Timeline: History of Psychology at Wagner College

2021 Marked 65th Anniversary of Psychology Department!

Early Years: Roots in Philosophy

From the early years of Wagner College to 1935, similar to other schools founded to train ministers, psychology was taught by a series of minister faculty members who also taught logic, philosophy and other subjects.  A course named Psychology was taught at Wagner as early as 1889.  In subsequent years, this course was named Mental Philosophy and David Jayne Hill's Elements of Psychology (1888) was used as the course text book at least as early as 1893.  Beginning in 1894, this course (titled "Hill's to Intellect") was taught by John Schaeffer, Professor of Math, English, Psychology & Logic.

This Hill-based course was taught by the Director of the College, Rev. John Nicum (who was also Professor of Metaphysics) from 1896 to 1905.  Beginning in 1905, the course was taught by Rev. Joseph Rechtsteiner.


Rev. William Ludwig

Rev. William Ludwig

From 1909 to 1935, Rev. William Ludwig (who also taught logic, philosophy and Latin) taught psychology at Wagner. By 1911 he had adopted William James' Principles of Psychology, Briefer Course (1892) as the course title. This title suggests that Ludwig had adopted James' text and signaled a change in the course which made it more scientific and applied (and less metaphysical). This trend continued in 1925 with his adoption of Robert Woodworth's Psychology: A Study of Mental Life (1921) which was the most popular psychology text book of the time.

Ludwig joined the faculty in 1907 and became Dean of the Faculty in 1928. He retired from the position in 1934 (and was immediately named Dean Emeritus) and from the college in 1936. At that time he returned to his home in Rochester, New York. He died in 1953 at 89 years of age. For a time after his retirement, the house that now makes up the southern end of the Pape House was known as the Ludwig Cottage.

Expansion into Applied & Experimental Areas

Dr. Edward van Ormer

Dr. Edward van Ormer

A second psychology course (Educational Psychology) was added to the curriculum in 1932 when education courses were first offered at Wagner. This course was taught by Edward Van Ormer who earned his doctorate in psychology at Columbia University in 1932. His dissertation was on the effects of sleep on memory retention. Van Ormer may have been the first psychologist at Wagner.

Dr. Adolph Aleck
Educational Psychology had general psychology as a pre-requisite which, after Ludwig's retirement, was taught by Dr. Adolph W. Aleck from 1934 to 1936. At this point, psychology courses were no longer listed as offerings in philosophy.

Aleck was an educational psychologist who had completed his PhD at the NYU School of Education with his dissertation "Essentials of mental hygiene in the history of education to Herbert Spencer".  Soon, offerings in psychology itself expanded to include courses in applied psychology and abnormal psychology.

In Dr. Marion Bartlett1936, Dr. Marion R. Bartlett, a psychophysiologist who completed her doctorate at Columbia University in 1935 with the dissertation "The auditory threshold in reverie; a study of normal and psychopathic individuals," joined the faculty. She replaced Aleck and taught psychology at Wagner until 1941.  She was the first woman psychologist at Wagner.  Offerings again expanded to include social psychology.
From 1941 through to the post-WWII period, there were annual changes in psychology faculty and course offerings changed to suit their areas of specialization. These psychologists were T. Gaylord Andrews (1941-42), Elisabeth Hellersberg (1942-43), and Robert Harper (1943-45).

In 1946, the education department was created; it housed the psychology faculty and their courses.  Esther Chase Wood (MA, Columbia University) began teaching psychology and sociology and remained on the faculty for many years in the sociology department after it was formed. She was joined a couple of years later by Rev. Kenneth E. Morse (MA, New York University) and Dr. John E. Crawford (Ed.D. University of Pittsburgh).  Together they taught courses in education, sociology and psychology.Harper1944

A Psychology/Sociology Major (developed for those interested in social work) was offered by the education department by

In 1950, Dr. Gertrude Aull (PhD, New School for Social Research) joined the faculty and began teaching most of the psychology courses.

Founding of the Department

The psychology major and department were formed in 1956.  Faculty included Dr. Gertrude Aull (chair), Morse, and Mr. Frank Oja (MA, New School for Social Research).  Aull had earned her doctorate from the New School for Social Research and was also the student counselor.  She was trained in Gestalt experimental psychology and in psychoanalysis as a clinician.

The psychology department office was located in Cunard Hall (3rd Floor).  Oja's psychology laboratory (also in Cunard) may have been the first at Wagner.

Dr. Eli E. Kapostins (PhD, Columbia University) joined the department in 1956 replacing Morse.  Kapostins earned his doctorate with Fred Keller, a friend of B.F. Skinner known for the Keller Plan of teaching.  Kapostins was an experimental psychologist with a behavioral perspective and was a key figure in creating human and animal experimental labs in the “barracks” (temporary housing built for students returning from WWII) also known as "Trinity Hall" when the psychology department moved there in the late 1950’s. Kapostins would teach at Wagner for 31 years.

The addition of Kapostins continued the long influence that students of the Columbia University "school" of psychology had on the department at Wagner.

The student Psychology Club was organized in 1957.

The courses offered by the department were not too different from those offered now: click here to see a flier from late 1950's.

