Elliott, Richard Maurice, 1887-1969

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Richard Maurice “Mike” Elliott was born November 3, 1887 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Elliott was the middle child with two older brothers, Herford and Robert, and two younger sisters, Margaret (Margaret Elliott Tracy) and Esther (Esther Elliott Leggat). Elliott’s father, Thomas H. Elliott, worked as a builder and in local real estate. His mother, Lilla Naylor Elliott, worked briefly as a grade school teacher prior to her marriage. Elliott’s parents were Unitarians who valued competition and academic excellence and they instilled these values in their children.

Elliott followed his two brothers to Dartmouth College where he initially studied astronomy. He eventually abandoned the study of astronomy due to his struggles with mathematics and physics. He double-majored in philosophy and psychology and earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1910. Elliott then enrolled at Harvard University where he earned two advanced degrees in philosophy and psychology: a master’s degree in 1911 and a Ph.D in 1913. Elliott spent the 1913-1914 academic year as a Sheldon Traveling Fellow at the University Berlin. He returned to the United States in the fall of 1914 to teach at Harvard University as a psychology instructor and served as Robert Yerkes’ teaching assistant. Yerkes’ teachings on the comparative method would have a lifelong influence on Elliott. He then taught at Yale University from 1915 until 1918.

In 1918 Elliott was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Sanitary Corps of the United States Army. He attended medical officers training at Camp Greenleaf, GA and while in Georgia he joined a group of academic psychologists training to become psychological examiners. Following a month’s training at Camp Wadsworth, SC under Donald Paterson, Elliott was appointed chief psychological examiner at Camp Sevier, SC in the Army’s Testing Program. (Elliott later recruited Donald Paterson to join the University of Minnesota’s Psychology Department faculty). Following the Armistice, Elliott worked in the Rehabilitation Division in the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In 1919 Elliott arrived at the University of Minnesota to chair the newly created Psychology Department (prior to 1919 all psychology courses were offered through the Philosophy Department). Elliott’s early years at the University were concerned with the development of the department’s faculty and curriculum. Under Elliott’s leadership the University of Minnesota’s Psychology Department became one of the leading undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States.

Throughout his career Elliott emphasized the importance of the undergraduate introductory course to psychology which he continued to teach until his retirement. Under Elliott’s direction, the introductory course became required for a variety of majors at the University of Minnesota including Education, Home Economics, Social Work, Nursing, Medicine, Law and others. Elliott also created advanced courses in Human Behavior and Biographical Psychology. Under Elliott’s leadership the University of Minnesota developed a tradition of applied psychology.

In 1924 Elliott served with Donald Paterson as co-director of a testing project sponsored by the National Research Council. Work began in 1924 and culminated in 1930 with the publication of the Minnesota Mechanical Abilities Test of which Elliott was a co-author. Elliott also served as the Associate Chairman of a committee of the Employment Stabilization Research Institute whose research led to the publication of the classic text, Men, Women and Jobs.

Elliott’s own description of his work: “In general I have been by turns planner, promoter, organizer, trouble-shooter and encourager.” His contribution to the University of Minnesota lay in his ability to foster the new Psychology Department’s faculty and to shape the development of an emerging discipline.

In 1924 Elliott was approached to by the Appleton-Century-Crofts Company to develop a series of books on Psychology. Initially Dana Ferrin of the Century Company approached E. G. Boring with an idea for a series on psychology and philosophy. Ferrin asked Boring for help in finding an editor and Boring suggested Elliott. Despite his dual degree in philosophy and psychology, Elliott declined the project, believing that the mixture of philosophy and psychology was passe. Eventually Ferrin agreed that the series would be comprised only of psychology texts and Elliott joined the project. The stated aim of the series: “to serve authoritatively specialists, students and general lay readers and eventually to be as widely representative as possible of the trends of modern psychology.”

The series was launched with Boring’s History of Experimental Psychology. A dozen more books quickly followed in the next four years, including works by Edward Tolman, Henry E. Garrett, Donald Paterson, E.G. Boring, Edna Heidbrader, Florence Goodenough, and Clark L. Hull. In 1933 the Century Company merged to become the Appleton-Century-Crofts Company. The series continued to flourish under supervision of Dana Ferrin who became A-C-C’s Vice President in charge of educational books and later President of Appleton-Century-Crofts. The 100th book in the Century Psychology Series went to press in 1965.

In 1927 Elliott was eligible for a sabbatical leave and journeyed from Europe to Beirut and then on to Saigon, China. Traveling on foot and via automobile, train, and ship, Elliott saw some of the most remote parts of southern Asia. Elliott wrote a travelogue about this trip which was published as The Sunny Side of Asia.

Richard Elliott married Mathilde Rice, a granddaughter of Minnesota Senator Henry M. Rice, in 1929. The two met in 1919 when the both worked at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Mathilde worked as a reconstruction aid and instructed disabled soldiers in the use of the typewriter.

