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  • Roots in the Great Plains: The Applied Psychology of Harry Hollingworth ed. by Ludy T. Benjamin Jr. and Lizette Royer Barton
  • C. James Goodwin
Roots in the Great Plains: The Applied Psychology of Harry Hollingworth. Edited by Ludy T. Benjamin Jr. and Lizette Royer Barton. Akron: University of Akron Press, 2013. vii + 349 pp. Illustrations, index. $34.95 paper.

This book is the first of a two-volume autobiography highlighting the life and work of Nebraska native Harry Hollingworth (1880–1956), a figure well known among historians of psychology; he was a pioneer in the field that eventually came to be called industrial psychology. Although trained as a laboratory psychologist, Hollingworth made his reputation by completing applied research projects for a variety of corporations. The title of the second volume of the autobiography, From Coca-Cola to Chewing Gum: The Applied Psychology of Harry Hollingworth, hints at the range of Hollingworth’s applied projects. Both volumes are reprinted in facsimile format, part of a series of publications from the Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron; the purpose of the series is to make important archival material at the center widely available. Hollingworth wrote the autobiography in 1940, just a few years after the untimely death of his wife, research collaborator, and fellow Nebraskan, Leta Stetter Hollingworth (1886–1939).

This first volume of the Hollingworth autobiography, especially the first two-thirds of it, will be of special value to those interested in the social and cultural history of the Great Plains at the end of the nineteenth century. It documents Hollingworth’s early years—his childhood and adolescence as a largely self-educated son of a carpenter in rural Nebraska, and the jobs he took on to save for and remain in college (ranging from teacher to carpenter to gravedigger). The final third of the volume, mainly his years at University of Nebraska, will interest historians of psychology, for it was here that Hollingworth’s future became determined when he encountered (1) the love of his life, Leta Stetter, and (2) what came to be called the New Psychology—a laboratory-based strategy for examining psychological phenomena. This was a time when psychology was separating itself from philosophy and physiology and becoming a discipline of its own—a transition reflected in Hollingworth’s stated ambition when entering Nebraska “to specialize in philosophy and in that new and decidedly vague thing called psychology” (250).

At Nebraska, Hollingworth came under the influence of Thaddeus Bolton, a PhD student of G. Stanley Hall’s at Clark University, one of the first schools in the United States to offer graduate training in the New Psychology. Recognizing Hollingworth’s talent in his laboratory course, Bolton quickly hired him as a course assistant. This helped alleviate some of Hollingworth’s financial burden, while at the same time strengthening his commitment to this new field. Bolton became a lifelong colleague. This first volume of the autobiography ends with Hollingworth’s initial failure to get into graduate school, his brief time as a high school principal, and his eventual invitation to graduate study at Columbia University. Volume 2 of the autobiography documents the Columbia years and Hollingworth’s subsequent career as an applied psychologist.

The strength of this first volume of the Hollingworth autobiography lies in the rich descriptions of the struggles of a young man trying to escape poverty in rural Nebraska and shape a meaningful life for himself. Although the level of detail is occasionally excessive, the patient reader will gain valuable insight into that independent, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality (“the cult of self-reliance,” 69) characteristic of life in the often harsh environment of the Great Plains in the late nineteenth century.

C. James Goodwin
Department of Psychology
Western Carolina University


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