numerous other Washington insiders was a detailed albeit painful education that helped convince him that his earlier calls for sweeping change had neglected a number of important political dimensions. Watson summarized the insights obtained from his own government experience in a special issue on bureaucracy in the Journal of Social Issues. He noted that the federal government was a "more vast and intricate mechanism" than the schools and colleges that the SPSSI professors knew so well.'64 Government bureaucracy required close study and political savvy if one wanted to be effective. In a passage that effectively summarized the Washington experience of the SPSSI psychologists, Watson noted that

Getting things done in government is not dependent simply on having a good idea and plenty of energy. There are "channels" into which "memos" must be "routed," and out of which they may or may not emerge. Research and intelligence officials suffered the shock of discovering that the operating officials for whom reports had been painstakingly prepared had acted without consulting these studies. In reaction against a growing sense of futility, the investigator might redouble his effort, attempting to justify his job. Bumping against controls from his chief from Civil Service,. . . from jealous competitors, from Congressional investigators, and press misinterpretation, the innovator, bruised in spirit, gradually subsides into the approved bureaucratic torpor (emphasis added)." 65

Watson's gritty assessment undoubtedly reflected his own grim ordeal in the byzantine world of Washington politics. But his Methodist optimism precluded complete despair. Sci-

Page 49

entific deliverance from political vice and irrationality was still possible, though it would take much effort on the part of the psychologists and those for whom they now worked. The bulk of the effort would not be expended in getting psychology into centers of power. The war had done that for them. What had to be overcome was the problematic interface between psychological expertise and policy formation. Psychologists were confident that they had something of value to offer but they knew from experience that their careful research did not always figure in political decision making. Gordon Allport summarized the difficulty in a 1942 letter to government psychologist Rensis Likert: "No other center in America has such a galaxy of brilliant social psychologists...Their working morale seems to be high. The only depressant is the worry you all have concerning the usefulness of your reports." Watson's own experience had underscored the tenuous character of government expertise: "Expertness in government is not easy to recognize," Watson wrote. "A citizen who would defer to expert knowledge in engineering or medicine is suspicious of a Ph.D. in political science or economics."66 In Watson's view, this resistance represented an impediment to the kind of scientific administration that social scientists were capable of providing.

Watson's sense of the political precariousness of social scientific expertise was an important influence on his professional agenda during the war. His Washington experience underscored the need to enhance psychologists' ability to persuade by further strengthening their authority. One option that Watson and some of his colleagues considered to enhance social science's expert profile was further professional specialization. A series of meetings were held in 1942 for the purpose of creating a "profession of human engineers," a new class of expert "whose professional concern [would be] with social processes rather than with individuals directly."67 Another option of greater long-term significance was a shift in professional ethos with respect to political action and scientific expertise. Over the course of the war Watson moved away from his Depression era model of politically committed expert to the now familiar model of the psychologist as a disinterested purveyor of value-neutral expertise. Working amid the daily struggles in government offices involving experts, bureaucrats, military officers, and elected officials, Watson had few alternatives. A value-neutral posture was a political necessity for the government expert. Appearing apolitical was the only way an expert could purchase political legitimacy and ward off attacks from the likes of Martin Dies.

The shift toward a more "objective" professional posture is apparent in Watson's writing as early as 1942. In a SPSSI yearbook on civilian morale, Watson discussed issues of morale involving labor unions. His presentation was intended to improve labor's standing in society, but as historian Lorenz Finison has noted, all of Watson's "proposals called for action at the federal level rather than at the trade union level."68 Watson's analysis thus subtly moved the psychologist from his Depression-era position alongside labor to a position "between the national political elite and the various underclasses." Watson's new emphasis on political impartiality and scientific objectivity was made even more explicit in a utopian essay he wrote in 1943, shortly before he appeared before the Kerr Committee. Entitled "How Social Engineers Came to Be,"69 the paper was set in 1983 (sic) and delivered in the form of a presidential address to the "American Social Engineering Association." Unlike Watson's own presidential address to the SPSSI in 1937, the Social Engineering address contained no pragmatic notions of scientific truth nor did it seek to place "the better techniques of social appeal. . . at the disposal of the underprivileged." The metaphors of struggle and influence that informed Watson's Depression-era views were replaced by the politically benign metaphors of engineering:

Page 50

We have a body of technical skills and a growing collection of relevant facts obtained from    careful research. We make this available to responsible authorities, helping them do more    quickly, more easily, more smoothly, and more effectively the things which it has long been    their job to do.70

In cultivating the image of objective expert, Watson was engaging in a communal activity. Wartime experience had led many of his SPSSI colleagues to a heightened awareness of the political problems of mobilizing and selling psychological expertise on a nationwide scale. Down-playing political commitments and heightening the apparent objectivity of psychology were the most promising means of strengthening the authority and political viability of psychology. Watson's SPSSI colleague David Krech is a case in point. Krech had been a radical during the Depression, but by the mid-1940s, he was downplaying partisanship in favor of a studied political neutrality. He maintained that psychologists should address the concerns of all facets of the social spectrum: "the governmental administrator, the legislator, the union leader, the business man, [and] the foreman in a plant."71 In Krech's view the psychologist's contribution was less one of political leadership and more a matter of technical ability. The discipline's methodological procedures could generate useful insights into problems that had been identified by leaders in various segments of society: "In social research the social scientist is the expert on the research formulation of the problem, on interpretation, on analysis, on understanding. But he must seek the original formulation of his problems from the man of social action."72

