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Scott, Walter Dill, 1869-1955



  • Existence: 1869-1955


An alumnus of Northwestern University, professor of Psychology, founder of the Scott Company Engineers and Consultants in Industrial Personnel, and proponent of the scientific method, Walter Dill Scott served as the 10th president of the University. Scott was the first alumnus to fill this position. As president, Scott oversaw the building of the University's Chicago campus and the establishment of the the School of Journalism (1921), the School of Speech (1926), and the University College (1934), as well as the University's Personnel Department.

Walter Dill Scott was born on May 1, 1869, in Cooksville, Illinois, the second son of James Sterling Scott and Henrietta Sutton Scott. His father had been employed in a carriage-manufacturing firm in Boston before poor health compelled him to move to the Midwest and take up farming. Because of his father's health, Walter, his older brother, John, and their three sisters, Mary Louise, Retta, and Myrtle, did much of the work around the farm. Walter obtained what education he could at the local rural schools and by studying during his rare free moments. Both Walter and John had decided at an early age that they wanted to become teachers. Walter spent two and a half years at Illinois State Normal University in Normal. By teaching at country schools in Leroy and Hudson during 1890-1891 and with the aid of a scholarship Walter was able to enter Northwestern University as a freshman in the fall of 1891. He supplemented his funds while in college by tutoring his fellow students.

Walter was active as an undergraduate. He was treasurer of his freshman class and president of his senior class. He also served as president of the YMCA, vice president of a literary society, member of the editorial board of the Syllabus, and left guard on the varsity football team. In 1895 Scott received his Bachelor of Arts degree and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. His goal was to become president of a university in China. Since most of the Chinese universities were sponsored by religious organizations, Scott enrolled at McCormick Theological Seminary from which he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1898. On July 21 of that year he married Anna Marcy Miller in Chicago. She had been a fellow student at Northwestern who had taught school in Peoria since her graduation. The Scotts had two sons: John Marcy, born February 12, 1902, and Walter Sumner, January 8, 1908. Since no suitable openings in China occurred, Scott's growing interest in the new science of psychology took him to Germany where he obtained his Ph.D. in psychology and educational administration from the University of Leipzig and Mrs. Scott obtained her Ph.D. in philology and art from the University of Halle, both in 1900.

Scott's doctoral work under the direction of Wilhelm Wundt, who had pioneered the separation of psychology from philosophy and transformed it into an experimental science, was a crucial turning point in his life. Upon returning to the United States, Scott accepted an appointment as instructor in psychology and pedagogy at Northwestern beginning in the fall of 1900. In 1902, he was promoted to assistant professor and appointed director of the psychological laboratory. From 1905 to 1907 Scott was associate professor of psychology and education; in 1907 he was promoted to professor of psychology and two years later he was appointed head of the new Department of Psychology.

Northwestern granted Scott a leave of absence for 1916-1917 to enable him to serve as Director of the new Bureau of Salesmanship at the Carnegie Institution of Technology. Scott's main area of interest at the Bureau was the application of scientific knowledge to business problems. His leave was extended through 1917-1918. Scott's early books, The Theory of Advertising (1903) and The Psychology of Advertising (1908), as well as his articles, reflected his research work and the current state of the young field. He later turned from analyzing the psychological elements and effects of advertising to an investigation of successful salesmanship. This led to an examination of the selection process for identifying such individuals and the development of pertinent tests to aid in the process.

By the time of the First World War, Scott was well equipped to test, evaluate, and utilize the talents and skills of large numbers of people. In June, 1917, the staff of the Bureau voted unanimously to donate their services to the war effort. Scott devised and offered to the Army a proposal for selecting officers by scientific methods. The commandant of the officer's training camp at Plattsburg, New York, after a brief examination, rejected the proposal in no uncertain terms. Fortunately, Frederick P. Keppel, then assistant to the Secretary of War, saw a copy of the proposal and called Scott in order to discuss it. This led to a trial run of the method at Fort Myer, New Jersey.

The Fort Myer experience produced such favorable results that Scott was given another chance at Plattsburg. Here, after a vigorous effort, Scott was finally able to win approval for his method. It was so successful in selecting good officers that it was later used to determine promotion of officers and, most important of all, to determine effective use of the vast pool of talents and skills among enlisted men. For this work, Scott, who was discharged as a colonel, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919. In addition to this military recognition Scott was featured in American Men of Science, upon the recommendation of his colleagues in psychology, and elected President of the American Psychological Association for 1919.

