Harry Harlow, famed psychologist, Fairfield, IA

April 22, 2011

Psychologist Harry Harlow, Fairfield IA.

Harry Harlow at Fairfield High School in Iowa.
HARRY F. HARLOW (1905-1981), Famed Psychologist
Born Harry F. Israel

Fairfield High School, Senior portrait, 1923
Class Prophecy: “Wants to Be … Famous; Will Probably Be … Insane”

“Though rather small, we know most well,
In argument he doth excel.”

FHS activities:
Hi Y (Christian Fellowship Club) II, IV
Junior Night
Quill (High School Yearbook) Staff, Editor-in-Chief
Vacuum (High School Newspaper) Staff III

Halloween is traditionally a time of eerily inhuman visitors, but surely one of Fairfield’s most unusual Halloween arrivals came in the form of a human baby named Harry F. Israel.

The third of four sons of Alonzo (“Lon”) Harlow Israel (1870-1953) and his wife Mabel (Rock) (1871-1950), Harry Frederick Israel was born in Fairfield, Iowa, where Lon worked in his father’s real-estate company of Robert Israel & Son. In 1911 the firm worked out of Robert Israel’s house at 205 N. Court.

Before dealing in real estate, Harry’s grandfather Robert had sold groceries in Fairfield at 108 N. Court in 1884, moving in 1888 to 52 W. Burlington, where the following year he expanded into dry goods, carpets, boots and shoes. As the nineteenth century waned, the Israels took up farming in Keokuk township in Wapello County, but shortly after 1900 they returned to Fairfield, where Harry was born on October 31, 1905. As one author notes, “Little is known of Harlow’s own childhood…. His father was a failed inventor. His mother, Harlow recollected in a partly finished autobiography, was not a warm woman.”

Mabel’s younger brother had died when she was three; her paternal grandmother had died when she was five, and her father, Henry Clay Rock, had died when she was eight. About that time, all of her remaining grandparents left Fairfield to settle in Mankato, Kansas, where several of them also died over the next few years. When she was 19, Mabel lost the last of them when her maternal grandfather died in Mankato in 1890. He was George W. Vance, who after the Civil War had owned the store in Fairfield at 61 E. Broadway and 100-110 N. Court, where he had sold “Dry Goods, Groceries, Boots and Shoes, Hats and Caps, Trimmings of all sorts, Yankee Notions, Hosiery, Queensware, Hardware, Cutlery, [and] Stationery” before conveying the premises in 1869 to John Spielman and to Richard Gaines, who erected the brick block there in 1872.

The author continues, “Harlow experienced bouts of depression throughout his life; maybe here is where they began, in the long Midwestern winters. At school, he did not fit in. By age 10, he had begun to draw during every free minute he had, making a strange and beautiful land called Yazoo, populated with winged animals and horned beasts. When he was done with a picture, he would bisect the beasts with sharp black lines, so they lay on the page, all bloody color but still somehow beautiful, vivid and vivisected.” http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2004/03/21/monkey_love/Two of Harry’s brothers, Hugh and Delmar, also showed an interest in science in the early 1920s when they joined Fairfield’s Toadstool Club, founded by Dr. J. Frederick Clarke and his wife Melinda.

Harry graduated in 1923 from Fairfield High School, working with a Christian fellowship club and on the school newspaper, and editing the yearbook in which his classmates noted jokingly that he wanted to be famous, but would probably be insane. Famous he most certainly became; he would also induce insanity into many of his subjects in maternal-deprivation experiments.

After a year at Reed College in Oregon, Harry transferred to Stanford and studied psychology under Lewis Terman, developer of the Stanford-Binet I.Q. Test. After obtaining his Ph.D. in 1930, Harry changed his surname from Israel to his father’s middle name of Harlow in order to avoid anti-Semitic discrimination, though he was not in fact Jewish. By 1930, Harry’s parents had moved to Eldon, Iowa, where Lon opened a general store. Eldon is famed for its “American Gothic” house, which Grant Wood painted that same year in his lovingly satirical portrait of a typical Iowa farmer and his daughter.

Harry F. Harlow then became a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he attained fame for his controversial experiments in creating dysfunction and psychosis in baby rhesus monkeys by separating them from their mothers and keeping them in isolation. He later induced clinical depression in monkeys by isolating them for up to a year after birth. Among the apparati he invented and used were what he called the “rape rack,” the “pit of despair,” and the “iron maiden.” He disproved the conventional wisdom that feeding was the most important factor in child-rearing, and he conclusively showed that infants required touch and affection to develop properly, which many child-raising experts had denied. His experiments provoked strong response, however; one of his doctoral students credited them with the birth of the Animal Liberation Movement in the U.S. NPR reports on his professional life in this podcast, which includes audio of Harlow in his laboratory: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/sites/all/play_music/play_full.php?play=317

Harry’s own personal life was complex; in 1932 he married Clara Mears, a brilliant graduate student of his with an I.Q. of 155, and they had two sons. He was reportedly distant; they divorced in 1946, and that same year he married fellow-psychologist Margaret Kuenne, with whom he had two more children. Margaret died in 1970 and the following year he remarried Clara, with whom he was living in Tucson, Arizona when he died on December 6, 1981.

For a more complete biography of Harry Frederick Harlow, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow.

Our thanks go out to Rebecca Huggins, Director of the Fairfield Public Library, who first told us of Harry F. Harlow’s Fairfield nativity, and to Laura Chadwick, who reminded us of him.

Harry Harlow in Fairfield High School play.

HARRY F. HARLOW (1905-1981), Famed Psychologist
Born Harry F. Israel

Harry plays a jester (above photo, lower left) in the 1923 Fairfield High School play “Peek-a-Boo, Mr. Moon, Peek-a-Boo” in his senior year.

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