1891 Gustavus Graduate
Dr. Seashore Ranked as One of Top Alumni
By John S. Kendall, Professor of Psychology
Gustavus Adolphus College
In the office area of the psychology department there is a bust of Carl Emil Seashore, an 1891 graduate of Gustavus. Widely recognized as one of the early leaders in psychology in America, Dr. Seashore spent most of his professional life at the University of Iowa. He was a member of the faculty at Iowa from 1897 until his retirement in 1937. In addition to his duties as professor and chairman of his department, he was made Dean of the Graduate School, University of Iowa, in 1908 and held that position concurrently with his other duties for 28 years. He retired in 1937 at the age of seventy but was recalled as Dean Pro Tempore of the Graduate School in 1942 and finally retired for the second time in 1946 at the age of 80. Most people who recognize his name today associate it with the Seashore Tests of Musical Ability which are still widely used. He was a man of wide ranging abilities and achievements and certainly one of the outstanding alumni of Gustavus.
Carl Emil Seashore was born in Morlunda, Sweden, on January 28, 1866, the first child of Carl Gustav and Emily Sjostrand. The surname Seashore is a direct translation of Sjostrand, and was the name adopted by an uncle when he came to the United States and was subsequently adopted by each branch of the family as they immigrated.
In Sweden, Carl Gustav and Emily Sjostrand were the owners of a "hemman" or small farm. In addition, Carl Gustav had acquired skills as a carpenter. The father was also a lay preacher. Although reasonably well off in Sweden by the standards of the time, the family elected to immigrate to the United States in 1869 when Carl Emil was three years old. Although the motives for this move are not explicitly stated in Dr. Seashore’s autobiography, it is reasonable to assume that both economic and religious considerations played an important part in the decision. After a six-week journey across the Atlantic, the family arrived in the United States. A brief stay in Rockford, Illinois, was followed by a move to Boone County, Iowa, where an uncle, Alfred Seashore, had homesteaded a few years earlier. The family located an eighty acre farm and almost immediately built a house. Thus Carl Emil Seashore began his life as an Iowa farm boy.
Carl Seashore was educated in his home until the age of eight when a district school house was built. Although it was well before the time of J. B. Watson or B. F. Skinner, Carl’s parents obviously knew a good deal about reinforcement theory. Seashore reports "My parents taught me to read Swedish. Their first and only trick lay in using a primer which had a picture of a rooster at the back of the book. Every day I had done my lesson well, the magic rooster would lay a penny the following night. I can at this moment feel myself hanging in the balance between feelings of fact and fancy as to the mechanism and reality of this process."
The primary advantage of the district school experience was the learning of English. Of his years in the district school, he wrote: "The demands upon me for work at home were such that I could not go to school in the summer and we had only three months winter terms. From age eight to age sixteen I probably attended the public school less than six hundred days in all." This preparation, which was undoubtedly supplemented by his experiences on the farm, was sufficient to allow him to enter the academy at Gustavus in 1885 where he was given advanced standing. Of his admission at Gustavus at the age of eighteen, Seashore writes, "I entered the second year of the three-year academy on a fluke, the fluke being that they examined me mainly in mathematics, English and history, and the examinations were based on the books I had studied. These books I knew. Of other subjects I knew practically nothing."
The choice of Gustavus as the place for a Swedish-American farm boy from north central Iowa to continue his education was, in 1885, almost foreordained. As Seashore himself has written: "Within an area of fifty square miles around our home, only one man had gone to college when Father suggested college to me. He had gone to Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, so there I went." It is clear from his writings that Carl Emil Seashore found his years at Gustavus to be happy and profitable. The religious and ethnic character of the college was consistent with his own background and experience. He followed the only course of study available, a classical one. He especially enjoyed mathematics and Greek, and music played an important role. In speaking about his academic interests during his undergraduate years, Seashore expressed particular appreciation for two of his professors , Dr. Jacob Uhler and the president of the college, Dr. Matthias Wahlstrom. "Mathematics had almost the appeal of a sport for me. Each new phase of the subject was a challenge which invited attack. It was exact, it had a system, it rewarded logic and effort. Besides that, it was the best-taught subject in the college, primarily because it was taught by Professor Uhler, our most beloved professor. Greek grammar enlisted almost the same appeal as mathematics. Greek literature opened a new world of appreciation for me."
It is clear from various accounts that young Carl Seashore was determined to get as much as possible out of his education and was thoroughly delighted by each new discipline and idea. Music was especially important, and Seashore speaks most fondly of his own participation. He points out that, for him at least, music was the most important extracurricular activity in the college. "We did not have intercollegiate athletics but music played an important role in student life. In this life of song in college, I had some degree of leadership and found in it my sweetest pleasures. With us it became an intramural competitive sport. We were invited to sing, expected to sing, and loved to sing at all sorts of occasions. Yet our chief pleasure came from self-expression among ourselves quite apart from audiences." It is interesting to note that Seashore’s interest and abilities in music had a very practical dimension as well. During his years in college he served as the organist and choir director of the "Swedish-Lutheran" church in Mankato and his salary there paid most of his college expenses.
Carl Emil Seashore graduated from Gustavus in 1891, there were a total of sixty graduate students at the university. The graduate students knew each other well and apparently moved freely from one seminar to another. The day that Seashore entered Yale was also the day that the psychological laboratory was opened. Dr. George T. Ladd, the leading figure in psychology at Yale, obviously took an interest in Carl Seashore. After four years of study under Ladd he completed his dissertation having done work on the role of inhibition in learning. Seashore was awarded the PhD from Yale in 1895. His was the first PhD awarded by Yale to a student in psychology.
Seashore spent the summer in Europe visiting German and French laboratories, and other centers of psychology investigation. In the fall of 1895 he returned to Yale as a Fellow in Psychology which meant he served as an assistant to Ladd. In 1897, Seashore made a significant decision. He had been offered a permanent position at Yale. He also was given the opportunity to go to China as a missionary teacher. However, he elected to return to his home state, accepting a position at the University of Iowa. He spent the remaining years of his life at the University of Iowa, a career which spanned nearly fifty years.
The years at Iowa were most productive. A detailed account of his accomplishments would fill many volumes. Here, a few highlights will have to suffice. His first ten years were devoted almost entirely to his teaching and research. He was especially interested in audiology and in cooperation with the colleagues in physics developed one of the first audiometers. This device was made available on a commercial basis in 1909.
In 1905, Seashore had achieved the rank of full professor and was the chairman of the department of psychology. He had already achieved a substantial reputation as an experimental psychologist, primarily in the psychology of hearing. In 1908, he was made Dean of the Graduate School, a position he held until his retirement in 1937. His first major activity as Dean was to visit many of the small colleges in Iowa and adjacent states, become acquainted with their faculties and encourage them to send their most able students to pursue graduate study at the University of Iowa. It is particularly noteworthy that during his twenty-nine years as a university administrator, he was able to continue an active career in both teaching and research. During much of this time he taught the introductory course in psychology, at times to as many as six hundred students. He continued his research in the area of musical abilities, publishing the first form of the Seashore Tests of Musical Ability in 1919. His interests in the fine arts led to a joint effort with Professor Norman Meier and the publication of the Meier-Seashore Art Judgment Test in 1929. During the early 1930’s in association with Dr. C. F. Lorenz, a physicist, with generous support from a $200,000 grant from the Bell Laboratories. During his years as Dean, he managed to add 113 citations to his list of publications. His complete publication lists from 1893 to 1949 includes 237 books and articles.