Carmichael, Leonard, 1898-1973

Alternative names
Birth 1898-11-09
Death 1973-09-16

Biographical notes:

Leonard Carmichael (b. Nov. 9, 1898, Philadelphia, Pa.–d. Sept. 16, 1973), American educator and psychologist, was Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1953 to 1964.

From the description of Carmichael, Leonard, 1898-1973 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10582949

Leonard Carmichael was a psychologist, but was also active in research in zoology and biology.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1917-1973. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 86165430

Leonard Carmichael was born November 9, 1898 in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. His parents were Thomas Harrison Carmichael, a physician, and Emily Henrietta Leonard Carmichael, a graduate of Wellesley College. His maternal grandfather, Charles Hall Leonard, was Dean of the Crane Theological School of Tufts University, a fact that presages Carmichael's long association with that university.

Trained as a psychologist in the early years of this field, he also pursued research in zoology and biology. Carmichael's greatest contributions were in the areas of child psychology and biopsychology, with a special emphasis on the importance of genetic determinants of behavior. He was educated at Tufts (B.S., 1920) and Harvard (Ph.D., 1924) and taught at Princeton (1924-1926), Brown (1926-1936), and Rochester (1936-1938). During his time at Brown, he collaborated with Herbert Jasper in the earliest EEG studies in this country. He was president of Tufts University from 1938-1952, where he was simultaneously Director of the Laboratory of Sensory Physiology and Psychology. In 1946, he published his Manual of Child Psychology, which is considered a milestone in the scientific treatment of human development. The fourteen years he spent at Tufts were a time of great expansion in facilities, finances, and enrollment. One of his most important jobs was guiding the University's activities through the WWII time period.

Carmichael left Tufts in 1952 to become the executive officer of the Smithsonian Institute, a position he held until 1964. During his tenure there, he was responsible for the modernization of what was called the "nation's attic." Under his leadership, the Institute greatly expanded, with the creation of the Museum of History and Technology, and the addition of two wings to the Museum of Natural History. He left that position to become Vice President for Research and Exploration for the National Geographic Society. During his time in this position, the Society sponsored a great deal of exciting and ground-breaking research, including the Leakeys' anthropological studies in East Africa, Jane Goddall's work on primate behavior, and the underwater explorations of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

Carmichael was active in a number of professional organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association of Museums. During World War II he headed the National Roster of Scientific and Specialized Personnel, which recruited scientists and engineers for the war, and later he was Chairman of the Army Scientific Advisory Panel (on Manpower). Carmichael served as chairman of the Division of Anthropology and Psychology of the National Research Council, and he was also a member and chairman of the advisory board of the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology. He served as president of the American Psychological Association in 1940. The honor of which he was said to be the most proud, however, was his election to the American Philosophical Society in 1942. He served as the President of the Society from 1970 until a few months before his death. Carmichael died September 16, 1973 in Washington, D.C.

The Carmichael Auditorium at the National Museum of History and Technology was dedicated in his name in 1974. But perhaps an even more fitting indication of the lasting impact he made is the Leonard Carmichael Society, still an active volunteer organization at Tufts University. Started in 1958 by Richard Dorsay, it originally consisted of a group of students who would make regular visits to a nearby mental hospital. In the year 2000, it has a volunteer corps of over 1000, a staff of 85, and serves as an umbrella organization for 40 different programs which focus on such issues as homelessness, health, literacy, and youth mentoring. The Leonard Carmichael Society states that "The legacy that this elegant, wise and kind man built throughout his 75 years grows and expands every time Tufts students, faculty members, and staff members join LCS in the belief that they too can change the world."

From the guide to the Leonard Carmichael Papers, 1898-1973, Circa 1917-1973, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Animal behavior
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