In February, 1919, Scott and several of his associates founded the Scott Company Engineers and Consultants in Industrial Personnel. The company had offices in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dayton, and in its first year provided assistance to more than 40 industrial and business concerns. Meanwhile, the departure of President Lynn Harold Hough from Northwestern in 1920 had left the University in an unsettled condition. The Board of Trustees invited Scott to become Northwestern's tenth president. This presented Scott with a difficult decision since the Scott Company had a bright future and Northwestern was in difficulty with an inadequate financial base and physical plant. However, the opportunity for service to his alma mater and the challenge of refinancing the University and transforming it to an outstanding institution proved decisive. Scott began his tenure as President on October 2, 1920, and was formally inaugurated on June 14, 1921.

When Scott became President, the first alumnus to hold this position, he was known by many Northwestern graduates either as a fellow student or a teacher. He used these relationships effectively during his nineteen years in office.

Three major problems faced Scott in the fall of 1920. He had to provide a solid financial base for both current activities and future growth; he had to find donors who would underwrite new dormitory, classroom, and research buildings in Evanston and Chicago; and he had to forge an integrated university out of a collection of quite disparate elements.

One indication of Scott's success as a fund-raiser is the increase in the University's endowment from $5,625,000 in 1920 to $26,700,000 in 1938. His establishment of the University Associates in 1928, an organization of carefully selected advisors, provided an opportunity for influential men of the Chicago area to learn of and support the manifold activities at Northwestern and support new programs as well.

The value of Northwestern's physical plant rose from just under $12,000,000 to almost $48,000,000 between 1920 and 1939. Scott had retired when the largest building in Evanston was completed, the Technological Institute, but for many years he had quietly and effectively pursued Walter P. Murphy, who eventually donated $28,000,000 toward the Institute and related programs.

Another major gift obtained by Scott was a Chicago office building valued at $3,000,000, donated to endow scholarships by Frederick C. Austin. Scott's careful cultivation of the Deering family led to gifts of over $1,000,000 which supported construction of the Deering Library opened in 1932. Housing for students, especially for women, was a pressing need and Scott solved the problem by the jointly-financed program that led to the construction of the women's quadrangles (dormitories and sororities) which were dedicated in 1927. Housing on the Chicago campus improved considerably with the construction of Abbott Hall in 1939. In Evanston, Dyche Stadium was erected and opened in the fall of 1926.

The development of Northwestern's Chicago campus was probably the single most important event during Scott's presidency. The major gifts for these buildings came from Mrs. Montgomery Ward ($8,000,000), Mrs. Levy Mayer ($800,000), the Wieboldt Foundation ($500,000), Judge Elbert H. Gary (460,000), and Mrs. Elden M. Thorne ($250,000). By persistence Scott was even able to obtain funds from these donors for maintenance of the buildings.

Scott enhanced the University academically by establishing the School of Journalism (1921), the School of Speech (1926), and the University College (1934). He helped to involve the faculty in the governance of the university by abolishing the University Council and establishing the much more representative University Senate. A General (university-wide) Alumni Association was also established, as was a university-wide purchasing department.

The Personnel Office, established in 1926, was a direct outgrowth of both Scott's work in psychology and his ability to tap donors for specific purposes. L.B. Hopkins, one of Scott's closest associates in the Army Classification Program and the Scott Company, had installed an industrial personnel system at the Wilson Brothers sporting goods business. The system worked so well that Scott approached Mr. Wilson to see if he would underwrite such a program at the university. Wilson and Hopkins wholeheartedly supported Scott's proposal, and Hopkins became the first Director of Personnel at Northwestern. The office shortly became so successful that the idea was emulated by other universities. It was designed to promote “the systematic consideration of the individual, for the sake of the individual, and by specialists in the field.” Counseling in educational, career, and personal matters formed the bulk of the office's activities. Hopkins served as director until 1925 when Wabash College called him to be its president. Professor Delton T. Howard took over until 1936, when Scott felt that a restructuring of the office was required in order to integrate more fully university functions. This led to abolition of the offices of Dean of Men and Dean of Women and the formation of the Board of Personnel Administration that combined counseling services (for both undergraduates and graduates) with housing, financial aid, admissions, student records, and a placement service.

