Arnold Gesell

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Arnold Gesell
Arnold Lucius Gesell

(1880-06-21)21 June 1880
Died29 May 1961(1961-05-29) (aged 80)
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin—Madison
Yale University
Clark University
Known forStudies in child development
Scientific career
FieldsClinical Psychology
InstitutionsYale Child Study Center (Founder),[1] Yale University

Arnold Lucius Gesell (21 June 1880 – 29 May 1961) was an American psychologist, pediatrician and professor at Yale University known for his research and contributions to the fields of child hygiene and child development.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Gesell was born in Alma, Wisconsin, and later wrote an article analyzing his experiences there entitled The Village of a Thousand Souls.[2] The eldest of five children, Arnold and his siblings were born to photographer Gerhard Gesell and schoolteacher Christine Giesen.[4] His first experience in observing child development involved watching his younger siblings learn and grow until he graduated from high school in 1896.

After high school, Gesell attended the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, where a course taught by Edgar James Swift purportedly led Arnold to take an interest in psychology. Gesell worked as a high school teacher briefly before leaving to study at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Later, he studied history under Professor Frederick Jackson Turner and psychology under Joseph Jastrow, receiving a bachelor of philosophy degree from Wisconsin in 1903.


Gesell served as a teacher and high school principal before seeking his psychological doctorate at Clark University, where the university's president, G. Stanley Hall, had founded a child study movement.[5] Arnold received his PhD from Clark in 1906.

Gessell worked at several educational facilities in New York City and Wisconsin before obtaining a professorship at the Los Angeles State Normal School, now known as the University of California, Los Angeles. There he met fellow teacher Beatrice Chandler, who would become his wife. They later had a daughter and a son, Federal District Judge Gerhard Gesell.

Gesell also spent time at schools for the mentally disabled, including the Vineland Training School in New Jersey. Having developed an interest in the causes and treatment of childhood disabilities, Gesell began studying at the University of Wisconsin Medical School to better understand physiology.[6] He later served as an assistant professor at Yale University while continuing to study medicine.[7] He developed the Clinic of Child Development there and received his MD in 1915. He was later given a full professorship at Yale.

Gesell also served as the school psychologist for the Connecticut State Board of Education and helped develop classes to help children with disabilities succeed. This historic appointment made Gesell the first school psychologist in the United States. He wrote several books, including The Preschool Child from the Standpoint of Public Hygiene and Education in 1923, The Mental Growth of the Preschool Child[8] in 1925 (which was also published as a film), and An Atlas of Infant Behavior (chronicling typical milestones for certain ages) in 1934. He coauthored with Frances Ilg two childrearing guides, Infant and Child in the Culture of Today in 1943 and The Child from Five to Ten in 1946.

Gesell made use of the latest technology in his research. He used the newest in video and photography advancements. He also made use of one-way mirrors when observing children, even inventing the Gesell dome, a one-way mirror shaped like a dome under which children could be observed without being disturbed. In his research, he studied many children, including Kamala, the wolf girl. He also did research on young animals, including monkeys.

As a psychologist, Gesell wrote and spoke about the importance of both nature and nurture in child development. He cautioned others not to be quick to attribute mental disabilities to specific causes. He believed that many aspects of human behavior, such as handedness and temperament, were heritable. He explained that children adapted to their parents as well as to one another. He advocated for a nationwide nursery school system in the United States.

Gesell's popular books spread his ideas beyond academia. His core message, urging parents to "nourish the child's trustfulness in life", resonated with child advocates long before Benjamin Spock became America's most prominent parental advisor.[9] In The Child from Five to Ten, Gesell wrote, "It is no longer trite to say that children are the one remaining hope of mankind... If we could but capture their transparent honesty and sincerities! They still have much to teach us, if we observe closely enough."[9]

Maturational Theory and Developmental Schedules[edit]

Gesell's ideas came to be known as Gesell's Maturational Theory of child development.[7][10] Based on his theory, he published a series of summaries of child development sequences, called the Gesell Developmental Schedules.