Shifts of the sort undertaken by Watson and Krech raise issues of professional strategy or means, but they also raise questions of professional end. Did Watson's new model of expertise change the kind of psychology he undertook? A review of Watson's postwar publications and public statements yields a somewhat ambiguous answer. In terms of changes, Watson's choice of topics now assumed the basic economic and political make-up of the country. Class-based analysis and economic references were largely replaced by an interest in racial prejudice and the postwar concerns of youth. Furthermore, Watson's scholarly language reflected an increased sense of the importance of preserving an air of scientific objectivity. The impassioned appeal to concentrate on social problems was now tempered by a concern for the scientificity of the project: "Like an ellipse, every point of which is determined by two foci, so every point of action is determined by the urgent social needs and by the equally considered necessities of scientific methodology."73

Amidst these changes, however, one finds certain points of continuity between his Depression-era views and those of the postwar period. Most notably, Watson occasionally pushed the bounds of scientific credulity to an extreme by making political statements that went well beyond the pale of what most would have regarded as an "objective" statement. Watson demonstrated a particular independence of mind over the issues of anticommunism and academic freedom. In 1948, for example, he created a minor sensation at the American Unitarian Association's annual convention when he told an audience that included U.S. Federal Trade Commissioner Lowell B. Mason, that ultra-conservative sentiment was threatening traditional American freedoms. "Anti-communist hysteria' Watson argued, "in a situation in which every actual violation of freedom is coming from the right . . . is evidence enough in itself of the perilous state of our free institutions." He contended that the country was moving "rapidly away from Jefferson's faith that even error might be safely tolerated when reason is free to combat it, and are banning books, firing un-orthodox teachers and setting up machinery to probe opinions."74

Though relatively subdued when compared to his 1930s articles, in the context of the late 1940s this was a very bold statement. Since the end of World War II, the boundaries of

Page 51

politically acceptable thought had been narrowing. By the time Watson made his speech in 1948 the national mood was one of pronounced conservatism and intolerance. 75 A sense of this mood is evident in the response to Watson's speech. Lowell Mason walked out of the conference and in a statement widely quoted in the nation's newspapers he said that Watson was a "pseudo-intellectual antagonist of democracy," who had attacked "out American ideology" while "favoring Communism.76 Editorials critical of Watson appeared in papers across the country. 1t is a little strange," one of the more typical articles noted, "that a church would invite a man like him to speak, leaving the church open to attacks from within and without." 77

The negative publicity surrounding the speech does not seem to have intimidated Watson. For the next four years he continued to speak out on issues with a boldness that was both refreshing and admirable considering the context of the time."78 Given that he had already been investigated by a HUAC-type committee during the war, Watson may have felt that he was invulnerable to further persecution and was thus free to speak his mind. Then again he may have simply believed that freedom of speech was an ideal worth the risk of further HUAC harassment. Whatever his thinking, Watson's independence of mind was sharply curtailed in 1953. That year anticommunists gave him and his fellow SPSSI members another painful reminder of the costs involved in departing from that carefully circumscribed domain of scientific objectivity.

Watson's second encounter with anticommunists did not command the same degree of attention as his wartime confrontation with Dies: however, it was widely reported in major newspapers. SPSSI members were well aware of the case, and the Society's executive raised funds to help Watson defend himself." It was an experience to which they would become quite accustomed because Watson's second clash with anticommunists was anything but unusual. A number of SPSSI members were investigated during this period and, as historian Ben Harris has pointed out, these investigations often had an unfortunate "indirect effect of causing some professionals in the 1950s to avoid areas of research.”80 Watson's experience represents another depressing case in point.

The circumstances surrounding the case were most unlikely. Watson had accepted a position with the Guidance Center of New Rochelle, New York, to serve as a part-time consultant on a study of obedience and discipline of children.81 Under normal conditions this arrangement would not have attracted any close scrutiny. Watson was a qualified scholar, and the project was academically respectable. However, during the feverish climate of the McCarthy Era, commonplace exchanges of information and personnel were frequently subject to intense examination by government agencies or private right-wing organizations. In 1953, it was one of these private groups the Westchester County Americanism Commission of the American Legion-that challenged Watson. The Americanism Commission had been established in 1919 as a result of widespread concern among conservatives about the apparent growth of radicalism in the United States. Its purpose was to promote the Legion's goal of "100% Americanism" and to "combat" radical political viewpoints which the Commission invariably labeled as "anti-American tendencies."82 Throughout the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the Commission attacked what it perceived to be radical causes in print and through a network of sympathetic legislators. By the time Watson's case came to their attention in 1953, it had established itself as an influential and much feared right-wing pressure group.

