Carl Emil Seashore
President, 1926 - 1927


Photo from University of Houston article in Engines of Our Ingenuity at Original photo from 1922 Scientific American magazine article.

Photo from University of Houston article in Engines of Our Ingenuity at Original photo from 1922 Scientific American magazine article.

Carl Emil Seashore

President, 1926-1927

The life of Dean Emeritus Carl Emil Seashore is distinctly inspiring to the scientist who constantly feels his lack of apparatus, of funds and of time to devote to productive scholarship. For that reason, this brief account will be a description of the man rather than a detailed account of his scientific achievements. Perhaps none of Dean Seashore's talents stood out singly as extraordinary, but they comprised a group which was rare in effectiveness and balance. He enjoyed both work and play and lived in an atmosphere of intellectual, moral, social, artistic and religious pursuits. He was a whole man.

There is nothing in his early career to indicate his distinguished future. He came to this country at the age of three. He was a farmer's boy in Iowa . He attended country school. He graduated from a small college, Gustavus Adolphus, in 1891, at the age of 25. He changed his major interest after he became a graduate student at Yale, spending four years for his Ph.D. degree. He remained at Yale for two years more as an assistant in psychology, and then accepted the position of assistant professor at the University of Iowa , at which institution he spent the rest of this life. These geographically limited opportunities proved sufficient, for Dean Seashore found a university growing into the stature of productive scholarship, and this gave appropriate soil to his talents. He became probably the most distinguished Dean of graduate work in America . He had very definite interest in music, shown in his college years by the playing of the organ and leadership of a chorus, and in mature years by distinguished and unique contributions to the psychology of music. He received many honors, among them election to the National Academy of Sciences and the award of seven honorary doctor's degrees. His scientific record can readily be found in national and international biographies.

Dean Seashore's mind at work was an interesting one. There is apparently a great difference between a young mind which constantly and eagerly looks forward, and a mind which has grown old and is wearied by the experience of life. In this meaning, at 83, Dean Seashore's mind had not grown old, for he retained all the eagerness and interest of youth and remained productive to the end. To think creatively was as natural for him as is imagination for a child. Abstract ideas were interesting, but did not have a strong appeal. At the beginning of his graduate work, he thought of specializing in philosophy, but its abstractions led away from the center of his interest, the individual. Psychology seemed to be in better accord with his inclinations, for he was always practical. Dean Seashore found the procedure by which his mind could most effectively create. He devoted his evenings to extensive reading and constructive thinking. From this crucible came the precious ideas to be formulated and perhaps applied the very next day. This speed was made possible bye the natural clarity of his mind. When he approached a subject he did not have the common difficulty of becoming immersed in a jumble of facts and ideas. He kept his mind above them, cultivating an unusual power of separating out the essentials and neglecting the remainder. He was a master in the economy of thought.

Dean Seashore was distinctly a humanitarian, but with the focus of his interest in the individual. Thousands of graduate students will remember his deep interest in their personal and intellectual problems. He was indeed very anxious to make a contribution to their lives, if a suitable occasion arose. He regarded the opportunity of counseling graduate students as one of the most rewarding of all his activities at Iowa .

Some of his more personal traits were even more exemplary, if that be possible. He was always interested in your problems of a creative nature. He never entered into unpleasant disputations. If there was any good, he always thought of that. He would not permit friendship to modify an accurately worded recommendation written for a former student or a friend. He had a profound religious faith which outran his knowledge and was not knowingly shaped by any doctrine. He was distinctly social being. He loved his golf, but not work in his garden. His stature did not draw him away from the above men, but rather enabled him to work for them at all their levels of attainment, from the highest to the lowest.

The University of Iowa gave Dean Seashore a splendid opportunity, and so did the home, under the very unusual management of Mrs. Roberta Seashore. Thus home was to him not a place of active responsibility as much as freedom to follow his intellectual interests. The environment did not make the man, but surely Dean Seashore's life was greatly aided by the smoothness of its organization. The reader will have difficulty in recognizing that Dean Seashore was truly a great man. A description of him needs no superlatives for the simple facts show his strength and influence. He was an inspiring example of effective productiveness in scientific scholarship.

-Memorial of Dr. Seashore (1866-1949) published in the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science, 57:53-54. All rights reserved.

