Robert Ward Leeper was born on September 25, 1904 in Braddock, Pennsylvania as the second eldest of five children. Leeper graduated from Allegheny College in 1925 with plans to attend seminary school to become a minister. He decided to spend some time working in various jobs in order to understand the lives of others. After two years of working in these various jobs, Leeper decided to enter Clark University in 1927 to pursue a PhD in psychology. He finished his MA in 1928 and his PhD in 1930 under professor Walter Hunt. While at Clark, Leeper married Dorothy Olson and the couple had four children together. After receiving his degree from Clark, Leeper spent three years at the University of Arkansas. The years 1933-1943 took him to Chicago to work with Karl Lashley on a National Research Council fellowship. In 1943, Leeper took a position at Cornell College in Iowa for three more years. Leeper's training under Hunter was mostly in behaviorism, but he eventually became a critic of this approach and thus became interested in learning theory, motivation, and emotion beyond the behaviorism tenets. Leeper became a predecessor of the cognitive revolution in psychology. While at Cornell, Leeper became interested in the work of Kurt Lewin at the University of Iowa. In 1937, Leeper took a position at the University of Oregon where he would spend the remainder of his academic career. Leeper spent the majority of his academic work operating as a theoretical psychologist. Leeper became the chair of Oregon's psychology department in 1953, expanding the department with the advances in professional psychology that occurred after World War II. He established programs in clinical and counseling psychology, converting the program from a small department into a major force in the field until he stepped down from chair in 1963. Leeper retired from academia in 1972. Leeper served as president of the Oregon Psychological Association, Western Psychological Association, and American Psychological Association Division I. In 1948, Leeper received a Guggenheim Fellowship where he researched at the University of Chicago and Duke University. The year 1955 brought a Fulbright position where Leeper lectured at several British universities. Leeper also was a visiting professor at several universities and taught at Brandeis University for a year after his retirement. Leeper's major works include his 1943 analysis of Lewin's theories, his review of Clark Hull's Theory of Behavior, and a personality textbook co-authored with Peter Madison, Toward Understanding Human Personality. Leeper passed away on January 24, 1986.
From the guide to the Robert Ward Leeper papers, 1928-1972, (Center for the History of Psychology)