The Faculty History Project documents faculty members who have been associated with the University of Michigan since 1837. Key in this effort is to celebrate the intellectual life of the University. This Faculty History Website is intended as a component of the effort to document the extraordinary academic achievements of Michigan’s faculty in building and sustaining one of the world’s great universities. It provides access to a comprehensive database of information concerning the thousands of faculty members who have served the University of Michigan.
Find out more.

The Bentley Historical Library serves as the official archives for the University.


Walter Bowers Pillsbury
LSA Minutes

1872 - 1960

Walter Bowers Pillsbury, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Michigan, the first Chairman of the Department of Psychology, member of the University of Michigan community for 63 years, died suddenly in Ann Arbor on June 3, 1960. His age was 87. Even during the last week of his life he was a familiar figure on the campus and many of his friends and colleagues talked to him or saw him at the University Club.

Professor Pillsbury was born in Burlington, Iowa, July 21, 1872. He studied at Penn College, University of Nebraska, and Cornell University where he received his PhD in 1896. After teaching for one more year at Cornell he came to Michigan as an instructor in psychology in 1897 and, except for short periods of lecturing at other universities, never left Ann Arbor. In 1901 he became Director of the Psychological Laboratory, in 1910 full professor and in 1929, when the Department of Psychology was established, he became its first Chairman. He retired in 1942, but was occasionally active in the Psychology Department in later years.

As early as thirty years ago any list of great psychologists contained Pillsbury's name. Pillsbury was one of the eminent men in the second generation of experimental psychologists. The first generation--in America, William James and Titchener belonged to it --started scientific exploration in psychology. Each of the leaders of the second generation carved out an area of psychology for himself and began intensive empirical and experimental studies of his area. Pillsbury turned to one of the most complex fields in psychology, about which practically no scientifically valid knowledge existed prior to his studies. Reasoning and attention were the major fields of interest to Pillsbury, and in these fields he made great progress, practically unassisted by other scholars. Pillsbury's ability to do justice to different points of view and the great breadth of his knowledge enabled him to write the first widely accepted introductory textbook in psychology. Among his many publications, the following books were very widely read and will survive him:






The Contributions of Pillsbury to the University of Michigan can be summarized by saying that he established psychology in Ann Arbor. Before he came to Ann Arbor there were only occasional lectures in psychology, given by philosophers. Pillsbury introduced regular courses in psychology while he was a member of the Department of Philosophy. He established a Psychological Laboratory, introduced students to laboratory work, stimulated extensive experimentation with humans as well as animals and slowly built up a large, well-equipped department. Pillsbury was a popular teacher; although by nature retiring and perhaps even shy, he was skillful and quick in repartee, and his students learned to appreciate his phenomenal memory and his knowledge in biological, natural, and social sciences.

During occasional absences from Ann Arbor, Pillsbury taught at Columbia University, University of Chicago, University of California at Los Angeles, and at Sorbonne University, Paris. He was a member of a great number of professional societies, President of the American Psychological Association in 1910, editor of numerous journals in psychology, Russel Lecturer at the University of Michigan in 1933, and obtained an honorary LLD degree from the University of Nebraska in 1934. In 1954 his students and friends honored his long and distinguished career by establishing a Pillsbury Testimonial Award which is given annually to a student in experimental psychology.

Professor Pillsbury is survived by his wife and a son and daughter, to whom the faculty of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts extends its deepest sympathy in their loss and ours.

Professor Henry. F. Adams
Professor George Katona
Professor Norman Maier