Biography of Carl Emile Seashore by John Kendall, Gustavus Adolphus College

1891 Gustavus Graduate

Dr. Seashore Ranked as One of Top Alumni
By John S. Kendall, Professor of Psychology
Gustavus Adolphus College

In the office area of the psychology department there is a bust of Carl Emil Seashore, an 1891 graduate of Gustavus. Widely recognized as one of the early leaders in psychology in America, Dr. Seashore spent most of his professional life at the University of Iowa. He was a member of the faculty at Iowa from 1897 until his retirement in 1937. In addition to his duties as professor and chairman of his department, he was made Dean of the Graduate School, University of Iowa, in 1908 and held that position concurrently with his other duties for 28 years. He retired in 1937 at the age of seventy but was recalled as Dean Pro Tempore of the Graduate School in 1942 and finally retired for the second time in 1946 at the age of 80. Most people who recognize his name today associate it with the Seashore Tests of Musical Ability which are still widely used. He was a man of wide ranging abilities and achievements and certainly one of the outstanding alumni of Gustavus.
 Carl Emil Seashore was born in Morlunda, Sweden, on January 28, 1866, the first child of Carl Gustav and Emily Sjostrand. The surname Seashore is a direct translation of Sjostrand, and was the name adopted by an uncle when he came to the United States and was subsequently adopted by each branch of the family as they immigrated. 
 In Sweden, Carl Gustav and Emily Sjostrand were the owners of a "hemman" or small farm. In addition, Carl Gustav had acquired skills as a carpenter. The father was also a lay preacher. Although reasonably well off in Sweden by the standards of the time, the family elected to immigrate to the United States in 1869 when Carl Emil was three years old. Although the motives for this move are not explicitly stated in Dr. Seashore�s autobiography, it is reasonable to assume that both economic and religious considerations played an important part in the decision. After a six-week journey across the Atlantic, the family arrived in the United States. A brief stay in Rockford, Illinois, was followed by a move to Boone County, Iowa, where an uncle, Alfred Seashore, had homesteaded a few years earlier. The family located an eighty acre farm and almost immediately built a house. Thus Carl Emil Seashore began his life as an Iowa farm boy. 
 Carl Seashore was educated in his home until the age of eight when a district school house was built. Although it was well before the time of J. B. Watson or B. F. Skinner, Carl�s parents obviously knew a good deal about reinforcement theory. Seashore reports "My parents taught me to read Swedish. Their first and only trick lay in using a primer which had a picture of a rooster at the back of the book. Every day I had done my lesson well, the magic rooster would lay a penny the following night. I can at this moment feel myself hanging in the balance between feelings of fact and fancy as to the mechanism and reality of this process." 
 The primary advantage of the district school experience was the learning of English. Of his years in the district school, he wrote: "The demands upon me for work at home were such that I could not go to school in the summer and we had only three months winter terms. From age eight to age sixteen I probably attended the public school less than six hundred days in all." This preparation, which was undoubtedly supplemented by his experiences on the farm, was sufficient to allow him to enter the academy at Gustavus in 1885 where he was given advanced standing. Of his admission at Gustavus at the age of eighteen, Seashore writes, "I entered the second year of the three-year academy on a fluke, the fluke being that they examined me mainly in mathematics, English and history, and the examinations were based on the books I had studied. These books I knew. Of other subjects I knew practically nothing." 
 The choice of Gustavus as the place for a Swedish-American farm boy from north central Iowa to continue his education was, in 1885, almost foreordained. As Seashore himself has written: "Within an area of fifty square miles around our home, only one man had gone to college when Father suggested college to me. He had gone to Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, so there I went." It is clear from his writings that Carl Emil Seashore found his years at Gustavus to be happy and profitable. The religious and ethnic character of the college was consistent with his own background and experience. He followed the only course of study available, a classical one. He especially enjoyed mathematics and Greek, and music played an important role. In speaking about his academic interests during his undergraduate years, Seashore expressed particular appreciation for two of his professors , Dr. Jacob Uhler and the president of the college, Dr. Matthias Wahlstrom. "Mathematics had almost the appeal of a sport for me. Each new phase of the subject was a challenge which invited attack. It was exact, it had a system, it rewarded logic and effort. Besides that, it was the best-taught subject in the college, primarily because it was taught by Professor Uhler, our most beloved professor. Greek grammar enlisted almost the same appeal as mathematics. Greek literature opened a new world of appreciation for me." 
 It is clear from various accounts that young Carl Seashore was determined to get as much as possible out of his education and was thoroughly delighted by each new discipline and idea. Music was especially important, and Seashore speaks most fondly of his own participation. He points out that, for him at least, music was the most important extracurricular activity in the college. "We did not have intercollegiate athletics but music played an important role in student life. In this life of song in college, I had some degree of leadership and found in it my sweetest pleasures. With us it became an intramural competitive sport. We were invited to sing, expected to sing, and loved to sing at all sorts of occasions. Yet our chief pleasure came from self-expression among ourselves quite apart from audiences." It is interesting to note that Seashore�s interest and abilities in music had a very practical dimension as well. During his years in college he served as the organist and choir director of the "Swedish-Lutheran" church in Mankato and his salary there paid most of his college expenses. 
 Carl Emil Seashore graduated from Gustavus in 1891, there were a total of sixty graduate students at the university. The graduate students knew each other well and apparently moved freely from one seminar to another. The day that Seashore entered Yale was also the day that the psychological laboratory was opened. Dr. George T. Ladd, the leading figure in psychology at Yale, obviously took an interest in Carl Seashore. After four years of study under Ladd he completed his dissertation having done work on the role of inhibition in learning. Seashore was awarded the PhD from Yale in 1895. His was the first PhD awarded by Yale to a student in psychology. 
 Seashore spent the summer in Europe visiting German and French laboratories, and other centers of psychology investigation. In the fall of 1895 he returned to Yale as a Fellow in Psychology which meant he served as an assistant to Ladd. In 1897, Seashore made a significant decision. He had been offered a permanent position at Yale. He also was given the opportunity to go to China as a missionary teacher. However, he elected to return to his home state, accepting a position at the University of Iowa. He spent the remaining years of his life at the University of Iowa, a career which spanned nearly fifty years. 
 The years at Iowa were most productive. A detailed account of his accomplishments would fill many volumes. Here, a few highlights will have to suffice. His first ten years were devoted almost entirely to his teaching and research. He was especially interested in audiology and in cooperation with the colleagues in physics developed one of the first audiometers. This device was made available on a commercial basis in 1909. 
 In 1905, Seashore had achieved the rank of full professor and was the chairman of the department of psychology. He had already achieved a substantial reputation as an experimental psychologist, primarily in the psychology of hearing. In 1908, he was made Dean of the Graduate School, a position he held until his retirement in 1937. His first major activity as Dean was to visit many of the small colleges in Iowa and adjacent states, become acquainted with their faculties and encourage them to send their most able students to pursue graduate study at the University of Iowa. It is particularly noteworthy that during his twenty-nine years as a university administrator, he was able to continue an active career in both teaching and research. During much of this time he taught the introductory course in psychology, at times to as many as six hundred students. He continued his research in the area of musical abilities, publishing the first form of the Seashore Tests of Musical Ability in 1919. His interests in the fine arts led to a joint effort with Professor Norman Meier and the publication of the Meier-Seashore Art Judgment Test in 1929. During the early 1930�s in association with Dr. C. F. Lorenz, a physicist, with generous support from a $200,000 grant from the Bell Laboratories. During his years as Dean, he managed to add 113 citations to his list of publications. His complete publication lists from 1893 to 1949 includes 237 books and articles. 

