Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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University Libraries, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The University of Nebraska was founded in Lincoln in 1871, but it took almost two decades until psychology courses were offered. The man who was singularly responsible for bringing psychology to the University was Professor Harry Kirk Wolfe, and thus the history of the Psychology Department begins with him.

Harry K. Wolfe enrolled as an undergraduate in the University in 1876, just five years after the University was chartered. Four years later, he graduated in a class of eight. Three years later, he went to Leipzig Germany to study in the laboratory of the founder of experimental psychology, Professor Wilhelm Wundt. In 1889, a few years after receiving his Ph.D., Professor Wolfe was hired by the University of Nebraska to teach psychology in the Department of Philosophy. According to some historians, the laboratory that he developed in his first year was the first psychology laboratory in the nation that was created entirely for undergraduate research. (Others, such as J. P. Guilford, who developed an international reputation in psychometrics, followed the tradition of both receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska and then returning to Nebraska with a Ph.D. to join the psychology faculty.)

Within two years of being hired, Professor Wolfe petitioned the Regents of the University to establish an independent Department of Psychology, but the Regents delayed exactly 50 years before granting that request. Thus for years, psychology was taught through the Department of Philosophy. A survey conducted in 1928 of the 616 American Psychological Association members asked them to list the institution that first inspired them to study psychology. The University of Nebraska, still without a formal Department of Psychology, ranked third.

As a superb teacher and mentor, Professor Wolfe established a tradition that we endeavor to follow today. That tradition has resulted in a total of six Presidents of the American Psychological Association graduating from the University of Nebraska. No other University in the Nation can match that record.2