Paterson, Donald G. (Donald Gildersleeve), 1892-1961

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Donald Gildersleeve Paterson was born on January 18, 1892 in Columbus, Ohio to Robert Paterson and Rosatha Gildersleeve. Both of Donald’s parents were deaf and communicated with their five children via finger spelling and American Sign Language. Donald’s fluency in American Sign Language played an important role in his early career at Ohio State University where he earned both his B.A. in 1914 and M.A. degrees in 1916. While there, he studied under Rudolf Pintner, whose lectures on abnormal psychology strongly influenced him.

Under Pintner’s direction, Paterson administered intelligence tests to deaf children. His fluency in American Sign Language enabled him to communicate with his subjects and establish that the Binet tests were not applicable to the deaf community. Paterson’s work with the deaf led to the development of the first non-language performance tests. This fieldwork enabled him to master the complex process of constructing standardized psychological tests while still an undergraduate. Together Pintner and Paterson wrote 15 articles and a pioneering book, A Scale of Performance Tests (published in 1917). In 1916, Paterson left Ohio and accepted a position as instructor under Walter Hunter at the University of Kansas.

During Donald Paterson’s brief tenure at the University of Kansas, he wrote a critique of maze studies. This paper concluded that the results of past studies had not been re-tested for their statistical significance, and that most of the studies were found to be unreliable when re-examined. Paterson’s paper helped direct the burgeoning field of psychology towards a more scientific methodology. While in Kansas, Donald met and married Margaret Young. They had two children: Philip Paterson and Margaret “Peg” Paterson Becker.

In 1917 Donald Paterson enlisted in the army. As a Captain in the Surgeon General’s Office, he was appointed Chief Psychological Examiner at Camp Wadsworth. Paterson’s army experiences proved formative as he conducted group tests using Army Alpha and Beta groups. The army also provided him with an opportunity to study the problems of personnel evaluation on a wide scale. While there he also formed a lasting friendship with Richard M. “Mike” Elliott.

At the end of World War I, Paterson worked for a psychological consulting firm; the Walter Dill Scott Company in Philadelphia. He stayed with Scott until 1921 when he was offered a position as associate professor at the University of Minnesota. He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1923.

In 1921, the University of Minnesota’s Psychology Department was still in its infancy. Prior to 1919, Psychology was part of the University’s Philosophy Department. Richard Elliott came to Minnesota in 1919 as the first chairman of the Psychology Department. With the help of Paterson, the two men focused the department’s emphasis onto applied psychology.

Donald Paterson also formed a close working relationship with John Black Johnston who had earned renown for his work in comparative neurology at the University of Minnesota before becoming its Dean of the College of Science, Literature and the Arts. Johnston then turned his attention to issues such as student guidance, establishing a correlation between high school rating and college success and the development of college aptitude tests.

Together Donald Paterson and Dean Johnston helped orient the University experience to the needs of individual students. The result of their efforts was the creation of “The Minnesota Point of View.” The Minnesota Point of View adopted three guiding principles: First, it promoted a concern for the individual student as a unique combination of abilities and interests. Second, it advocated respect for objective data and the methods of data collection. And lastly, the Minnesota Point of View advocated that data and test results could provide a sound basis for action.

Paterson worked tirelessly within the burgeoning field of applied psychology where he focused his attention on vocational psychology and aptitude testing. He advocated that aptitude testing would isolate personnel problems within business and industry. His interest in aptitude testing also led to his founding of the University Testing Bureau. He played a key role in the development of vocational and occupation guidance and was an important leader in the field of student counseling. Donald Paterson also contributed to advances in the measurement of intelligence and other abilities and worked to establish the relationship between physical and psychological traits.

During the 1930s and 1940s Paterson played a critical role in the establishment of the University of Minnesota’s Student Counseling Bureau, the Minnesota Employment Stabilization Research Institute and the University’s Industrial Relations Center. In 1936 Paterson founded the Minnesota Association for the Advancement of Psychology (in 1951 the organization was renamed the Minnesota Psychological Association) and served as its second president in 1937-1938. In 1960 the Minnesota Psychological Association established the Donald G. Paterson Award in recognition of senior undergraduate achievement in the field of psychology.

Nationally, Paterson served on a number of committees. He served as Secretary of the American Psychological Association from 1931 to 1937 and President of the American Association of Applied Psychologists in 1938-1939. He was editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology from 1942-1954 and served on the editorial board of other publications.

In 1952 Paterson was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws degree from Ohio State University. In 1960 Paterson retired from the University of Minnesota and continued his consulting work serving as a special consultant to his father’s alma mater, Gallaudet University. Donald Paterson died of cancer on October 4, 1961 following a brief illness.

From the guide to the Donald G. Paterson papers, 1892-1961, (University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc])

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Donald G. Paterson papers, 1892-1961 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn Schwarzbek, William Christian, 1907-. William C. Schwarzbek papers, 1940-1966. University of Akron, Bierce Library
referencedIn Department of Psychology papers, 1924-1951 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn American Psychological Association Records, 1917-1986, (bulk 1940-1980) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Elliott, Richard Maurice, 1887-1969. Richard Maurice Elliott papers, 1912-1969. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
creatorOf American Psychological Association. Records of the American Psychological Association, 1917-1986 (bulk 1940-1980). Library of Congress
creatorOf Paterson, Donald G. (Donald Gildersleeve), 1892-1961. Donald G. Paterson papers, 1915-1961. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Richard Maurice Elliott Papers, 1912-1969 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith American Association for Applied Psychology. corporateBody
associatedWith American Association for Labor Research. corporateBody
associatedWith American Association of Applied Psychologists corporateBody
associatedWith American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith American Civil Liberties Union. corporateBody
associatedWith American Psychological Association person
associatedWith American Psychological Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Bingham, Walter Van Dyke, 1880-1952. person
associatedWith Department of Psychology corporateBody
associatedWith Elliott, Richard Maurice, 1887-1969. person
associatedWith Hunter, Walter, 1889- person
associatedWith Hunter, Walter Samuel 1889- person
associatedWith Johnston, John Black 1868-1939. person
associatedWith Midwestern Psychological Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Minneapolis Vocational Guidance Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Association of Applied Psychology. corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Employment Stabilization Research Institute corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Psychological Association. corporateBody
associatedWith National Institute of Psychology corporateBody
associatedWith National Institute of Psychology (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Pintner, Rudolf, 1884-1942. person
associatedWith Schwarzbek, William Christian, 1907- person
associatedWith Subcommittee Responsible for the Experiment on Self-Appraisal corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Psychology corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Psychology. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Employment Stabilization Research Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Industrial Relations Center. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Student Counseling Bureau. corporateBody
associatedWith Wood, Ben D. (Ben DeKalbe), 1894-1986. person
associatedWith Wood, Benjamin D., 1894- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Science--Societies, etc
Educational tests and measurements
Interest (Psychology)--Testing
Counseling in secondary education


Birth 1892-01-18

Death 1961-10-04



Ark ID: w6ps283c

SNAC ID: 39433677