Throughout his presidency, Scott emphasized public service as a primary university function. This took form in his support for the clinics of the Dental, Medical, and Law Schools, and in his establishment of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (1929), Air Law Institute (1929), and Traffic Institute (1933). The move of the Western Theological Seminary to the Evanston campus in 1922 and the affiliation of Passavant Hospital to the university in 1925 also reflected his concept of the role of public service by a private university.

Scott was not only interested in inducing other educational institutions to relocate on the Evanston campus but also in mergers as a means of broadening Northwestern's role and influence. From 1925 to 1929, as a way to improve the College of Engineering, Scott negotiated with the Armour Institute regarding a possible merger with Northwestern. The negotiations eventually collapsed. In 1938 a merger of Rush Medical College with Northwestern's Medical School was briefly considered.

The most substantial of the merger possibilities, and whose failure marked one of Scott's few major defeats during his tenure as president, was with the University of Chicago. This possibility was first proposed by Robert Maynard Hutchins, the youthful president of the University of Chicago on May 24, 1933. Scott saw many advantages for such a combination, including improvement in the quality of education, elimination of duplicated business and educational programs and strengthening of existing programs, an increase in the number of students and faculty on the Evanston campus, and the prevention of drastic reductions in future budgets similar to those that had been made in the immediately preceding years.

The greatest danger to Northwestern posed by the merger was the potential loss of the University's tax-exempt status which was guaranteed in its original charter. Through the remainder of 1933 and into the early months of 1934, the representatives of the two universities discussed various aspects of the merger. Storms of protest and pledges of support emanated from alumni, faculty, students, and the general public. Chicago newspapers devoted considerable space to reports and rumors relating to the proposed merger. The severe illness and sudden death, however, of Scott's most stalwart pro-merger supporter, Melvin Traylor, President of Northwestern's Board of Trustees, in February 1934, provided opposition forces an unexpected opportunity, and they moved quickly to kill the merger late in February.

Scott paid special attention to the scholarship of entering students. In 1920, 65% of Northwestern's undergraduates had come from the upper half of their high school classes; by 1938 this figure had been raised to 90%. As an essentially urban university, Northwestern, Scott believed, had an obligation to provide high-quality adult education. Aided materially by the construction of Wieboldt Hall on the Chicago Campus, Scott was able to raise the number of students enrolled in adult education courses from 2,598 in 1920 to 13,492 in 1938.

Another major problem Scott faced when he became president was the low salary scale for faculty. Scott was able to improve conditions somewhat by his successful efforts to increase endowment funds (aided by a challenge grant from the General Education Board). A gift of $8,000,000 from the Milton Wilson Fund for endowment of the College of Liberal Arts marked a substantial step forward. Another improvement in faculty morale came in 1931 with the initiation of the Group Insurance and Retirement Plan. Scott's presidency, however, straddled the Great Depression which had a severe impact upon Northwestern. The faculty suffered two 10% salary cuts.

Although a self-styled conservative, Scott was often flexible and open-minded. When a group of students, mainly from the two Evanston campus-based seminaries, spoke out in favor of pacifism in 1924 Scott defended their right to do so even though this was a highly unpopular stand in the views of many alumni, members of the Board of Trustees, and the general public. Similarly Scott defended Professor Baker Brownwell's choices of speakers for the controversial course in contemporary thought even when they included such unpopular individuals as Clarence Darrow. The major weak point in Scott's philosophy of educational tolerance concerned his views on race relations which were reflected by several unfortunate incidents involving sports and student housing that happened during his tenure as President.

Probably the most widely-publicized event that occured during Scott's presidency was the mysterious case of Leighton Mount in the fall of 1921. Mount, a freshman, disappeared following the traditional freshman-sophomore class battle. He never reappeared and the Chicago newspapers were filled with rumors about his demise. In the spring of 1923 remains of a body were discovered under a lake-front pier in Evanston. This was identified as Mount and the case was closed as a likely suicide. Despite the uproar Scott was able to use this incident to help promote student-generated moves to eliminate class battles and most of the traditional hazing activities.

In the fall of 1937 Scott took a major step which he had been discussing for some time with the members of the Board of Trustees. He had long desired to free himself from some of the educational and administrative duties of the presidency in order to devote more time and efforts to an endeavor in which he had been remarkably effective–fund-raising. To achieve this, as well as to provide a division of administrative responsibilities, the Board created two vice-presidential positions. Franklyn B. Snyder, Dean of the Graduate School, was promoted to Vice President and Dean of Faculties, and Harry Wells, Business Manager, was promoted to Vice President and Business Manager.

