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Donald G. Paterson papers

Identifier: 762

Scope and Content

The Donald G. Paterson papers contain a small sample of personal materials, including copies of his diplomas, personal photographs and his funeral guest book. They chronicle his work at the University of Minnesota and contain his professional correspondence, committee work at the University, University of Minnesota testing and a representative sampling of his student’s papers.

The papers also consist of Paterson’s notes and written findings from his work as an independent consultant within the field of applied psychology. Many of these notes refer to work done with corporations and aptitude testing, personnel development and job satisfaction. Consulting contracts included work with the Citizen’s Committee on Public Education, Gallaudet University, the United States Air Force, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Commission on Safety Education and others.

Paterson was actively involved in professional organizations within the field of applied psychology. The papers document the time he devoted to the American Association of Applied Psychologists, Minnesota Association of Applied Psychologists (Minnesota Psychological Association), American Psychological Association, American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology, Midwestern Psychological Association and the National Institute of Psychology.

The papers also chronicle Paterson’s work with the Industrial Relations Center (I.R.C.). The Industrial Relations Center papers were removed from Paterson’s papers and added to the I.R.C. collection (University Archives Collection #302).

Paterson corresponded with Benjamin K. Wood, of the Bureau of Collegiate Educational Research at Columbia University. The two men corresponded during the early 1930s regarding their work in the development of standardized tests for the Cooperative Test Service.

The papers also document Paterson’s membership in the Citizen’s League and the American Civil Liberties Union. These memberships reflect Paterson’s respect for civil liberties and the right to free speech and religious expression. These principles and a sense of fairness guided Paterson’s personal and professional life. Included in the collection are individual folders that reflect those interests, including Communism and McCarthyism, religious freedom, censorship, Religious Town Hall Meetings, psychological frauds and the California Loyalty Oath.

Also included in the papers are copies of Paterson’s numerous articles that summarize his research findings on employment aptitude, mental testing, student counseling, and industrial relations. Many of his articles were published in psychology journals and contributed to his national reputation within the field of applied psychology. Included in the box are copies Paterson’s lectures and his reviews of books and articles.


  • 1892-1961


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in the collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Requests for permission to quote from the Donald G. Paterson papers should be arranged with the head of University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of Donald G. Paterson (1892-1961)

Donald Gildersleeve Paterson was born on January 18, 1892 in Columbus, Ohio to Robert Paterson and Rosatha Gildersleeve. Both of Donald’s parents were deaf and communicated with their five children via finger spelling and American Sign Language. Donald’s fluency in American Sign Language played an important role in his early career at Ohio State University where he earned both his B.A. in 1914 and M.A. degrees in 1916. While there, he studied under Rudolf Pintner, whose lectures on abnormal psychology strongly influenced him.

Under Pintner’s direction, Paterson administered intelligence tests to deaf children. His fluency in American Sign Language enabled him to communicate with his subjects and establish that the Binet tests were not applicable to the deaf community. Paterson’s work with the deaf led to the development of the first non-language performance tests. This fieldwork enabled him to master the complex process of constructing standardized psychological tests while still an undergraduate. Together Pintner and Paterson wrote 15 articles and a pioneering book, A Scale of Performance Tests(published in 1917). In 1916, Paterson left Ohio and accepted a position as instructor under Walter Hunter at the University of Kansas.

During Donald Paterson’s brief tenure at the University of Kansas, he wrote a critique of maze studies. This paper concluded that the results of past studies had not been re-tested for their statistical significance, and that most of the studies were found to be unreliable when re-examined. Paterson’s paper helped direct the burgeoning field of psychology towards a more scientific methodology. While in Kansas, Donald met and married Margaret Young. They had two children: Philip Paterson and Margaret “Peg” Paterson Becker.

In 1917 Donald Paterson enlisted in the army. As a Captain in the Surgeon General’s Office, he was appointed Chief Psychological Examiner at Camp Wadsworth. Paterson’s army experiences proved formative as he conducted group tests using Army Alpha and Beta groups. The army also provided him with an opportunity to study the problems of personnel evaluation on a wide scale. While there he also formed a lasting friendship with Richard M. “Mike” Elliott.

At the end of World War I, Paterson worked for a psychological consulting firm; the Walter Dill Scott Company in Philadelphia. He stayed with Scott until 1921 when he was offered a position as associate professor at the University of Minnesota. He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1923.

In 1921, the University of Minnesota’s Psychology Department was still in its infancy. Prior to 1919, Psychology was part of the University’s Philosophy Department. Richard Elliott came to Minnesota in 1919 as the first chairman of the Psychology Department. With the help of Paterson, the two men focused the department’s emphasis onto applied psychology.

Donald Paterson also formed a close working relationship with John Black Johnston who had earned renown for his work in comparative neurology at the University of Minnesota before becoming its Dean of the College of Science, Literature and the Arts. Johnston then turned his attention to issues such as student guidance, establishing a correlation between high school rating and college success and the development of college aptitude tests.

Together Donald Paterson and Dean Johnston helped orient the University experience to the needs of individual students. The result of their efforts was the creation of “The Minnesota Point of View.” The Minnesota Point of View adopted three guiding principles: First, it promoted a concern for the individual student as a unique combination of abilities and interests. Second, it advocated respect for objective data and the methods of data collection. And lastly, the Minnesota Point of View advocated that data and test results could provide a sound basis for action.

Paterson worked tirelessly within the burgeoning field of applied psychology where he focused his attention on vocational psychology and aptitude testing. He advocated that aptitude testing would isolate personnel problems within business and industry. His interest in aptitude testing also led to his founding of the University Testing Bureau. He played a key role in the development of vocational and occupation guidance and was an important leader in the field of student counseling. Donald Paterson also contributed to advances in the measurement of intelligence and other abilities and worked to establish the relationship between physical and psychological traits.

During the 1930s and 1940s Paterson played a critical role in the establishment of the University of Minnesota’s Student Counseling Bureau, the Minnesota Employment Stabilization Research Institute and the University’s Industrial Relations Center. In 1936 Paterson founded the Minnesota Association for the Advancement of Psychology (in 1951 the organization was renamed the Minnesota Psychological Association) and served as its second president in 1937-1938. In 1960 the Minnesota Psychological Association established the Donald G. Paterson Award in recognition of senior undergraduate achievement in the field of psychology.

Nationally, Paterson served on a number of committees. He served as Secretary of the American Psychological Association from 1931 to 1937 and President of the American Association of Applied Psychologists in 1938-1939. He was editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology from 1942-1954 and served on the editorial board of other publications.

In 1952 Paterson was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws degree from Ohio State University. In 1960 Paterson retired from the University of Minnesota and continued his consulting work serving as a special consultant to his father’s alma mater, Gallaudet University. Donald Paterson died of cancer on October 4, 1961 following a brief illness.


6 boxes (7.8 linear ft.)


The collection consists of the professional papers of Donald G. Paterson, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota.


The collection is arranged into eleven series:

  1. Professional Organizations
  2. Correspondence
  3. Personal Papers
  4. Testing
  5. Consulting Work
  6. Articles
  7. Reviews
  8. Lectures
  9. University of Minnesota
  10. Areas of Interest
  11. Oversize Folders, Diplomas and Awards

Source of acquisition

Donated to the University of Minnesota Archives by Mrs. Margaret Paterson between 1960 -1967.

Related Material

Biographical File in University Archives

University of Minnesota. Industrial Relations Center papers

Inventory of the Donald G. Paterson papers
Don Osier; updated by Greta Bahnemann
Updated July 2003
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area