Wagner Psychology Department in 1957

Click Image: Psychology in 1957

In 1957, Dr. Eugene Sersen (biopsychology, NYU) replaced Oja (who had joined the psychology department at Bard College) and Dr. John Dalland (doctorate from Columbia with behavioral background) replaced Aull, who went into private practice as a psychoanalyst, as department chair in 1958.

In 1959, Dr. Dorothy Murgatroyd (social psychology, University of Pennsylvania), replaced Sersen who joined the staff of the Institute for Basic Research in Staten Island.

Dalland and Murgatroyd left Wagner in 1962. Dalland joined the faculty at Wake Forest University and Murgatroyd, who had a strong interest in physiological psychology, joined the Pierce Laboratory  (affiliated with Yale University) where she pursued her interest in skin senses with James Hardy. They were replaced by Dr. Lee Borah (University of Minnesota; counseling and social psychology) and Dr. George De Leon (Columbia University; behavioral).  Kapostins became department chair.

At this time, a part-time faculty member, Dr. Richard E. Gordon, provided free psychological services to Wagner College students.

In the early 1960s there were approximately 50 psychology majors and the department returned to Cunard Hall where their offices and labs occupied the 3rd floor.

The Wagner College chapter of Psi Chi was chartered in 1966.

Growth to the Present Day

In 1968, the psychology department moved to occupy the entire southern wing of the 3rd floor of Main Hall.  Animal and human labs were located there.  There were approximately 80 majors.


Click: Psychology Department in 1978

In 1972, the psychology department (with 135 majors) expanded to four members with the addition of Dr. Frances Bock (CUNY) who had a background in neuropsychology.

Borah became department chair in 1973 followed by Bock in 1977.  The department returned to three members when De Leon left in 1975 and went to two when Bock left in 1980.

The photo on the right shows the psychology department in 1978 Dr. Bock (chair), Kaye Wollney (part time psychology professor for over 15 years), Dr. Borah, and Dr. Kapostins.

Kapostins became chair again in 1980, retired from Wagner in 1987 and was replaced by Dr. Miguel Roig (Rutgers University) who was a cognitive psychologist.  Borah became chair again in 1987.  Roig left to join the faculty of St. John’s University in 1989.

At this time, the psychology and education departments merged until 1995.


Dr. Mark Wagner (Dartmouth College), a psychophysicist, joined the department in 1991 and became department chair in 1995.  Dr. Wagner's research focuses on the visual perception of spatial dimensions. The department expanded with the addition of Dr. Richard Brower (cognitive, Rutgers University) in 1993 and Dr. Miles Groth (philosophy, Fordham University), a psychotherapist, in 1994. Dr. Brower's research focuses on human creativity and Dr. Groth is an expert in Heidegger studies and he has strong interest in the psychology of men and boys.

The offerings of the department increased significantly and the current psychology curriculum was developed.  During this time the department moved to Campus Hall and then to Parker Hall where it is currently situated.  Borah retired in 1997.

Dr. Laurence Nolan (psychology and neuroscience, University of Delaware) joined the department in 1997 and lab space was created on the first floor of Parker Hall.  Dr. Nolan's research focuses on the factors that influence human food choice and meal size. In 2001, Groth became department chair and the psychology department expanded for the first time to five with the addition of Dr. Amy Eshleman (social, University of Kansas).

In 2002, a new laboratory (named for Dr. Kapostins in 2008) was built for the psychology department in the basement of Parker Hall and a participant pool and research ethics committee were created. In 2005, Dr. Steve Jenkins (counseling, Louisiana Tech University) joined the department and expanded offerings in counseling. Dr. Jenkins is an expert in student mental health and is a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Wagner returned to the chair position in 2007 and a long period of stability followed.

In 2019, both Dr. Groth and Dr. Brower retired from teaching at Wagner College. Dr. Nolan began his term as department chair in 2019. Dr. Jenkins left Wagner College in 2020 in order to work full time as a psychotherapist.

Psychology Department in 2019 (from left to right: Jenkins, Nolan, Eshleman & Wagner)

Dr. Jess England (counseling, University of Florida) joined the psychology faculty in Fall 2020. Dr. England is an expert in vocational psychology and is a practicing psychotherapist. Also in Fall, 2020, Dr. Carolyn Taverner (developmental, City University of New York), Director of the Early Childhood Center, joined the department as a full-time member. Dr. Taverner is co-founder of a grief counseling center and an expert in child psychology.

Dr. Wagner retired from teaching in Spring 2021.

The most recent addition to the department is Dr. Iman Feghhi who completed his PhD in cognitive psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Feghhi studies the relationship between the mind and body, in particular, the way people make judgements about mental and physical efforts.

The psychology department continues to offer a diverse assortment of courses and degree programs in psychology. It also offers, with the Department of Biological Sciences, a major in biopsychology and, with the Department of Culture and Economy, a major in behavioral economics. There is also a dual major in education.

Written by Laurence J. Nolan

Wagner College Undergraduate Bulletin
"Reliving it once more... A story of the department of psychology of Wagner College" by Eli E. Kapostins
Horrmann Library, Wagner College
Fogelman Library, New School for Social Research
Psychology Library, Columbia University
photographs from Kallista