The Gesell Institute of Human Development, named after him, was started by his colleagues from the Clinic of Child Development, Frances Ilg and Louise Bates Ames in 1950, after Gesell retired from the university in 1948.[11] In 2012, the institute was renamed the Gesell Institute of Child Development.


In 1911, Gesell married Beatrice Chandler who was a teacher he had met while working at Los Angeles State Normal School. The couple had a daughter and a son.[12] Gesell died at his home in New Haven in 1961.[11]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Gesell, Arnold. "The Village of a Thousand Souls." American Magazine, Oct. 1913, pp. 11–16.
  • Gesell, A., & Ilg, F. L. (1949). Child development, an introduction to the study of human growth. New York: Harper.
  • Gesell, A., Ilg, F. L., & Ames, L. B. (1974). Infant and child in the culture of today: the guidance of development in home and nursery school (Rev. ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
  • Gesell, A., Thompson, H., & Amatruda, C. S. (1938). The psychology of early growth, including Norms of infant behavior and a method of genetic analysis. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • "Arnold Lucius Gesell.", in Boring, E.G. (1952), History of Psychology in Autobiography 4: 123–42. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press.



  1. ^ "Our History > Child Study Center - Yale School of Medicine".
  2. ^ a b Harris, B. (2011). Arnold Gesell’s Progressive vision: Child hygiene, socialism and eugenics. History of Psychology, 14, 311-334.
  3. ^ Herman, E (2001), "Families made by science. Arnold Gesell and the technologies of modern child adoption.", Isis; an International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences, The University of Chicago Press, The History of Science Society (published December 2001), vol. 92, no. 4, pp. 684–715, doi:10.1086/385355, JSTOR 3080338, PMID 11921680, S2CID 6329317
  4. ^ Hannan, Caryn (2008). Wisconsin biographical dictionary (2008-2009 ed.). Hamburg, MI: State History Publications. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-878592-63-7.
  5. ^ William Kessen (July 1983). History, theory, and methods. Wiley. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-0-471-09057-1.
  6. ^ William C. Crain (March 1980). Theories of development: concepts and applications. Prentice-Hall. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-13-913566-8.
  7. ^ a b Neil J Salkind (22 January 2004). An Introduction to Theories of Human Development. SAGE Publications. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-0-7619-2639-9.
  8. ^ Gesell, Jordan (1 March 2012). The Mental Growth of the Preschool Child. ISBN 978-1258266875.
  9. ^ a b "Every Child's Best Friend". The Attic. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Human Ecology: A-H. ABC-CLIO. 2003. pp. 338–. ISBN 978-1-57607-852-5.
  11. ^ a b "Child Specialist Dies". The Kansas City Times. 30 May 1961. p. 28. Retrieved 19 November 2015 – via open access
  12. ^ Rebecca Staples New; Moncrieff Cochran (1 December 2006). Early Childhood Education [Four Volumes]. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 388–. ISBN 978-0-313-01448-2.

General references[edit]

  • Harris, Ben "Arnold Lucius Gesell". American National Biography. Retrieved on 2006-11-16
  • Harris, Ben (2011). Arnold Gesell's Progressive vision: Child hygiene, socialism and eugenics. History of Psychology, 14, 311-334.
  • Kessen, William. (1965). "Growth and Personality" The Child: 208–228.
  • Miles, Walter R. (1964). "Arnold Lucius Gesell". Biographical Memoirs: National Academy of Sciences 37: 55–96. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Ball, R S (1977), "The Gesell Developmental Schedules: Arnold Gesell (1880–1961).", Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 233–9, doi:10.1007/BF00913694, PMID 332745, S2CID 40403102
  • LEYS, R (1961), "Arnold GESELL.", Cerebral Palsy Bulletin, vol. 3, pp. 608–9, PMID 14037200
  • KNOBLOCH, H (1961), "Arnold GESELL 1880–1961.", The American Journal of Psychiatry (published December 1961), vol. 118, pp. 574–6, doi:10.1176/ajp.118.6.574, PMID 14036863
  • KANNER, L (1960), "Arnold GESELL's place in the history of developmental psychology and psychiatry.", Psychiatric Research Reports (published December 1960), vol. 13, pp. 1–9, PMID 13751194

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