The Legion's interest in Watson's work at New Rochelle developed out of a story that appeared in a local newspaper. The paper ran a picture of Watson and gave a brief account of his new duties at the Guidance Center. An observant member of the local Legion post saw the story and recalled Watson's dealings with the Kerr Committee ten years earlier. The story

Page 52

was brought to the attention of senior officials in the local Legion, who, believing they had discovered a communist in their midst, decided to take action. Four days after the story appeared, John Saunders, Commander of a local Legion post, requested publicly that all American Legion posts in Westchester County seek the termination of Watson from the Guidance Center. Saunders accused Watson of "championing major and minor objectives of the Communist conspiracy in America."83 To strengthen their case, the Legion published a forty-fivepage report on Watson's alleged subversive activity.84 They then began a campaign to pressure contributors to the New Rochelle Community Chest to "withhold any funds designated" for the Guidance Center until a special investigation could be held to determine Watson's loyalty.85 The Center promptly launched its own investigation of Watson's political background and scientific impartiality. Three psychologists reviewed his academic work, and a Committee from the Community Chest scrutinized his political activities. Together they concluded that "the attack upon Dr. Watson is unjustified, and any implication of his disloyalty to our country is unfounded."86 This finding was rejected out of hand by the Legion's Americanism commission:

This Commission's most charitable conclusion concerning the findings of the investi- gating committee is that its members were duped and imposed upon; that their researches were not as extensive as alleged, or if so, were valueless simply because they know so little about the manifestations of the Communist conspiracy in America.87

In response to the continuing Legion pressure, the Center agreed to an independent investigation of Watson by a seven-man committee of the Larchmont Community Chest. In what must have seemed to Watson like a nightmarish replaying of the Kerr Committee, this Larchmont Committee decided to put him on "trial" following a "judicial pattern."88 He was asked to prepare a published reply to the Legion's booklet and then to appear before the committee. Watson agreed to this and wrote up a thoroughly researched, well-argued seventy-two-page reply to the Legion's charges. "Much of my objection to the American Legion pamphlet," Watson explained in a passage that illustrates the general tenor of the work,

is that I find in its authors the same attempt to dictate and dominate, the same careless disregard of truth when it happens not to serve their interests, the same efforts at suppression of those with whom they disagree, the same methods of character assassination, the same attitude of combat rather than cooperation, and the same hostility to the free mind which I hate in the Communist.89

Following the publication of his reply, Watson stood trial before the Committee. The majority decision was that Watson had not been a "dupe" of the Communist Party or a "conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet Conspiracy."90 However, in a statement that reflects the era's spirit of intellectual repression, the Committee suggested that he "exercise more caution in the future . . . over the selection of the persons in whose company he will exercise his freedom of speech." The report also blamed Watson for all the political troubles that had befallen him. The Committee contended that his political indiscretion "has largely brought upon his own head, the criticism leveled at him by the American Legion."91

Watson had thus defended himself successfully, but it had been at a cost that "was expensive in both time and money."92 He had to pay out over $2,000 for the publication of the pamphlet alone, aside from the legal expenses he incurred in mounting his defense. Watson also had to pay a heavy price in terms of his reputation. He was obliged to endure, once again, the embarrassment of having his character made the subject of close scrutiny by the New York Times. All of this was bad enough, but the anticommunists were not yet through

Page 53

with Watson. The American Legion continued a campaign of petty harassment and disinformation throughout the 1950s. In 1954, for instance, the Legion wrote to Teachers College Dean William Russell complaining that Watson was using College stationary to solicit funds for the legal bills he incurred while defending himself against the Legion's charges. The intent of the Legion letter is clearly evident in its tone:

It seems to us that Watson's cheap little act of rattling a tin cup with a Teachers College label attached is on a par with his other actions. Apart from your undoubted concern about the ethics of this, don't you agree that it is not very good public relations for your well known institution?93

Government anticommunists were also interested in Watson in the 1950s. The FBI and the State Department continued to monitor his activities throughout the decade. The State Department's passport office took a particular interest in Watson's movements. In 1954, they refused to issue him a passport until he submitted an affidavit stating the now infamous phrase "I am not and never have been at any time a member of the Communist Party."94

The American right's anticommunist crusade left a lasting impression on Watson. The most noticeable effect, and certainly the easiest to document, was a heightened level of academic and political self-censorship. In the years following his trial by the Larchmont Community Chest, Watson stopped making contributions to The Nation and other left-wing periodicals. He also exercised much greater care before lending his name to political causes, and he appears to have withdrawn from controversial political campaigning, two developments that did not go unnoticed by the ever vigilant Teachers College Dean William F. Russell: "In the last 18 months," Russell noted in an unsent 1953 memo, "you seem to have taken a wiser course and so far as I can see you are now doing what I expected you to do a generation ago; using your fine mind and your great capacity to work to make fundamental advancements in your chosen field." 95

Ironically, the "wiser course" that Watson pursued led him back to a manner of professional engagement with social change that was reminiscent of the program of religious character building that he had abandoned back in the 1920s. Wesleyan character builders had worked toward social improvement by means of individual conversion. Watson's "new" approach to social reform had an equally individualized, spiritual focus. His attention now turned to "T-groups," a quasi-therapeutic procedure aimed at developing psychological wellbeing and social understanding.96 Watson thought that T-group graduates would be able to "listen better ... understand better . . . [be] easier to work with . . . [be] more flexible [and bell more open to change." Deployed properly, Watson also believed that the procedure had important implications for social change. It seemed to offer the possibility of meaningful reform without having to engage in dangerous and draining political confrontation. Groups of senior executives from government and business could be gathered together and sensitized to the psychological and social needs of the people for whom they were responsible. A sustained application of these procedures across all administrative levels would ultimately result in a better adjusted workplace and a healthier society.

