The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Seashore, Carl Emil
(January 28, 1866–October 16, 1949)

—educator and scientist—was the son of Carl and Emily Sjostrand. Born in Morlunda, Sweden, he and his family emigrated to the United States, settling in a farming community in northeastern Iowa and adopting the directly translated name of Seashore as had already been done by an earlier immigrant relative. Seashore later made much of the rigors of pioneering life in his early years, but in 1885 he was able to enter Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, where his studies focused on mathematics, Greek, and music. In 1895 he took Yale University's first doctorate in psychology. Two years later, following visits to psychology laboratories in Europe, he accepted a position at the State University of Iowa, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1900 Seashore married Mary Roberta Holmes, and they had four sons. In 1905 he was named full professor and chair of the Philosophy and Psychology Department, and in 1908 the dean of the Graduate School. He served as dean until 1937 and again as acting deanduring the war years. Seashore died at a son's home in Idaho, following a stroke.

    Seashore saw himself as a pioneer in education much as he and his family had been as immigrants. His many years as Graduate School dean were said to have made him the most important figure in the history of the University of Iowa, more than any president or collegiate dean. His innovations were guided by his commitment to science and to making the university a leading research institution. In establishing many new graduate programs and research institutes, he often emphasized the desirability of their having a psychology component, in his belief that the findings of the relatively new science of experimental psychology were already applicable to the otherwise different purposes of many fields of inquiry. Having originally opposed its creation, Seashore became a vigorous supporter of Iowa's well-known Child Welfare Research Station, seeing it as a way scientific study, and especially that of psychology, could be used to improve the human condition.

    Seashore also established some of the first graduate programs in the nation in the creative arts, especially music, theater, and the literary arts, whereby a student could obtain a doctorate with an artistic creation instead of the usual research project. Even in these areas, Seashore attempted to infuse psychology as a component; if he had only very limited success, at least, in his words, he "introduced the spirit of scientific procedure into the fields of art and related subjects."Seashore was also instrumental in establishing entrance and placement examinations, in his belief that it was important for students, as for everyone, to have training and work appropriate to abilities that could be discovered by testing and other scientific procedures. This was as important for creating satisfying work and lives for people of low intelligence in institutions as for identifying and encouraging the most gifted people, all for the improvement of each individual person and of society as a whole.

    Seashore's great authority as Graduate School dean derived from and was sustained by his reputation as a researcher in what he called "the new science of psychology."Here, too, he thought of himself as a pioneer. He had entered Yale on the very day that its first psychology laboratory opened. (Iowa's had opened in 1890.) And while he published several books on general psychology, emphasizing both its theoretical and its practical aspects, it was through music psychology that Seashore became an internationally known figure. He proposed to advance the scientific understanding of the musical abilities and behaviors of human beings in hearing and appreciating music as well as in its performance. With respect to ability in music, Seashore insisted that "musical talent is subject to scientific analysis and can be measured."To do these measurements, he and his colleagues constructed various devices, including an audiometer that was marketed in 1909. They also devised a number of tests over many years, including the widely used Seashore Measures of Musical Talents. One aim of these tests was to identify talented individuals who might then be encouraged to study music. In addition, a major theoretical goal was to discern and distinguish the inherited from the environmental contributions to musical ability. Among the larger projects that he supervised was one at the Eastman School of Music with the assistance, both financial and administrative, of George Eastman and the school's director, Howard Hanson.

    Seashore's numerous books and articles, especially those on music, were at the core of the many honors that came his way, including the presidency of the American Psychological Association, membership in the National Academy of Sciences, and a number of honorary doctoral degrees.
Sources In addition to his numerous technical studies, Seashore's more popular works include Why We Love Music (1941) and In Search of Beauty in Music (1947). A complete bibliography of his 237 books and articles can be found in Walter R. Miles, Carl Emil Seashore, 1866–1949: A Biographical Memoir (1956). Autobiographical material exists in Seashore's Pioneering in Psychology (1942) and in his entry in A History of Psychology in Autobiography (1930). A superb, extended account of Seashore's tenure as Graduate School dean appears in Stow Persons, The University of Iowa in the Twentieth Century: An Institutional History (1990).
Contributor: Laird Addis