THE FIRST American Society for Psychical Research was founded in Boston in 1885,
following a visit by Sir William Barrett to this country [USA]. William James played a
leading part in the establishment of the Society. Professor Simon Newcomb, the
distinguished astronomer and mathematician, became its President. In 1887, Dr.
Richard Hodgson, who had taken an important share in the work of the Society for
Psychical Research (London) almost from its foundation in 1882, came from
England to accept the post of Executive Secretary of the Society. This
organization later became a branch of the English [British] Society, continuing under the
guidance of Dr. Hodgson until his sudden and unexpected death in 1905. The
Society was then re-established with Professor James H. Hyslop, a close
associate of Dr. Hodgson's, as its Secretary and Director. Recognizing the
growing importance of psychical research, Professor Hyslop had in 1902 resigned
as Professor of Logic and Ethics at Columbia University in order to devote his
full energies to the investigation of psychical phenomena.
As director of the newly-founded American Society, Professor Hyslop brought the
technical methods of the scientist to psychical research. His energy and
enthusiasm manifested itself in many ways. "The prodigious amount of labor
Hyslop undertook is amazing," wrote Sir William Barrett, "reports of his
numerous and minutely recorded investigations, articles, books, letters, poured
from him in a constant stream. No man could long stand this drain on his mental
and physical energies, and Hyslop literally sacrificed his life in the cause of
psychical research ..."
In addition to his own voluminous writings, Professor Hyslop personally selected
and edited all the other material that appeared in the bulky volumes of
Proceedings and monthly Journal of the Society. He lectured on
psychical research throughout the country and attended to all financial matters.
He built up the nucleus of an endowment fund of about $185,000. And all this
entirely without remuneration, the wisdom of which Sir Oliver Lodge questioned
as it may have handicapped him by restricting his opportunities, "but his action
roused the keenest admiration in America, and increased the respect universally
felt for his devoted and self-sacrificing spirit ..."
After prolonged and intensive investigation, Professor Hyslop became convinced
that survival of personality after death and the possibility of communication
were more reasonable interpretations of the facts he obtained than the
alternative telepathic explanation. He was first led to this hypothesis by
communications purporting to come from his father through the mediumship of Mrs.
Piper in a long series of experiments reported in SPR Proceedings in
1901. Professor Hyslop was contemptuous of the hypothesis that every piece of
information from an entranced medium could be accounted for by telepathy from
the conscious or subconscious mind of living people. The tendency to stretch
telepathy as an explanation far beyond the experimental evidence for it he
considered illegitimate. Later Professor Hyslop carried on extensive studies
with other American mediums, notably with Mrs. Soule, of Boston, known to the
public as Mrs. Chenoweth. The reports of these investigations were published in
great detail in ASPR Proceedings.
Professor Hyslop had the foresight to provide for a successor to his work in the
event that he became incapacitated. In 1917 he engaged Dr. Walter Franklin
Prince, then Director of Psychotherapeutics at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in
New York, as his assistant. Dr. Prince had become widely known as a
psychological investigator for his monumental work, "The Doris Case of Multiple
Personality" published in two massive volumes of ASPR Proceedings
(1915-1916). It is a more fully reported study of dissociated personality than
any similar case on record. Professor Hyslop not only contributed a lengthy
Preface to the report but also discussed it in another huge volume of
After Professor Hyslop's death in 1920, Professor William McDougall, the noted
English psychologist and outstanding figure in psychical research who had come
to America in 1920 as Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, accepted
the Presidency of the ASPR. Dr. Prince was appointed Principal Research
Officer and Editor of Publications. Dr. Eric J. Dingwall, of Cambridge, England,
was engaged as Director of the Department of Physical Phenomena. He and Dr.
Prince had many interests in common and were happy colleagues. Miss Gertrude
Ogden Tubby was appointed Secretary of the Society.
During the next five years reports of Dr. Prince's investigations and articles
on many aspects of psychical research appeared regularly in ASPR
publications. In the summer of 1921 the executive committee of the Society sent
Dr. Prince to Copenhagen as a member of the First International Congress of
Psychical Research where he read a paper which compared certain characteristics
of veridical mediumistic phenomena with those of phenomena generally conceded to
be telepathic. Earlier in the same year he had gone to Mexico City for a series
of psychometrical experiments with Dr. Pagenstecher's remarkable medium, Senora
Maria Reyes de Z. (Proc. ASPR, 1921).
From boyhood Dr. Prince had a passion for the unravelling of puzzles and
searching for clues. His open-mindedness, freedom from prejudice, and fine
critical judgment were invaluable assets. Of him Dr. Elwood Worcester, Rector of
the Emmanuel Church in Boston, wrote:
"His grasp of fact was extraordinarily
tenacious, his logical sense was highly developed, and perhaps no man ever lived
who possessed such exact and encyclopaedic knowledge of the whole literature and
phenomena of Psychic Research, or who knew the history of so many mediums."