The vigor with which Watson mobilized T-Group technology is a testament to his faith in its reforming power. Like the itinerant Methodist minister of old, Watson spent many weekends in his later career traveling a modern "sawdust trail," speaking to small groups of the spiritually needy. However, the flock to which Watson now ministered was quite unlike the largely working-class Methodist audiences of old. Watson's new audience consisted largely of senior executives of the nation's largest corporations.97 They gathered together under the auspices of the National Training Laboratory's Key Executive Laboratory, an elite

Page 54

T-Group session for which Watson was partly responsible. A typical session would be held at a yacht or country club and might include such influential organization men as the treasurer of Dow Chemical, the vice president of Union Carbide, a division chief of the National Security Agency, and the manager of manufacturing of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company.98 Through invitingly titled seminars such as "On Giving and Receiving Help," "Improving Interpersonal Perception," and "Significant Dimensions of Group Excellence," Watson endeavored to facilitate social change by helping these executives become more sensitive, more socially minded, and more aware of the aspects of social change and group dynamics.99

Watson's choice of senior management as both the site of psychological intervention and the engine of social reform may be viewed as a comment on what was politically feasible in Cold War America, but it can also be read as an endorsement of the virtue of the modem corporate sensibility. By 1960, Watson had largely assimilated the corporate world's own self-image as an enlightened domain in need only of an occasional bit of therapy. For instance, in 1963 Watson remarked that executives were "more enlightened, socially conscious, [and] aware of a responsibility" than their counterparts in the labor movement.100 Far from being the fetters on science and a "small reactionary ruling class," as he had portrayed them in the 1930s,101 Watson now felt that corporations were benevolent friends worthy of support. They are now people's "basic social unit," the new "community, a place where they are rooted, where they belong, where people will understand them and help to take care of them."102 They had:

enlarge[d] their concern not only for workers but also for the communities in which they operate. The higher the level of management, the greater appears to be the focus on purposes and values. At the peak of the enterprise stand men who must answer the questions of "Whither?" and "Why?" and "For what ends?" Profit is not the only determinant. 103


On the face of it, Watson's move from leftist insurgent to corporate consultant represents a marked change in his political identity and his philosophy of psychology and social change. Indeed, the change appears to be so pronounced, that it is difficult to imagine how Watson could have moved from one position to the other in little more than fifteen years. The persecution he suffered at the hands of anticommunists sheds a bright light on his political development but it does not resolve the matter entirely. Anticommunists subjected many left-wing intellectuals to the kind of treatment Watson experienced, with varying results. Some adopted a more conciliatory political posture like Watson, but many did not. For instance, Watson's SPSSI colleague George Hartmann appeared in absentia before the HUAC in 1944 for his involvement in the antiwar organization Peace Now. He too was branded "un-American, seditious, and treasonous," but unlike Watson, Hartmann maintained his socialist principles in the postwar period. 104

Thus, a somewhat broader focus is needed to understand the particular cast of Watson's postwar political philosophy of social reform. The assumptions he brought with him to Washington are a useful place to start. Of particular importance are his thoughts on science and the public. During the Depression, Watson repeatedly maintained that the public was unable to perceive the reality of the social situation. Capitalist ideology obscured the true nature of society's economic and political make-up. The only people capable of penetrating

Page 55

this ideology were social scientists and a -mall number of politically enlightened individuals. The task of the psychologist was to instruct the general public as to where their real interests lay. This was a radical view, yet it harbored assumptions about the public and science that for the most part corresponded with Watson's postwar liberalism. His 1939 call to "help the average citizen see through the efforts to misconstrue our economic and political predicament" 105 implied an image of the public as a largely passive and irrational entity that needed to be educated and mobilized. It also suggested that psychologists could be heavily involved in political considerations without losing the sense of detached objectivity associated with good science. On these two points-science and the public-Watson's Depression-era position was not altogether different from his later views, which emphasized the intellectual power and authority of psychological expertise and the anxious, emotionally entangled character of the public.