During the course of his career, Elliott served on the Board of Directors of The Psychology Corporation, was the American Psychological Association’s representative to the Social Science Research Council, served on the American Psychology Association’s Board of Directors, and served as the director the Minnesota Human Genetics League. During World War II Elliott served as a consultant to the National Research Council.

Elliott continued to serve as chairman of the Psychology Department until 1951 when he retired from that position. For the next five years Elliott continued to teach as a member of the faculty until his retirement in the spring of 1956. That fall Elliott sat for the painting of his portrait which was then presented to President J.L. Morrill on behalf of the University. The portrait would later hang in the University’s new psychology building. Elliott Hall was named in Elliott’s honor and was dedicated on September 20, 1968.

Richard Elliott became seriously ill in 1957 while aboard a ship traveling to England. This illness eventually led to the diagnosis of hypocortisolism or Addison’s Disease (a rare endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisone). This condition required Elliott to take daily cortisone supplements and eventually led to his death on May 6, 1969.

Robert Mearns Yerkes technically served as the first chairman of the Psychology Department. In 1917 Yerkes was offered to chair the University of Minnesota’s Psychology Department. Yerkes accepted the University’s offer with the understanding he would be able to model the new department as he saw fit. Prior to his arrival in Minnesota World War I intervened. Yerkes was drafted into service with the United States Army where he would spend the war developing intelligence tests for soldiers. Yerkes held the chairmanship at Minnesota in name only from 1917 through 1919. At the end of the war, Yerkes resigned his position at the University of Minnesota in order to stay in Washington D.C. where he served as chairman of the Research Information Service of the National Research Council. Yerkes then recommended his former graduate assistant, Richard Elliott, to serve as his replacement.

Mathilde Rice Elliott was born in 1896 and spent the better part of her childhood in France where she attended schools in Tours and Versailles. She attended high school in Washington, D.C. at the Eastman School for Girls, a private boarding school for middle class families. While at Eastman, Rice studied languages, art, and history, with particular emphasis on the unique educational and cultural experiences available in Washington, D.C. Following her graduation from Eastman in 1912, Mathilde enrolled in a business course at Strayer’s Business College. Upon the completion of her course at Strayer’s, Rice worked for a law firm in Olean, New York as a fuel administrator. Rice then returned to Washington D.C. where she worked at Walter Reed Hospital.

Mathilde left Walter Reed in 1920 to take a position in Paris with the International Red Cross. From 1919-1922 Mathilde Rice worked in the Personnel Division at the American Red Cross Headquarters as secretary to R.P. Lane, the Director of the Junior Red Cross. She later worked for the American Embassy as a translator and lived in Paris until 1926. In December 1926 Mathilde moved back to the United States. She worked for a year in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a curatorial assistant before moving to the Twin Cities in 1927. After moving to Minneapolis Mathilde began work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Following her marriage to Richard Elliott, Mathilde continued to work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where she produced an innovative radio weekly radio programs, lectured and did research for the curatorial department. During the Second World War Mathilde worked in the University Hospital as a Red Cross volunteer and as a translator for French-speaking patients. Following Elliott’s death in 1969, Mathilde Elliott became active in the Minnesota State Services for the Blind and recorded Talking Books for the visually impaired and developed a poetry radio show. Mathilde Rice Elliott died October 1, 1988.

From the guide to the Richard Maurice Elliott Papers, 1912-1969, (University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc])

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Richard Maurice Elliott Papers, 1912-1969 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn Yerkes, Robert Mearns, 1876-1956. Robert Mearns Yerkes papers, 1822-1985 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Paterson, Donald G. (Donald Gildersleeve), 1892-1961. Donald G. Paterson papers, 1915-1961. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Robert Mearns Yerkes papers, 1822-1985 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Elliott, Richard Maurice, 1887-1969. Richard Maurice Elliott papers, 1912-1969. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Department of Psychology papers, 1924-1951 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn Yerkes, Robert Mearns, 1876-1956. Robert Mearns Yerkes papers, 1822-1985 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Donald G. Paterson papers, 1892-1961 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Psychological Association corporateBody
associatedWith Appleton-Century-Crofts, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Boring, Edwin Garrigues, 1886-1968 person
associatedWith Department of Psychology corporateBody
associatedWith Elliott, Mathilde Rice, 1896-1988. person
associatedWith Ferrin, Dana Holman, 1886-1960. person
associatedWith Goodenough, Florence Laura, 1886-1959. person
associatedWith Paterson, Donald G. (Donald Gildersleeve), 1892-1961. person
associatedWith Skinner, B. F. (Burrhus Frederic), 1904-1990. person
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Psychology. corporateBody
associatedWith Yerkes, Robert Mearns, 1876-1956. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Century Psychology Series
University of Minnesota Psychology Department
Science--Societies, etc


Birth 1887-11-03

Death 1969-05-06


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