Carl Emil Seashore (28 January 1866-16 October 1949), prominent and pioneering figure in the field of psychology, is widely known for the Seashore Tests of Musical Ability (1919). He was also interested in the fine arts, and published with Dr. Norman Meier the Meier-Seashore Art Judgment Test in 1929. He served a lengthy tenure as Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Iowa from 1908 to 1937, and then again from 1942 to 1946. Prior to becoming dean he had served as a professor, and later as a chair in the Department of Psychology at Iowa.

A prolific writer, he is the author of 237 books and articles on the subjects of psychology, sound, musical talent, the singing voice, and higher education (Kendall nd).

Seashore was born in Mörlunda, Sweden, to Emily Charlotta Borg and Carl Gustaf Sjöstrand. The name Seashore was adopted by an uncle who had immigrated to the U.S. earlier and suffered through teachers and others struggling to pronounce his Swedish name. Asked that his name meant, the uncle said “Seashore.” Subsequently, other Sjöstrand immigrants likewise adopted the name (Seashore nd, 4).

Seashore’s family was from a self-sustaining farming community in Sweden, where families lived on hemmans, which were farms of the right size to sustain a family of 10 or 12. Life was simple, prescribed, and pious. “All this had a most beneficial influence on the nerves of the people,” Seashore wrote later (Seashore nd, 4). “They developed no frustrations.” 

Seashore said his people were long-lived, planned ahead for every event (including the building and storage of their coffins), and utilized every part of plant and animal in the sustaining of their families. Religious piety was the backbone of their existence, and large, extended families were the norm (Seashore nd, 5).

After arriving in the U.S., Seashore’s family settled in the geographic center of Iowa, on an 80-acre farm in Boone County (Kendall nd). Seashore credits his early life on the farm and his vivid impressions of man and beast conquering the prairie for his lifetime filled with “exploration and investigation…initiative, forethought, ingenuity, and economy – a great school” (Seashore nd, 9).

When Seashore turned three, his mother taught him to read Swedish (Seashore nd, 7), and he was then educated in the home until age eight, when a district school house was built (Kendall nd). Seashore’s father actually built the school and became its first director. To facilitate their learning English, the family boarded the school teacher hired for the school (Seashore nd, 10).

At the age of 13, Seashore was sent to live in town with the pastor of the church so that his musical studies and his manners could be fine-tuned. By the age of 14, he was accomplished enough to become the organist of the church, and at age 18, Seashore was encouraged by his father to attend college (Miles 1956, 267-268). 

In 1885, Seashore entered Gustavus Adolphus College, an Evangelical Lutheran Church-affiliated school at St. Peter, Minnesota. His special interests were Greek and mathematics, but music was his favorite extracurricular activity. In college, he quickly took a leadership role in musical activities, including musical intramural competition.  Music served Seashore well in another capacity. He paid for most of his college expenses from earnings as organist and choir director at a nearby Swedish Lutheran Church (Kendall nd).

Seashore attended Yale University, where a new psychology laboratory had just opened. Dr. George T. Ladd, Yale’s leading psychology professor, took Seashore under his wing during his years in New Haven, and after completing a dissertation on the role of inhibition in learning, Seashore received the first Ph.D. in awarded by Yale in psychology (granted in 1895) (Kendall nd).

Seashore was offered a permanent position at Yale in 1897, as well as an opportunity to become a missionary teacher in China, but elected instead to accept a position as Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Laboratory of Psychology at the University of Iowa back in his “home state” (Kendall nd).

Seashore achieved the rank of full professor by 1905, and was later named chairman of the psychology department. His reputation had been developed in experimental psychology, with a focus on the psychology of hearing (Kendall nd). For the next 30 years, bringing with him the energies and leadership abilities he had honed as a young boy on an Iowa farm, Seashore worked at advancing his three areas of great interest:  psychology, education, and the fine arts (Stoddard 1950, 457).

From 1908 until his first retirement in 1937, Seashore was the Dean of the Graduate School at Iowa City. Seashore was called out of retirement, however, in 1942, and served again as Dean until 1946, when he finally retired at the age of 80 (Kendall nd). 

Upon his second retirement, the Iowa State Board of Education said: “He retires from active duty at fourscore years—alert in mind, active in body, interested in anything that promises better things for the human race—revered, beloved, and honored is this man of letters and achievement” (quoted in Miles 1956, 266).

Seashore died at the home of one of his sons, having survived his wife, Roberta Holmes Seashore, by just a few months (Stoddard 1950, 456). Select documents are archived at the University of Iowa, Special Collections.

Submitted by Jean Ellen Linkins

Kendall, J. S. n.d. Retrieved 2/21/2007      

Metfessel, M. 1950. Carl Emil Seashore, 1866-1949.  Science 111(2896): 713–717.

Miles, W. R. 1956. Carl Emil Seashore, 1866-1949.  New York:  Columbia University Press.

Seashore, C. E. n.d.  Psychology and Life in Autobiography. Unpublished autobiography viewed at the Edwin E. Gordon Archive, University of South Carolina School of Music Library, Columbia, SC.

Stoddard, G. D. 1950.  Carl Emil Seashore: 1866-1949.  The American Journal of Psychology 63(3): 456–462.