An appreciation of this continuity makes Watson's political history somewhat more comprehensible. In the 1930s, Watson translated a message of redemption through science into what then seemed like a plausible political program. His experience in bureaucracy and his confrontation with anticommunists in the 1940s and early 1950s, undermined the credibility of the Depression era framework. A different political language and new political allies were needed to realize the goal of a scientifically managed, democratic society. In the postwar period, liberal discourse and a professional colonization of large bureaucracies seemed the most promising means of achieving scientific salvation. Watson thus adopted a new political posture while retaining what he regarded as his basic aim: "I think my goal {of a scientifically managed, democratic society] is essentially the same," Watson observed in a 1963 interview. "I think I see more possibility in the means of the established order and the opportunities for reform and change within it than I did before." 106

Watson's emphasis on the continuity of his life's work relates back to the larger question of psychology and its social role. His case would seem to suggest that cultivation of scientific "objectivity" was driven in part by an acquired sense of the practical importance of relating one's own professional ambitions to the existing political culture. For instance, in the wake of Kerr Committee investigations, psychologists like Kurt Lewin surmised that research could only succeed to the degree that it was undertaken as a "co-operative endeavor deeply connected with the culture of the people in which it occurs."107 Watson's case also makes clear the degree of ideological continuity between the organization's prewar and postwar positions. SPSSI members continued to affirm the goal of a scientifically administered, social democratic state. If anything, the war reinforced their belief in this goal. Despite the obstructions of Dies and his associates, many felt that their very presence in Washington signaled the realization of a model society. In their view, the shift in professional role and political stance mirrored shifts in the political attitudes of the American government and people. Society had demonstrated its willingness to at least consider putting the society on a scientific footing. Under these circumstances, politically pointed analysis would be anachronistic.

In retrospect, it would appear that the shift that Watson and his colleagues made eventually brought with it changes in goal as well as in means. As Jill Morawski has pointed out, SPSSI members' recognition of the political considerations inherent in policy implementation and their desire to establish "co-operative" relationships often led to forms of "benign counseling"-research that was politically palatable but socially uninspiring.108 Watson's work in the Key Executive Laboratory is a case in point. What is important to note in this regard is not so much the degree to which the later SPSSI differed from the early SPSSI but the various points of tension inherent in politically ambitious, scholarly organizations like SPSSI. More than anything else, Watson's case illustrates the difficulty of balancing three

Page 56

pressing considerations: a commitment to progressive social change; a network of complex, sometimes dangerous political forces; and, finally, a professional obligation to maintain one's authority as a scientific expert. Watson's life-long efforts to address these three issues would seem to suggest that in order to purchase political viability and scientific status psychologists are often obliged to adopt a political and scholarly posture that ultimately subverts their moral intentions. What makes Watson's case all the more interesting and unusual in this regard is that he appears to have understood, at least to a degree, that a political sacrifice is often necessary in a marriage between psychological expertise and political administration. In 1945 he noted that

accommodation to the policies and values of those who make the strategic decisions may be slow, but it is insidious and inescapable. . . One can rationalize for a time that compromise at some points is necessary for effectiveness at others. After a while the compromises are made without even the self-deception of an argument that some larger good will somehow be served. This leads to distrust of one's own values, disintegration of character, and the demise of personality.109

Viewed in the light of Watson's postwar career, this perceptive passage adds further emphasis to the political and professional problems confronting all psychologists who wish to use their profession as a vehicle for significant social reform. The remarks make clear the difficulty of avoiding political "accommodation" even if one has a reflective awareness of many of the institutional and political processes at work.


Portions of this paper were presented at the annual meeting of the Cheiron Society, Windsor, Ont., June 1992, and the annual meeting of Division 26 of the American Psychological Association. Toronto, Ont., August, 1993. 1 would like to thank Jeanne Watson-Eisenstadt and Benjamin Harris for their help in obtaining archival materials. I would also like to thank Paul Ballantyne, Geoff Bunn, Frances Cherry, Henry Minton, and Suzanne Prior for their helpful comments. The research in this paper was supported by a grant-in-aid from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and by a Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

I. George l-Iartmann and Theodore Newcomb, Eds., Industrial Conflict: A Psychological Interpretation (NY: Cordon, 1939).

2. "Problems of Bureaucracy," Journal of Social Issues 1(1945).

3. David Krech and Dorwin Cartwright. "On SPSSI's First Twenty Years," American Psychologist 11(1956): 470-473.

4. For a detailed account of SPSSI's early years, see Lorenz J. Finison, "An Aspect of the Early History of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues: Psychologists and Labor," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 15 (1979): 29-37. See also Lorenz J. Finison, "The Psychological Insurgency: 1936-1945," Journal of Social Issues, 42 (1986): 21-33.

5. William McGuire King, "An Enthusiasm for Humanity: The Social Emphasis in Religion and Its Accommodation in Protestant Theology," in Religion and Twentieth Century American Intellectual Life, M. Lacy, Ed. (NY:Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 49.

6. Goodwin Watson, The Reminiscences of Goodwin Watson (Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, 1963), p. 29.

7. Goodwin Watson, The Diaries of Goodwin Watson, Unpublished Manuscript, courtesy of Jeanne Watson Eisenstadt.

8. Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 41.

9. Goodwin Watson, The Measurement of Fair-Mindedness (NY: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1925).

10. Watson was by no means alone in moving from Social Gospel religion to psychology. See Ernest Hilgard. "From the Social Gospel to the Psychology of Social Issues," Journal of Social Issues 42 (1986): 107-110.

