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Wayne Dennis Papers 1929-1976
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Biography

Biographical Note

Wayne Dennis (1905-1976) was born September 1, 1905 in Washington County, Ohio. He received his B.A. from Marietta College (1926) and his Ph.D. from Clark University (1930). He was known as one of the most distinguished psychologists and child development specialists of his generation. He retired in 1970 from academic life as professor emeritus of Brooklyn College, where he was professor and chair of the Department of Psychology from 1951 to 1962. He last directed the doctoral program in general psychology at the City University of New York from 1962-1964.

Dennis' academic career took him to several colleges and universities throught the South and East. His first position was assistant professor at the University of Virginia (1929-1942), but he also trained in cultural anthropology and was a social science research fellow at Yale (1936-1937). In 1942 he became professor and department head at Louisiana State University, while concurrently serving as a lieutenant in the Human Engineering Section of the Office of Naval Research. He left for the University of Pittsburgh in 1946 where he was again psychology department head. He then transferred to Brooklyn College.

Throughout his academic career, Dr. Dennis studied and researched abroad, most notably as Visiting Professor at the American University of Beirut (1955-56; 1958-59; 1964-65; 1974-75). There he compiled data for most of his important studies, combining his training in psychology and cultural anthropology. It was on a side trip to Tehran, Iran, during his first visit to the Middle East that he discovered the orphanages that would become the subjects of his field work on child development. It was also here that he began his many cross-cultural studies of performance on the Goodenaugh Draw-a-man test, which he ultimately combined into a set of mean IQs of typical children from some 50 cultures around the world.

Dr. Dennis spent his professional life exploring his thesis of child development and its emphasis on the predetermination of development, on the importance of maturation, and on the unimportance of experience in childhood development. His work helped coin the term "autogenic," a term used to describe the development of children's behavioral organizations without parental or other environmental tutelage. Dennis constantly questioned his own understanding and teachings, especially when he discovered evidence that contradicted his findings and beliefs. He died in July 1976 from complications following an automobile crash near his home in Doswell, Virginia.