In the spring of 1923 the Reverend Dean Frederick Edwards was elected President
of the Society. He took over the editorship of the Journal. Within three
years the policy of the Society deviated vastly from the standards established
by Professor Hyslop. It was desired to spread the influence of psychical
research by popularizing the subject. The large and influential group of Boston
members of the Society who had loyally supported Professor Hyslop, and had met
for a number of years as a local group, felt they could work to greater
advantage as an independent organization. Dr. Prince found himself in an
increasingly difficult position and in 1925 he resigned from the ASPR and
accepted the invitation to become Research Officer and Editor of the
newly-founded Boston Society for Psychic Research. Dr. Worcester had been a
close associate in psychical research of Professor Hyslop who over a long period
made weekly visits to Boston for sittings with Mrs. Soule. Dr. Worcester was the
moving spirit in the formation of the BSPR with the powerful support of
Professor McDougall who, with Dr Gardner Murphy, was a member of the first
Council. It is gratifying to recall that Dr. Prince had many years of productive
work before him until his death in 1934.
In the course of the next fifteen years the American Society as a scientific
body lost much of its former prestige. The Board of Trustees was dominated by a
group of well-meaning but misguided enthusiasts who appeared to believe that
amateurs could successfully further the interests of the organization. Some of
Professor Hyslop's old friends remained on the Board and a few others of
like-minded views joined them. They rightly foresaw that eventually the Society
would regain its former status.
During this period Mr. John I. D. Bristol was President for a few years. There
were many changes in personnel. Miss Tubby had resigned from her long
association with the Society during the latter part of Dean Edwards' regime. New
activities abounded. Local sections of the Society were established in New York,
Cleveland, and San Francisco. Mr. J. Malcolm Bird was appointed Research Officer
and later, Editor. Mr. Harry Price of England was the foreign Research Officer.
Mr. Frederick Bligh Bond, excavator of the lost chapel of Glastonbury Abbey and
author of The Gate of Remembrance, was the Editor from 1930 to 1934.
Mr. William H. Button was elected President in 1932 and served in that capacity
for almost a decade. The ill-fated "Margery" case dominated the research for
many years and attracted international public attention. But the time was
approaching when a general reorganization would restore the Society to its
former sound basis.
In January, 1941, largely owing to the enterprise of Miss Jocelyn Pierson (now
Mrs. Richard L. Kennedy), the long-awaited reconstruction of the Society was
effected under the Presidency of Dr. George H. Hyslop, son of Professor Hyslop.
At the same meeting Dr. Gardner Murphy, who had been on the Council of the
Boston Society since its formation in 1925, was elected a Trustee of the
American Society and Chairman of the Research Committee. (Both Dr. Hyslop and
Dr. Murphy have continued to serve in these respective offices.) Immediately
thereafter, Mrs. E. W. Allison, then Secretary of the Boston Society, initiated
steps towards the amalgamation of the two societies. The amalgamation was
effected as of May 1, 1941, and since then two societies have functioned as one
organization under the name of the American Society for Psychical Research with
present headquarters at 880 Fifth Avenue, New York 21, N. Y.
With Dr. Hyslop and Dr. Murphy at the helm, a general reorganization followed.
Besides Dr. Murphy, three members of the Council of the Boston Society were
elected Trustees of the American Society: Mr. H. Addington Bruce, Dr. Waldemar
Kaempffert, and Mrs. Allison. Miss Pierson, who had edited the Journal
for about five years, resigned her position because of her approaching marriage
and was succeeded by Mrs. L. A. Dale who was also appointed Research Associate.
The monthly Journal was replaced by a Quarterly.
Dr. Ernest Taves, a graduate student of psychology, was appointed Hyslop-Prince
Fellow. Dr. J. L. Woodruff, trained in parapsychology both at Tarkio and at the
Parapsychology Laboratory, Duke University, and now in the Department of
Psychology at City College and a Trustee of the Society, who held the Hodgson
Fellowship in Psychical Research in 1941, worked in close collaboration with
Mrs. Dale and Dr. Taves.
Under Dr. Murphy's leadership experimental investigations in many areas of the
field have been carried out. Concurrently, the study of spontaneous phenomena
has been a major objective.
In 1946 Dr. Gertrude R. Schmeidler, who had concentrated on the study of
personality factors in subjects as related to their ESP scores (sheep-goat
experiments), working under the Hodgson Fellowship in Psychical Research at
Harvard University, was appointed Research Officer of the Society. A year or so
later she accepted a position at City College where she has continued her
investigations with Dr. Murphy's co-operation.