This appointment of Franklyn Bliss Snyder in 1937 as Vice President and Dean of Faculties was apparently viewed as a trial run for a possible successor. Scott had informed the Board in 1937 that he wished to retire by July 1, 1938. The Board requested that he remain in office until they could choose a successor, and Scott reluctantly assented. He finally retired on August 31, 1939. Snyder became the eleventh president of Northwestern on September 1st.

Scott and his wife remained in Evanston, retaining many of their relationships and university activities. Scott revised his textbooks, wrote a new book, and served on the Editorial Board of the American People's Encyclopedia. During World War II he served as chairman of the Solid Fuels Advisory War Council.

Scott suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at his apartment at the North Shore Hotel in Evanston on Friday evening, September 23, 1955. Funeral services were held in the Cahn Auditorium of Scott Hall on Monday afternoon, September 26. The University was closed during the services. Scott was survived by his wife, two sons, three grandchildren, and a sister, Mrs. D.K. Campbell, of Bloomington, Illinois. Mrs. Scott died in 1966.

During his life, Scott had received a variety of honors. One that probably pleased him greatly occurred on June 15, 1934, when both he and Mrs. Scott were given Alumni Medals. Cornell College in 1921 and the University of Southern California in 1932 awarded him the Doctor of Laws degree. France bestowed upon him the Cross of the Legion of Honor (1933) and made him an Officer of the Legion (1937).

Scott was a popular and effective teacher and administrator. He inspired affection and trust among students, faculty, trustees, and alumni. As a psychologist his pioneer work in advertising and the classification and evaluation of business, industrial, and military personnel had lasting importance. Walter Dill Scott will be recalled as the president who transformed Northwestern into a financially stable, administratively consolidated, and academically respectable university.

Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:

Frederick Shipp Deibler (1876-1961) Papers

Identifier: 11/3/10/2

The Frederick Shipp Deibler Papers, comprising five and one-half boxes, consist principally of general correspondence and subject files, plus a small amount of biographical material. The Papers provide a rich documentary record of Deibler's academic career, his role as an economic advisor to several government boards and his participation in activities related to some of the major social issues of his time.

Dates: 1910-1942

Cornelia Gray Lunt (1843-1934) Papers

Identifier: 1/11
Abstract The Cornelia Gray Lunt Papers include a variety of scattered miscellaneous materials from 1866 to 1964. They are arranged in four main categories including biographical materials, correspondence, writings, and bound volumes. The bound volumes include descriptions of her travels in Europe and the Middle East. In addition she often transcribed letters to and from herself in her journals. The fifth volume includes an undated fictional piece entitled, “Romance, One Winter. The History of a...
Dates: 1866-1964

Nathan William MacChesney Papers

Identifier: 1/10

Most of the material in the collection is concerned with university business, and consequently sheds little light on MacChesney's private life or his military and civic activities. The collection's value lies primarily in its reflection of many of the varied activities undertaken by Northwestern's central administration during the university's emergence as a major American educational institution.

Dates: 1915-1952

Northwestern Marches On, circa 1931

 Item — Multiple Containers
Scope and Contents Warning: this film includes footage of research animals and the dissection of human cadavers, as well as outdated, offensive terms.Silent, black and white film about Northwestern University Medical School, giving a brief history using still images and film, then describing the current operations of the school “for the benefit of our alumni and friends who cannot visit us in person." Intertitle cards describe the images and film that are shown. Most of the footage was presumably...
Dates: circa 1931

[Northwestern Marches On (extended cut)], circa 1931

 Item — Multiple Containers
Scope and Contents Warning: this film includes footage of research animals and the dissection of human cadavers, as well as outdated, offensive terms.Silent, black and white film about Northwestern University Medical School, giving a brief history using still images and film, then describing the current operations of the school “for the benefit of our alumni and friends who cannot visit us in person." Intertitle cards describe the images and film that are shown. Most of the footage was presumably...
Dates: circa 1931

Walter Dill Scott (1869-1955) Papers

Identifier: 3/15/1
Abstract The Walter Dill Scott Papers provide a partial view of a pioneering psychologist interested in the classification of military and industrial personnel, and a fairly comprehensive portrait of the administrative role of a Northwestern University president who sought to integrate the disparate components of a university in crisis and develop for it a national reputation. They also illustrate some of the problems faced by an American university during the Depression. The Walter Dill Scott Papers...
Dates: 1891-1977

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