Henry Herbert Goddard

(14 August 1866-1957)
American Psychologist



  • B.A., Haverford College, Pennsylvania (1887)
  • M.A. in Mathematics, Haverford College (1889)
  • Ph.D. in Psychology, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts (1899)


  • Football coach and Instructor of Latin, history, and botany, University of Southern California (1887-1888)
  • Teacher, Damascus Academy, Ohio (1889-1891)
  • Teacher and Principal, Oak Grove Seminary, Vassalboro, Maine, (1891-1896)
  • Professor of Psychology and Pedagogy, State Normal School, West Chester, Pennsylvania, (1899-1906)
  • Director of Research, Training School for Feeble-minded Girls and Boys, Vineland, NJ (1906-1918)
  • Invited to Ellis Island assist in identifying mental defectives (1910, 1912)
  • Member of Army Alpha and Beta Testing Team (1917-1919)
  • Ohio State Bureau of Juvenile Research (1918-1938)
  • Professor of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology, Ohio State University (1922-1938)

Major Contributions

  • Translated the Binet-Simon intelligence scale into English (1908)
  • Distributed 22,000 copies of the translated Binet scale and 88,000 answer blanks across the United States (1908-1915)
  • Established the first laboratory for the psychological study of mentally retarded persons (1910)
  • Helped to draft the first American law mandating special education (1911)
  • Strongly argued the hereditarian position

Definition of Intelligence

“…our thesis is that the chief determiner of human conduct is a unitary mental process which we call intelligence: that this process is conditioned by a nervous mechanism which is inborn: that the degree of efficiency to be attained by that nervous mechanism and the consequent grade of intelligence or mental level for each individual is determined by the kind of chromosomes that come together with the union of the germ cells: That it is but little affected by any later influences except such serious accidents as may destroy part of the mechanism” (Goddard, 1920, p. 1).

Ideas and Interests

It is no exaggeration to characterize Henry Goddard as the father of intelligence testing in the United States. His biographer points out that he was either a leader or a participant in every significant event occurring during the genesis of American psychometrics. In the years between 1908 and 1918 he translated the BinetSimon Intelligence Scale into English, distributed 22,000 copies of the test throughout the United States, advocated for its use in the public schools, established an intelligence testing program on Ellis Island, and served as a member of Robert Yerkes‘ Army Alpha and Beta testing team during World War One (Zenderland, 1998, p.2). Goddard’s contributions to public education were considerable as well: He helped draft the first state law mandating that schools provide special education, and stressed the need for public school reform by suggesting that normal children could benefit from the instructional techniques originally developed for use with retarded students (Zenderland, p. 124, 63).

When Goddard began working in education he was an unlikely candidate for such a distinguished career. He spent his 20s working as a Quaker schoolteacher and principal, and he didn’t begin his Ph.D. work until he was 30 years old. He graduated in 1899 and took a job teaching psychology and pedagogy at a state normal school in Pennsylvania. In 1906 he was offered a position in a small New Jersey institution called the Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys. He enjoyed his work with the students there, and became very interested in the both the causes of mental deficiency and the teaching methods employed by the instructors. His research facility at the school was perhaps the first laboratory for the scientific study of mentally retarded persons.

In 1908 Goddard traveled to Europe and secured copies of the Binet-Simon intelligence scales. Upon his return to the U.S., he translated the test and began using it with the mentally retarded children living at the school. Convinced of its effectiveness, he began distributing it widely across the United States (Fancher, 1985; Zenderland, 1998). The fact that it was Goddard who popularized the Binet scales offers an historical irony; Binet was extremely careful not to attribute students’ test performance to any inherent or unchangeable factors. Goddard was a vociferous hereditarian. (Fancher, 1985; Zenderland, 1998).

Goddard’s views on intelligence were derived from Mendelian genetics. He believed that feeblemindedness was caused by the transmission of a single recessive gene. His 1912 book The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-mindedness purported to prove this through an examination the differences between two branches of a single family tree. (For More information about The Kallikak Family, please see our related Hot Topic.)

Goddard was a eugenicist, and his views on population growth and control were very similar to those of the Englishman Francis Galton (1822-1911). Although both men were concerned with raising their respective country’s national intelligence, they differed in their approach. Galton was more vocal about promoting population growth among highly intelligent people, whereas Goddard was more focused on preventing the breeding of feebleminded people (Fancher, 1984). Goddard believed that compulsory sterilization would solve the American problem (Goddard, 1912, p. 106-107). However, he understood that many Americans would find it offensive. As an alternative, he suggested that mentally deficient individuals should be kept, humanely, in institutions:

Before considering any other method, the writer would insist that segregation and colonization is not by any means as hopeless a plan as it may seem to those who look only at the immediate increase in the tax rate. If such colonies were provided in sufficient number to take care of all the distinctly feeble-minded cases in the community, they would very largely take the place of our present almshouses and prisons, and they would greatly decrease the number in our insane hospitals. Such colonies would save an annual loss in property and life, due to the action of these irresponsible people, sufficient to nearly, or quite, offset the expense of the new plant. Besides, if these feeble-minded children were early selected and carefully trained, they would become more or less self-supporting in their institutions, so that the expense of their maintenance would be greatly reduced (Goddard, 1912, p. 105-6).

Goddard’s ideas were representative of the eugenicist zeitgeist in America The American public had come to suspect that a disproportionately large percentage of the new Ellis Island immigrants were mentally defective. In 1882 the United States Congress had passed a law prohibiting mentally defective people from passing through the Ellis Island checkpoint. Enforcing this law proved to be difficult because as many as 5,000 immigrants needed to be inspected each day. In 1910 Goddard was among those invited to Ellis Island to investigate how the screening process might be expedited. In 1912 he returned to the Island, accompanied by two specially trained assistants. The procedure he developed was a two-step process: One assistant would visually screen for suspected mental defectives as the immigrants passed through the checkpoint. These individuals would then proceed to another location where the other assistant would test them with a variety of performance measures and a revised version of the Binet scales. Goddard believed that trained inspectors could be more accurate than the Ellis Island physicians; the key to their success was expertise developed through experience, and he likened the process to wine or tea-tasting (Zenderland, 1998, p. 268). The number of immigrants who were deported increased exponentially as a result of these screening measures (Zenderland, p. 273). (For more information about Goddard’s activities on Ellis Island, please see our related Hot Topic.)

Selected Publications

Goddard, H. H. (1912). The Kallikak Family: A study in the heredity of feeble-mindedness. New York: Macmillan.

Goddard, H. H. (1914). Feeble-mindedness: Its causes and consequences: New York: Macmillan.

Goddard, H. H. (1917). Mental tests and the immigrant. Journal of Delinquency, 2, 243-277.

Goddard, H.H. (1920). Human efficiency and levels of intelligence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Fancher, R.E. (1985). The intelligence men: Makers of the IQ controversy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

Goddard, H. H. (1912). The Kallikak family: A study in the heredity of feeble-mindedness. New York: Macmillan.

Goddard, H.H. (1920). Human efficiency and levels of intelligence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Strickland, B. (Ed). (2000). Kallikak family. In Gale encyclopedia of education (2nd ed). (pp. 352-353). New York: Gale Group.

Zenderland, L. (1998). Measuring minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the origins of American intelligence testing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zuzne, L. (1984). Goddard, Henry Herbert. In Biographical dictionary of psychology (pp. 158). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Image Courtesy of The Archives of the History of Psychology, The University of Akron