On This Day … 21 June

People (Births)

  • 1880 – Arnold Gesell, American psychologist and paediatrician (d. 1961).
  • 1924 – Jean Laplanche, French psychoanalyst and academic (d. 2012).

Arnold Gesell

Doctor Arnold Lucius Gesell (21 June 1880 to 29 May 1961) was an American clinical psychologist, paediatrician and professor at Yale University known for his research and contributions to the field of child development.

Gesell served as a teacher and high school principal before seeking his psychological doctorate at Clark University, where the university’s president, G. Stanley Hall, had founded a child study movement. Arnold received his PhD from Clark in 1906.

Gessell worked at several educational facilities in New York City and Wisconsin before obtaining a professorship at the Los Angeles State Normal School, now known as The University of California, Los Angeles(UCLA)). There he met fellow teacher Beatrice Chandler who would become his wife. They later had a daughter and a son, Federal District Judge Gerhard Gesell.

Gesell also spent time at schools for the mentally disabled, including the Vineland Training School in New Jersey. Having developed an interest in the causes and treatment of childhood disabilities, Gesell began studying at the University of Wisconsin Medical School to better understand physiology. He later served as an assistant professor at Yale University while continuing to study medicine. He developed the Clinic of Child Development there and received his M.D. in 1915. He was later given a full professorship at Yale.

Gesell also served as the school psychologist for the Connecticut State Board of Education and helped to develop classes to help children with disabilities succeed. This historic appointment made Dr. Gesell the first school psychologist in the US He wrote several books, including The Preschool Child from the Standpoint of Public Hygiene and Education in 1923, The Mental Growth of the Preschool Child in 1925 (which was also published as a film), and An Atlas of Infant Behaviour (chronicling typical milestones for certain ages) in 1934. He co-authored with Frances Ilg two childrearing guides, Infant and Child in the Culture of Today in 1943, and The Child from Five to Ten in 1946.

Gesell made use of the latest technology in his research. He used the newest in video and photography advancements. He also made use of one-way mirrors when observing children, even inventing the Gesell dome, a one-way mirror shaped as a dome, under which children could be observed without being disturbed. In his research he studied many children, including Kamala, the wolf girl. He also did research on young animals, including monkeys.

As a psychologist, Gesell wrote and spoke about the importance of both nature and nurture in child development. He cautioned others not to be quick to attribute mental disabilities to specific causes. He believed that many aspects of human behaviour, such as handedness and temperament were heritable. He explained that children adapted to their parents as well as to one another. He advocated for a nationwide nursery school system in the United States.

Gesell’s popular books spread his ideas beyond academia. His core message, urging parents to “nourish the child’s trustfulness in life”, resonated with child advocates long before Dr. Benjamin Spock became America’s most prominent parental advisor. In The Child from Five to Ten, Gesell wrote, “It is no longer trite to say that children are the one remaining hope of mankind. . . If we could but capture their transparent honesty and sincerities! They still have much to teach us, if we observe closely enough”.

Gesell’s ideas came to be known as Gesell’s Maturational Theory of child development. Based on his theory, he published a series of summaries of child development sequences, called the Gesell Developmental Schedules.

The Gesell Institute of Human Development, named after him, was started by his colleagues from the Clinic of Child Development, Frances Ilg and Louise Bates Ames in 1950, after Gesell retired from the university in 1948. In 2012, the institute was renamed the Gesell Institute of Child Development.

Jean Laplanche

Jean Laplanche (21 June 1924 to 06 May 2012) was a French author, psychoanalyst and winemaker. Laplanche is best known for his work on psychosexual development and Sigmund Freud’s seduction theory, and wrote more than a dozen books on psychoanalytic theory. The journal Radical Philosophy described him as “the most original and philosophically informed psychoanalytic theorist of his day.”

From 1988 to his death, Laplanche was the scientific director of the German to French translation of Freud’s complete works (Oeuvres Complètes de Freud/Psychanalyse – OCF.P) in the Presses Universitaires de France, in association with André Bourguignon, Pierre Cotet and François Robert.

Laplanche attended the École Normale Supérieure in the 1940s, studying philosophy. He was a student of Jean Hyppolite, Gaston Bachelard and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In 1943, during the Vichy regime, Laplanche joined the French Resistance, and was active in Paris and Bourgogne. In 1946-1947, he visited Harvard University for a year. Instead of joining that university’s philosophy department, he instead studied at the Department of Social Relations, and became interested in psychoanalytic theory. After returning to France, Laplanche began attending lectures and undergoing psychoanalytic treatment under Jacques Lacan. Laplanche, advised by Lacan, began studying medicine, and eventually earned his doctorate and became an analyst himself, joining the International Psychoanalytical Association, of which he remained a member until his death.

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