William McDougall (1871-1938)*
William McDougall was born at Chadderton, Lancashire. At 14 he was sent to Weimar and attended the Realgymnasium for a year.
A year later he began a four-year course at Owens College, Manchester, obtaining a BSc wIth first class honours. He specialised in geology in the final year. He entered St John’s College, Cambridge in May 1890 and obtained a first class in both parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos, having studied physiology, anatomy and anthropology for part II. He obtained his BA. in 1894, MB, BChir and MA in 1897, and in November 1897 a fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge.
He then went to a house appointment at St Thomas’s Hospital, and in 1898. at the invitation of A.C. Haddon (1855-1940), went as a member of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits (1898-99). Later he left the main party and spent a period with Dr Charles Hose in Borneo, and then shared with him the authorship of Pagan Tribes of Borneo (1912).
Back in Cambridge, he attended lectures by Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) and James Ward (1843-1925). On the latter’s advice, he went for a year (1900) to G.E. Muller (1850-1934) in Göttingen, working mainly on colour vision. He then returned to England and was appointed to a post in Sully’s department at University College London, where he taught experimental psychology from 1900 to 1906. Dr May Smith said: ‘During this time he used to hold informal discussions in his laboratory and gathered there a small group of people interested in psychology. This group formed the nucleus of the British Psychological Society.’ He lived at Haslemere, Surrey, setting up a laboratory and working for four years with experiments on vision.
From 1904 to 1920 he was Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy at Oxford, and for the first two years combined the post with his University College work. In 1912 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. His certificate of a candidate for election is in the handwriting of C. S. Sherrington.
In 1920 he went as Professor of Psychology to Harvard University, succeeding Hugo Münsterberg (1863-1916), and in 1927 he moved to Duke University where he remained till his death.
McDougall made his first purely psychological contribution in three papers ‘A contribution towards an improvement in psychological method’ in Mind, 7, 15-33, 159-78, 364-87, 1898. In 1905 he published Physiological Psychology and in 1908 Social Psychology. Between 1921 and 1938 he published 13 books.
McDougall was a member of the first committee of five of the [British] Psychological Society and an original member of the Medical Section; he was also Treasurer of the Society for two separate periods. In 1934 he was elected an Honorary Member of the British Psychological Society.
A list of McDougall’s writings is published in the Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 3, 39-62 (1939-41).
*The text here is adapted from John Kenna’s ‘Biographical Notes on the Ten Founding Members’, published in Steinberg, H. (Ed.) (1961) The British Psychological Society 1901-1961. Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society.
'William McDougall' by Margaret Boden (2001)
obituary published in the British Journal of Psychology