McDougall, Dr. William

McDougall, Dr. William (1871–1938)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

William McDougall was born June 22, 1871, in Lancashire, England. He was educated at Owens College, Manchester; St. Thomas Hospital, London; and at Oxford University and Göttingen University. McDougall was a professor at Harvard and one of the leading psychologists of his time. In 1900, he married Anne Amelia Hickmore.

McDougall developed an interest in psychical research and was a major influence in the development of parapsychology. He was President of the Society for Psychical Research in 1920 and President of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1921. He was also a member of the Scientific American committee that investigated Mina Stinson Crandon’s (Margery) mediumship from 1923 to 1925. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said of that investigation, “Dr. McDougall was in a position where his whole academic career would obviously be endangered by the acceptance of an unpopular explanation.” The general consensus of the committee was that Margery was a fraud, but as Doyle pointed out, the results were strongly slanted by the perceived effects of a positive outcome on the careers of the investigators. Doyle summed up the committee’s findings with the comments, “It was difficult to say which was the more annoying: Houdini the conjurer, with his preposterous and ignorant theories of fraud, or such ’scientific’ sitters as Professor McDougall, of Harvard, who, after fifty sittings and signing as many papers at the end of each sitting to endorse the wonders recorded, was still unable to give any definite judgment, and contented himself with vague innuendoes.”

McIndoe, John B.

From 1927 to 1938, McDougall was head of the Psychology Department at Duke University in North Carolina. Under his aegis, Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine developed his program and founded the Parapsychology Laboratory. McDougall’s books include Group Mind (1920), Janus (1927), Character and Conduct of Life (1927), and Energies of Men (1933). He also contributed important articles to the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, the Harvard Graduate Magazine, Psyche, and the Encyclopedia Britannica. McDougall died November 28, 1938.


Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The History of Spiritualism. New York: Doran, 1926
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Stemmen, Roy: Mysteries of Mind Space & Time; the Unexplained: In Search of the Sixth Sense. Westport: H. S. Stuttman, 1992
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