   11.   Goodwin Watson to Gordon Allport, November 13, 1934, Allport Papers, Harvard University.

Page 57

12. Announcement in the American Guardian. January 31, 1936, cited in Finison, "An Aspect of the Early History," p. 29.

13. "Purpose of the SPSSI," SPSSI Bulletin 2 (February, 1937).

14. Watson saw most of his professional activities during this period as part of a broader struggle to overturn capitalism and replace it with a scientifically administered socialist state. This is quite evident in his 1937 SPSSI presidential speech where he described the organization as "one manifestation of a more general determination of our ablest social scientists to be participant observers at the most strategic points of [social] reconstruction." See Goodwin Watson. "Orientation." Social Frontier 4 (1937): 20.

15. Goodwin Watson. "Editorial," SPSSI Bulletin 1(1 )(September. 1936): I.

16. Paolo Freire. 'Cultural Action for Freedom," Harvard Educational Review Monograph I (1975). p. 51.

17. Goodwin Watson. "The Great Choice: Reformation or Transformation?' Common Sense 3 (1934): 9-lI.

18. Goodwin Watson, "Anti-Semitism in American Psychology," in We Hold These Truths... (NY: The League of American Writers. 1939), pp. 103-105.

19. Isaac Prilleltensky, "Psychology and the Status Quo," American Psvchologist 44 (1989), p. 800.

20. Watson, "Orientation," p. 25.

21. Ray Willoughby to Isdore Krechevsky, March 20, 1936, SPSSI Papers.

22. See Jill Morawski and Gail Hornstein, "Quandary of the Quacks: The Struggle for Expert Knowledge in American Psychology, 1890-1940," in The Estate of Social Knowledge, J. Brown and D. Van Keuren. Eds. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1991), pp. 106-133.

23. See Bruno Latour, Science in Action (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 72.

24. Watson, "Orientation." p. 21.

25. Ibid.,p.21.

26. Watson was recommended for the position by Hadley Cantril, a Princeton professor and a well-known specialist in the area of propaganda.

27. Goodwin Watson, "Teachers in the Crisis, American Teacher 24(1940): 12.

28. Goodwin Watson to William F. Russell, October 22. 1941. William F. Russell Papers, Special Collections. Milbank Memorial Library, Teachers College, Columbia University.

29. Goodwin Watson. "Introduction," Journal of Social Issues 1(1945): 1 -3.

30. Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." in Protest from the Right, Robert

Rosenstone, Ed. (Beverly Hills: The Glencoe Press, 1968), p. 130.

31. Walter Goodman, The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1968), pp. 24-42.

32. Martin Dies to James Fly, November 18, 1941. This letter is quoted in its entirety in a document dated January 18, 1953, entitled "Letter of Transmittal and Summary of Conclusions of a Special Committee of the Board of Directors of the Guidance Center of New Rochelle, Inc., in Connection with the Attack on Dr. Goodwin Watson." Courtesy of Jeanne Watson Eisenstadt.

33. Cited in Goodman, The Committee, p. 37.

34. Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 76.

35. Cited in Goodman, The Committee, p.41.

36. Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 76.

37. Watson learned of the plot to discredit Fly from a member of the Kerr Committee from his home state of Wisconsin: "He [the congressman] was personally sympathetic and understanding, although officially I think he was with the action of the [Kerr] Committee. I said to him, 'look, what are you fellows trying to do anyhow? What's back of this? I'm not important. The work I'm doing is not a place where anything vital is at stake ....' He said they wanted to get James Lawrence Fly, the head of the Communications Commission, and one way they could beat him was to show up subversive employees"; Watson,'The Reminiscences, p. 87.

38. J. Edgar Hoover to Special Agent in Charge, Washington, D.C., November 25, 1941, FBI File "Goodwin Watson," File courtesy of Benjamin Harris.

39. William F. Russell to Martin Dies, November 25, 1941, Russell Papers. Russell, who was widely known as an outspoken anticommunist, informed Dies that he did not believe that Watson was a communist. "Within the last few years," Russell wrote, "there have been two movements against the administration of Teachers College by Communists. In each of these Goodwin Watson was on the side opposing that taken by Communists,"

40. Clifford Dun, "Unpublished Autobiography," Chapter Two, p. 5. Clifford Durr Papers, State of Alabama


41. "EC.C. on Dies," Newsweek January 5, 1942, p. 7. The Newsweek story was based on an informal FCC report of Americans quoted in Axis propaganda. This report had been prepared in October 1941, before Watson

Page 57

arrived at FBMS. After the story appeared. FCC chairman James Fly wrote to Dies and told him that Watson had nothing to do with the report. Dies chose to ignore this evidence and proceed with the investigation of Watson. See August Ogburn, The Dies Committee. A Study of the Special House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities, 1938-1944 (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1945), pp. 253-254.

42. Goodman, The Committee, p. 127.

43. Martin Dies, Congressional Record (February 1, 1943). cited in Frederick Schuman. "American Government and Politics: Bill of Attainder in the Seventy-Eighth Congress." The American Political Science Review (October, 1943): 819.

