Date of Award

Fall 1983

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The work of Henry A. Murray at the Harvard Psychological Clinic played a major role in shaping the face of modern American academic psychology. Prior to 1930, proponents of pure and applied psychological research debated the inclusion of personality and psychotherapy in the curriculum. Today, it is generally accepted that Murray was instrumental in broadening academic psychology's boundaries to include these topics. This dissertation details how the controversy surrounding Murray's promotion to Associate Professor in 1937 encapsulated the interplay between the intradisciplinary and extradisciplinary forces involved in psychology's efforts to define its intellectual, methodological, and institutional boundaries.

Initially, Murray's work was on the fringes of disciplinary and institutional acceptability. Murray was not trained in academic psychology, but rather in medicine and biochemistry. The Clinic's operations were subsidized by external grants and not from Harvard's own funds. Murray was also constantly in conflict with E. G. Boring, chairman of the Department of Psychology, concerning the administration of the Clinic. Furthermore, Murray rejected psychological reductionism, instead promoting research methods derived from medicine and a theory of personality influenced by psychoanalysis and L. J. Henderson's biological systems theory.

These factors made the outcome of Murray's 1936-1937 promotion and tenure review highly doubtful. However, the Rockefeller Foundation intervened and used its financial influence to secure Murray's promotion and ultimately to further the development of research on personality. This served to allow academic psychology to develop as a broadly defined field that would remain open to interdisciplinary influences.