In 1947 Mrs. Dale resigned as Editor of Publications in order to devote more
time to research and Mrs. Allison took over the editorship.
The Medical Section of the Society, of which Dr. Jan Ehrenwald is Chairman, was
founded in 1948. Its membership consists mainly of analysts and psychiatrists
who meet for the reading of papers and for the discussion and evaluation of new
ideas and viewpoints concerning extrasensory perception as these ideas evolve
out of clinical experience. The Section co-operates with colleagues abroad in
regard to the incidence of telepathy and related occurrences in the
psychotherapeutic situation. In some instances the papers read at the meetings
have reached a larger audience through the medium of various psychiatric
A Study Group of the Society was organized in 1949 under the Chairmanship of Mr.
Alan F. MacRobert. Monthly meetings are held, the purpose being to provide
members with an opportunity to become understandingly participant in organized
ASPR research funds were made available in 1954 to J. Fraser Nicol and Dr.
Betty Humphrey (now Mr. and Mrs. Nicol), formerly with the Parapsychology
Laboratory, Duke University, to continue their studies of personality in
relation to ESP. The following year Mrs. Eileen J. Garrett, President of the
Parapsychology Foundation, arranged for the full-time services of Mr. and Mrs.
Lectures have been given at intervals by prominent psychical researchers. The
speakers have included Professor Brand Blanshard, Mr. Richard Dubois, Professor
C. J. Ducasse, Dr. Jan Ehrenwald, Mrs. Eileen J. Garrett, Professor Hornell
Hart, Mr. Gerald Heard, Professor Gardner Murphy, and Dr. J. B. Rhine.
Four past Presidents of the SPR, Professor C. D. Broad, of Cambridge
University, Professor H. H. Price of Oxford University, Mr. W. H. Salter, Hon.
Secretary of the SPR, and Dr. S. G. Soal, of London University, have
addressed the Society. Mrs. Salter, for many years Editor of SPR
Proceedings, also addressed the Society while on a visit to this country
with Mr. Salter.
The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Society was celebrated on March 2, 1956. The
President, Dr. George Hyslop, presided at the large and enthusiastic gathering
of members and friends. The planned program included addresses by Dr. Waldemar
Kaempffert, Science Editor of The New York Times, Professor C. J. Ducasse,
of Brown University, Dr. Gardner Murphy, Chairman of Research of the ASPR,
and Miss Gertrude Ogden Tubby, Professor Hyslop's secretary. The President read
messages of congratulation from colleagues here and abroad and called on
distinguished guests for further remarks. It was clear that Professor Hyslop's
genius for organization had insured the continuity of the society he founded,
despite difficulties that at times impeded progress.
The recent five International Conferences for Parapsychological Studies,
sponsored by the Parapsychology Foundation, of which Mrs. Eileen J. Garrett is
President, provided an opportunity for a dozen or more active workers in the
ASPR to participate in the meetings. The advantage of personal contact with
European colleagues of a dozen nationalities could hardly be over-estimated.
To come down to recent research projects of the Society. The Research Committee
under the Chairmanship of Dr. Murphy includes Mrs. L. A. Dale, Dr. Jan Ehrenwald,
Dr. Jule Eisenbud, Dr. S. David Kahn, Dr. E. J. Kempf, Dr. R. A. McConnell, Dr.
Montague Ullman, and Dr. J. L. Woodruff. Several elaborate and laborious
experiments have been performed in recent years by some of the members of the
committee but the results have been disappointing. The major research project,
now well under way, is a joint SPR and ASPR large-scale inquiry into
recent spontaneous experiences. Cases that seem to be of interest are being
followed up and when verification of the facts has been completed, the cases
will be examined for possible psychological motives.
This brief survey of the history and activities of the American Society for
Psychical Research has of necessity omitted mention of many workers and kinds of
investigation undertaken. Members of the Society include specialists in various
fields to whom specific problems may be referred. Members sufficiently
interested in the work but without special training can be of valuable
assistance by reporting any unusual experiences of which they have first-hand
The general attitude toward psychical research has changed since Professor
Hyslop's day. Much of the opposition and ridicule he had to endure has
disappeared. He once remarked to Professor William Romaine Newbold that his bold
stand had made him an outcast from his profession and excluded him from every
chair of philosophy in the country. Many universities now recognize the
importance of parapsychology as a subject that demands investigation. This
change of attitude is largely the result of the experiments in extrasensory
perception initiated by Dr. J. B. Rhine at Duke University in the early
Apart from its special aims and objectives the American Society for Psychical
Research serves as a center of information to which all serious inquirers are
The article above was published in the Journal of the American Society for
Psychical Research, Volume LII, January 1958, Number 1.