44. Ibid., pp. 819, 820.

45. The various investigations of Watson found no evidence of substandard or politically tainted work during his tenure at FBMS. Representative Coffee summed up Watson's performance at FBMS in the House of Representatives: "Watson's work [has] proved eminently satisfactory as attested by the opinions of his immediate superior and representatives of the armed forces to which the reports of Watson's section were circulated." Representative Coffee, Congressional Record, May 18, 1943, p. 4589. Watson's performance at FBMS was questioned several years later, during another anticommunist investigation, by a member of the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism. This unnamed correspondent allegedly worked at FBMS during World War H. He informed the FBI and the American Legion that Watson tried to protect Soviet interests by covering up the NKVD massacre of Polish officers in 1941. "The so-called Analysts, directed by Dr. Watson, labored during the war to convince American policy-making and other officials that this was the work of the Germans . . . . These reports were fantastic at the time to anyone who had the slightest knowledge of Soviet tactics and conditions; today they would appear to be something more than fantastic." See Unknown Correspondent, American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism to Unknown Correspondent, Americanism Commission, Westchester County American Legion, FBI File "Goodwin Watson." This accusation was not pursued by the Legion and there is no evidence to indicate that Watson was trying to protect the Soviet Union.

46. The accused were summoned by "invitation" and not by subpoena. Technically Watson did have the right to defense counsel, but he like all the others called before the Kerr Committee chose not to make the request. Word had got out that the Committee did not want any lawyers interfering in the proceedings and Watson did not want to make a request that would in any way antagonize his inquisitors.

47. Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 145.

48. Goodwin Watson, testimony before the Kerr Committee, cited in G. Watson, Reply by Goodwin Watson to

the pamphlet entitled "Goodwin Watson: His record" (NY: Author, January 1954), p.5.

49. Goodman, The Committee, p. 145.

50. Some of Watson's testimony before the Kerr Committee was cited in a booklet he prepared to defend himself from anticommunists in the 1950s. See note 34.

5I. Members of SPSSI and the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) were quick to rally around Watson. In a unanimous resolution, the EPA vouched for the "scientific integrity and professional competence of Goodwin Watson, and in the value of his present work." The EPA members also stated that they "regard him as a loyal citizen of the United States and not subversive in either speech or conduct." See "Psychological Association Defends Goodwin Watson," Science News Letter (May 29, 1943): 341. The SPSSI Council wanted to send a similar statement of support but as Sargent and Hams reported, they "worried that an endorsement from such a liberal organization as SPSSI might result in more harm than good." Council members opted to send a statement of support as individuals. See S. Stansfield Sargent and Benjamin Harris, "Academic freedom, civil liberties, and SPSSI," Journal of Social Issues 42(1986): 43-67.

52. House of Representatives, 78th Congress 1st Session, Report No. 448, April 21, 1943.

53. Cited in Schuman, "American Government," p. 823.

54. Goodman, The Committee, pp. 149-150.

55. Schunian, "American Government," p. 824.

56. Goodman, The Committee, p. 142.

57. Ibid., p. 819. In addition to publicly condemning the Committee's actions, Watson recalled that President Roosevelt sent him a "message commending the work we had been doing and rejecting the attack." See Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 76.

58. Watson appealed his firing to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. They awarded him back pay and deemed the rider unconstitutional: "When our Constitution and Bill of Rights were written, our ancestors had ample reason to know that legislative trials and punishment were too dangerous to liberty to exist in the nation of free men they envisioned. And so they proscribed bills of attainder. Section 304 [the bill that terminated Watson's salary] is one." Passage cited in Goodman, The Committee, p. 151.

59. Watson. The Reminiscences of Goodwin Watson, pp. 91 -92.

60. Ibid., p. 86.

61.   American Legion to President of Columbia University, April 27, 1942, Russell Papers.

Page 59

62. Kurt Lewin, "Psychology and Process of Group Living." The Journal of Social Psychology, SPSSI Bulletin

17(1943): 113-131.

63. Goodwin Watson, "Introduction," Journal of Social Issues 1(1945): 1-3.

64. [bid., p. 1.

65. Ibid., p. 2.

66. [bid., p. IS.

67. "Discussions on Social Engineering," September 23. 1942, SPSSI Papers. Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron. OH.

68. Finison, "The Psychological Insurgency." p. 32.

69. Goodwin Watson. "How Social Engineers Came to Be." Journal of Social Psychology 21 (1945):35- 141

70. Ibid., p. 140.

71. David Kretch, "The Challenge and the Promise," Journal of Social Issues 2 (1946): 2-6.

72. Ibid., p. 4.

73. Goodwin Watson, Action for Unity' (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1947), p. 151.

74. "Charge of Red Favor Denied by Unitarians," Sioux Falls Argus, August 4, 1948, Russell Papers.

75. Pells, The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age, pp. 99-100.

76. "Things We Must Note Well," Bridgeport Post, August 4, 1948, Russell Papers. "Unitarians Deny Meeting an 'Alien Sounding Board," Des Moines Morning Register August 4, 1948, Russell Papers.

