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Theta Holmes Wolf

Birth:
1904

Death:
1997

Training Location(s):

BA, Pembroke College, (1927)

MA, Brown University, (1929)

PhD, University of Minnesota, (1936)



Primary Affiliation(s):

Hamline University, (1946-1966)

University of Illinois, (1967-1974)



Media Links:
Archival Collections

Theta Wolf Papers at the Archives of the History of American Psychology

 


Biography:

 

Career Focus: History of psychology; Alfred Binet; counselling psychology.

 


 

Theta Wolf was born Theta Carolyn Holmes in Salem, Massachusetts on May 26 ,1904. She grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and earned her bachelor of arts degree at Pembroke College, the women’s coordinating college at Brown University, in 1927. At Brown she was introduced to psychology by Edmund Burke Delabarre, one of the first American psychologists, and an associate of Alfred Binet. After receiving her master’s degree from Brown in 1929, she taught for two years at Skidmore College. Wolf then enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota and completed a dissertation with eminent developmental psychologist Florence L. Goodenough. She was awarded her PhD in 1936 with a major in child welfare and a minor in psychology. In 1938, she became an instructor at Christian College and kept this part-time position until 1943. From 1946-1966, she was a faculty member of Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she taught applied and counselling psychology. From 1967 until her retirement in 1974, Wolf taught as a professor of counselling psychology at the University of Illinois.  In 1933, she married John B. Wolf, a historian of modern European history, whom she had met at the University of Minnesota. John helped cultivate her historical interests, as they would edit and converse about each other’s work. Together they had one child, John K. Wolf, three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

 

It was Florence L. Goodenough who stimulated Wolf’s interest in Alfred Binet’s work, which led to her meeting with Theodore Simon during her sabbatical in Paris. Simon was a collaborator of Binet’s and helped him develop the first intelligence tests (the Binet-Simon tests) for which Binet became famous. Wolf interviewed Simon, and this interview was her first major publication. It appeared in the American Psychologist in 1961. As Wolf became more interested in and impressed with Binet, she discovered that he had conducted extensive work outside the area of intelligence testing. She began writing a series of articles on Binet’s lesser known research, and then went on to produce a full biography of Binet. In her biography she covered Binet’s theoretical formulations, but unlike those who had written about him previously she also wrote about his data collection, experimental strategies, and conclusions. She examined and explored Binet’s prolific writings covering a wide array of subjects, and also wrote about him as an individual. Alfred Binet was published in 1973, just a year before her retirement.

 

Within the American Psychological Association (APA), Wolf was a charter member of the Division of the History of Psychology (Division 26). She began as an associate in the APA in 1947 and then became a member in 1958. Later in 1975, she was elected as a fellow. She was also one of the earliest members of Cheiron, The International Society for the History of the Behavioral and Social Sciences. In 1971, Cheiron held a symposium titled “The Writing of Biography in the History of Science” where Wolf presented her Binet biography as an example. Between 1972-1979, she also served on the board of advisors for the Archives of the History of American Psychology in Akron, OH. During her retirement, Wolf continued writing about Binet, and published work well into her late 70’s. In 1985, she completed a piece on Binet’s successful side career as a dramatist. She was also involved with many young Binet scholars acting as a consultant, critic, and friend.

 

In 1996, just before their 63rd wedding anniversary, John passed away. Wolf passed away just a year later. The Society for French Historical Studies established The John B. and Theta H. Wolf Award for dissertation research in their memory.

 

By Tiffany Nguyen (2017)

To cite this article, see Credits


Selected Works:
By Theta Wolf

Wolf, T. (1961). An individual who made a difference. American Psychologist, 16, 245-248.

 

Wolf, T. (1966) Intuition and experiment: Alfred Binet’s first efforts in child psychology. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 2, 233-239.

 

Wolf, T. (1969). The emergence of Binet’s conception and measurement of intelligence: A case  history of the creative process. Parts I and II. Journal of the History of the Behavioral  Sciences, 5, 113-134, 207-237.

 

Wolf, T. (1973). Alfred Binet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

Wolf, T. (1982). A new perspective on Alfred Binet: Dramatist of Le Theatre de l’Horreur. The Psychological Record, 32, 397 – 407.

About Theta Wolf

Fancher, R. E. (1998). Theta H. Wolf (1904–1997). History of Psychology, 1(1), 85-87.

 

McPherson, M. W., & Popplestone, J. A. (2000). Theta H. Wolf (1904–1997). American Psychologist, 55(2), 1-270.