Link: The Seashore Test by John H. Lienhard

Text of article by John H. Lienhard.
Photo of Dr. Seashore at work above is from Lienhard article.

Today, we hone our ears. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

Years ago, I was offered a battery of preference tests to determine what field I should be in. The counselor ran through her list: The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Graduate Record Exam, and so forth. She also had theSeashore Test, so I asked her to add it to the set.

The test has nothing to do with sandy beaches. It's a test of musical ability devised by psychology professor Carl Emil Seashore. I did well on the test, but there's a great chasm between my ability and that of a fine musician. The Seashore test was used through WW-II, but today it's pretty well fallen out of fashion.

Now here's an article in a 1922 Scientific American. It asks, "Are You a Musician?" It describes the results of Seashore's sixteen years of work on the test. It shows him listening through earphones to phonograph records of sounds. He tests five kinds of musical ability: discrimination of pitches, dissonance, rhythmical figures, and intensity; as well as an ability to remember melodies.

In our electronic age, we're jolted by some of his apparatus. He has to use complex machinery to do what electronics makes so easy today. He's created special motor drives whose speed doesn't vary and systems of pulleys to generate reproducible pitches. He's made a special set of tuning forks.

[Some of Seashore's apparatus]

The article ends with the story of a boy in an Iowa town who wanted to be a violinist. His father wanted him to be a businessman. The father finally let Seashore judge the case. The boy did very well on the test and, according to the article, has now "been hailed by critics as the 'Iowa Kreisler' [while he] came within an inch of being just another Iowa hardware merchant."

But a key fact in that story gets swept under the rug. It is that the boy desperatelywanted to be a violinist. Beyond that are also vast dimensions of musicality that'll never show up on a set of one-dimensional measures.

What, after all, is involved in knowing how to shape a musical phrase? Watch any fine musician close-up, and you'll see a cool blue aura of relaxation coupled with a white-hot intensity of focus. Scientific detachment will never capture, say, Itzhak Perlman's vast intelligence, personality, and total immersion in the sound and in its meaning.

Science was exploding into everyday American life in 1922. It took vast sifting for us to learn what science could and could not do for us. We generated every kind of hyperbole and endless false hopes. Out of all that we've finally filtered a remarkable world.

Sound and communication were a great piece of it all. Psychologist and engineer Carl Seashore was only one of thousands who threaded through the complexities of handling sound. I'm acutely aware of that, here in the medium of public radio today -- the winnowing and filtering that has yielded at last this seemingly miraculous convergence of musicians, voices, sounds, and technology.

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)
Cary, H., Are You a Musician? Professor Seashore's Specific Psychological Tests for Specific Musical Abilities. Scientific American, December 1923, pp. 326-327.

[Seashore at work]
Seashore, as shown at work, in the 1922 Scientific American magazine article.

The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-2002 by John H. Lienhard.