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Outstanding Former Faculty|College of Arts and Sciences

June E. Downey* - 2006 Outstanding Former Faculty

Psychology

     Born in 1875 in Laramie, Wyoming, June E. Downey      came from a pioneer family that contributed a great deal to the development of the state. Her father, Colonel Stephen W. Downey, was one of the first territorial delegates to the United States Congress from Wyoming, and it was largely through his efforts that the University of Wyoming was established. June E. Downey graduated from UW in 1895 and took a job as a school teacher during that year. She received both her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago and, in 1898, began her UW career as an English instructor. In 1905, she became a professor of English and philosophy. Later, Downey chaired the Department of Philosophy and Psychology, making her the first woman in the United States to head an academic department.
     Described by many as shy and retiring, Downey’s enthusiasm for psychology—a relatively new discipline—made her an engaging teacher. While giving a memorial address of Downey, Professor Aven Nelson, Department of Botany, is reported to have said: “Students crowded into her courses and learned to respect scholarship as they never had before. She gave them out of herself that intangible something that made them desire to possess the love of learning. . .”
     A pathfinder in the field of studying and testing personality, Downey wanted to conduct clinical research of personality aspects other than intelligence. She developed one of the most interesting and controversial personality tests, “The Will Temperament and Its Testing,” in 1924. Downey also was very intrigued by motor behavior, especially the varying aspects of writing, including graphology, aesthetics, and personality.
     Her interest in creative arts led Downey to write poems, plays, stories, and even the UW Alma Mater. In 1911, she published “The Imaginal Reaction to Poetry,” one of her most important experiments involving the arts. This study examined the images people experience in response to reading poetry. Downey believed that variation in such images revealed differences in character.
     During her lifetime, Downey published 76 scientific works. In the last decade of her life she received many forms of recognition, including a council appointment to the American Psychology Association (an unusual position for a woman at that time), membership in the Society of Experimentalists, and election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She founded the UW chapter of Psi Chi, the national honor society of psychology students.
     Downey was a respected member of the university community and when she died, the UW Homecoming pep rally and the official “depression parade” were cancelled.


*In loving memory.

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