Campus & Community

R.W. White, personality psychologist, dies at 96

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Robert W. White ’25, who taught at Harvard from 1937 to 1968, when he became professor of clinical psychology , died on Feb. 6 in Weston, Mass. He was 96.

Originally an historian (he received his master’s in American history at Harvard in 1926), White’s interest in human behavior turned early toward individual psychology. In 1937, also at Harvard, he received his Ph.D. in psychology.

White centered his research on the personality of both normal and abnormal people. In 1948, he published “The Abnormal Psychology,” the standard textbook on the subject for decades. In “Lives in Progress: A Study of the Natural Growth of Personality” (1952), White detailed the lives of three individuals, looking at the ways biology, psychology, and culture had formed their personalities.

White was director of the Psychological Clinic at Harvard from 1946 to 1950, and chairman of the Department of Social Relations from 1957 to 1962. As a professor, White was noted for his availability to students, his willingness to listen, and his spareness of speech. About his writing, a former student once commented, “even the footnotes are human.”

Robert Winthrop White was born Oct. 17, 1904, in Brookline, Mass., to William Howard White, a lawyer, and the former Katharine Dana. After receiving his history degree from Harvard, White taught history and government at the University of Maine for several years before deciding to study psychology. Back at Harvard he studied under Henry A. Murray, with whom (among others) he published “Explorations in Personality” in 1938.

His wife of 41 years, Margaret Ley Bazeley, died in 1982, and a son, Timothy, died in 1968. He is survived by his son, David W., of Cambridge, Mass.