77. "Things We Must Note Well,"

78. See Goodwin Watson, "Freedom to Teach - What?," Today's Outlook 2 (November 1947): I; "Teachers and the 'Thing," The Nation (November 3, 1951): 371 -374: "The Public Schools Retreat from Freedom," The Nation (June 28, 1952). The importance of academic freedom and free speech to social engineering is particularly evident in "Teachers and the 'Thing':- "The attacks on educational freedom are for the most part directed at non-communists, but it is the tension of a world polarized between the Kremlin and the Pentagon which provides the rationalization and the dynamic. Any innovation-be it free kindergartens or adult forums-may now be shunned as having some 'communistic' aspect . . . . The attack on educational freedom in part expresses a desire to turn the calendar back to an age paced by horse and quiet buggy." Watson clearly believed that the anti-intellectual paranoia of McCarthyism was a serious impediment to the kind of atmosphere of innovation that was necessary for instituting a socially engineered order.

79. SPSSI's Committee on Academic Freedom contributed $250 to Watson's defense. See Alvin Zander to Goodwin Watson, March 22. 1954, SPSSI Papers. Watson's case was discussed at length in the SPSSI Newsletter (March, 1954).

80. Ben Hams, "The FBI's Files on APA and SPSSI: Description and Implications," American Psychologist 35 (1980): 1141-1143.

81. Watson, The Reminiscences, pp. 81-82.

82. William Gellerman, The American Legion as Educator (NY: Teachers College Bureau of Publications, 1938), p. 87.

83. "New Rochelle Legion Presses Red Charge," New York Times, November 25, 1953, Russell Papers.

84. Burton Rascoe and the Americanism Commission, Westchester County Committee. The American Legion, Goodwin Watson: His Record (NY: Author, 1953).

85. "New Rochelle Legion Presses Red Charge."

86. "Trial of Scholar Set on Red Charge," New York Times, November 9, 1953.

87. Ibid.

88. Ibid.

89. Watson, Reply by Goodwin Watson, p. 6. Watson's pamphlet was "recommended to SPSSI members as an excellent source of information on the types of charges brought by the Legion and the kinds of records Watson as- sembled in order to refute the allegations made against him." See SPSSI Newsletter (October, 1954), p. 2,

90. "Professor Clear of Pro-Red Links," New York Times, October 5, 1954, Russell Papers.

91. Ibid. Ironically enough, this unfortunate incident led to what was probably Watson's most highly regarded  study. See Goodwin Watson, "Some Personality Differences in Children Related to Strict or Permissive Parental Discipline," The Journal of Psychology 44 (1957): 227-249. This study was selected by the American Personnel and Guidance Association as the best research study of 1956-1957. Watson was inundated with requests for reprints and he eventually wrote up a popular version that appeared as a lead article in McCall's.

92. Goodwin Watson to Unnamed Correspondent. April 23, 1954, Russell Papers.

93. James White to William F, Russell, May 19, 1954, Russell Papers.

94.   Director, FBI to SAC, New York, Januay 23, 1958, FBI File "Goodwin Watson."

Page 60

95. William F. Russell to Goodwin Watson, February 23. 1953, Russell Papers. Watson campaigned on behalf of Henry Wallace in the 1948 U.S. Presidential election. He was the New York State Chair of a national organization called Educators for Wallace. See Goodwin Watson to William F. Russell, September 25. 1948, Russell Papers. In 1952, Watson worked to get his colleague George Counts elected to the U.S. Senate on the Liberal Party ticket.

96. For an illuminating discussion of the similarities between T-Groups and Methodism see Thomas Oden. "The New Pietism," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 12(1972): 24-41.

97. Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 124. For a discussion of the history of T-Groups see Kurt Back, Beyond Words: The Story of the Sensitivity Training and the Encounter Movement (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973).

98. "Revised Roster of Participants and Staff," Key Executive Conference, National Training Laboratories. Kings Bay Yacht & Country Club, Miami, Florida, January 15-21, 1967, Leeland Bradford Papers, Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron, Ohio, cited hereafter as Bradford Papers.

99. Goodwin Watson, "On Giving and Receiving Help"; "Improving Interpersonal Perception": "Significant Dimensions of Group Excellence," seminars presented at the Key Executive Conference, National Training Laboratories, Onchiota Conference Center, Tuxedo, New York, January 21 -February 2. 1962, Bradford Papers. See also Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 127.

100. Watson, The Reminiscences, p. 97.

101. Goodwin Watson, "Promoting World Citizenship Through Social Relations," Bulletin of the Department of Secondary School Principals (December, 1938), p. 12.

102. Watson The Reminiscences, p. 83.

103. Goodwin Watson, Social Psychology: Issues and Insights (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1966), p. 494.

104. For a good discussion of Hartmann's career see Benjamin Hams, "George W. Hartmann: Pacificist. Socialist, and Anti-Communist," Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, August 1989.

105. Goodwin Watson, "Anti-Semitism in American Psychology," in We Hold These Truths... (NY: The League of American Writers, 1939), pp. 103-105

106. Watson, The Reminisciences, p. 62.

107. Lewin, "Psychology and Process of Group Living," p. 129.

108. Morawski. "Psychology and Nuclear War," p. 283.

109. Watson, "Bureaucracy in the Federal Government," p. 14.