Psychology and Selfhood in the Segregated South

By Anne C. Rose

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1508-0
    Published: March 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-9409-5
    Published: June 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8322-3
    Published: June 2009

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In the American South at the turn of the twentieth century, the legal segregation of the races and psychological sciences focused on selfhood emerged simultaneously. The two developments presented conflicting views of human nature. American psychiatry and psychology were optimistic about personality growth guided by the new mental sciences. Segregation, in contrast, placed racial traits said to be natural and fixed at the forefront of identity. In a society built on racial differences, raising questions about human potential, as psychology did, was unsettling.

As Anne Rose lays out with sophistication and nuance, the introduction of psychological thinking into the Jim Crow South produced neither a clear victory for racial equality nor a single-minded defense of traditional ways. Instead, professionals of both races treated the mind-set of segregation as a hazardous subject. Psychology and Selfhood in the Segregated South examines the tensions stirred by mental science and restrained by southern custom.

Rose highlights the role of southern black intellectuals who embraced psychological theories as an instrument of reform; their white counterparts, who proved wary of examining the mind; and northerners eager to change the South by means of science. She argues that although psychology and psychiatry took root as academic disciplines, all these practitioners were reluctant to turn the sciences of the mind to the subject of race relations.

About the Author

Anne C. Rose is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at The Pennsylvania State University.
For more information about Anne C. Rose, visit the Author Page.


"This well-researched study of the psychological sciences in the first six decades of the twentieth-century South is a subtle and original contribution to southern studies. . . . [It] deserves the attention of all scholars interested in the intellectual and cultural history of the modern South or in the history of the human sciences in the twentieth century."--American Historical Review

"Rose deals with tremendous breadth of material, and she brings an impressive array of sources from a variety of disciplines to bear on her argument, which will interest students and scholars in history as well as psychology."--Choice

"[A] rich and thoughtful book. . . . The argument presented here is exquisite and original."--Church History

"A fascinating book. . . . A valuable contribution to southern intellectual history."--H-Net Reviews

"An unusual history because it is at once a history of a region, of a discipline, and of race. . . . The breadth of material with which [Rose] deals in this short volume is tremendous, and she brings an impressive array of sources from a variety of disciplines to bear on her argument."--Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"Rose's lens is wide, and her research is deep. . . . A compelling contribution to the intellectual history of the South and the social sciences."--The Journal of American History