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Theodore Mead Newcomb
LSA Minutes


Theodore Newcomb died on December 28, 1984 at his home in Ann Arbor, three weeks after suffering a stroke. He was still active into his eighty-second year, after his retirement in 1974 from full-time teaching and research as Professor of Sociology and Psychology. He was Professor Emeritus and Research Scientist in the Institute for Social Research and reappointed again in 1984 for part-time activity. He has been sought out through these ten years -- often by his former students as teacher, lecturer, consultant and collaborator on research projects.

His last collaborations included a replication with Duane Alwin of his pioneering longitudinal study of Bennington College students in 1935, published in 1943 as Personality and Social Change; also "Autonomy for Inmates" with Martin Gold and Wayne Osgood in 1985; and with Robert Vinter and Rhea Kish Time Out: A National Study of Juvenile Correctional Programs in 1976.

He joined the U of M faculty in 1941 and retired in 1974 as the Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding. In 1947 he started the very successful Doctoral Program in Social Psychology, which he directed with Daniel Katz until 1963. The same year he was influential (with Donald Marquis and Robert Angell) in bringing to Michigan the small group from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that later became the Institute for Social Research. He helped to develop and direct the Residential College for the U of M, and he received its Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award 1964.

Newcomb was an enthusiastic and devoted teacher, beloved by his legions of students, who went out to colonize universities all across the USA (and beyond) with the new discipline of social psychology, and hundreds of them still come from all over to the Katz-Newcomb Symposium in Ann Arbor at the end of each April. Newcomb was one of the founders of social psychology as a research science. This was recognized in his election to the National Academy of Sciences (1974); the Kurt Lewin Annual Award (1962) from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues; election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957); president of the American Psychological Association (1955), and Editor of its Psychological Review (1954-59). He was also Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1956), Fulbright Scholar (1951) and Guggenheim Fellow (1959). Author of many articles, Newcomb was especially successful with several pioneering textbooks: Experimental Social Psychology in 1937 (with Gardner and Lois Murphy), Social Psychology in 1950, with a new edition in 1965 (with G.E. Swanson and E.L. Hartley).

Ted was born in Rock Creek, Ohio, son of a Congregationalist minister, went to Lincoln High School and to Oberlin College (BA 1924 Summa cum laude). He went to the Union Theological Seminary at Columbia, but soon switched to Teachers College, and to psychology under Gardner Murphy, Goodwin Watson, William Kilpatrick, but also ethics from Harry Ward. After his Ph.D. (1929), he taught at Lehigh and at Western Reserve in Cleveland, where many of the students were part-time and poverty stricken in the midst of the Depression. "I learned as much from suffering students and their families as I did from newspapers." Then came several experiences that shaped Newcomb's character: the Depression, the threat of Fascism, the Spanish War and the other event that, "fortunately lasted much longer than the Depression: Mary Shipherd and I joined hands and hearts." The following years (1934-41) at Bennington College were full of enthusiastic teaching, "radical" activities, such as the CIO and two ambulances for Loyalist Spain, and much research and writing as well. He has ever since been devoted to causes of social justice, equality, peace and progress. "I am not religious in any sectarian sense. In politics and education, I am leftish." Naturally he had his share of red-baiting (from the Dies Committee).

Ted's survivors include his wife Mary, three children, Esther, Suzanne, and Theodore, Jr., and seven grandchildren. Also hundreds of students, thousands of readers and as many other friends.

Leslie Kish