| Kurt Lewin was born in a small village in
Mogilno, a Prussian province of Posen that is now considered Poland. His
father and mother owned and operated a small general store. Kurt’s family
lived above the store in town. Outside of the town his family owned a small
farm as well. He was the second child of four born into his family (Johnson,
& Johnson, 2000., Schultz, & Schultz 2000).
At the age of fifteen his family moved to Berlin.
Lewin soon enrolled in the Gymnasium where he was introduced to Greek philosophy.
In 1909 Kurt enrolled at the University of Frieberg to study medicine.
Later he transferred to the University of Munich to study biology. In 1910
he began school to obtain his doctorate degree in philosophy and psychology
at the University of Berlin. After four years studying under Carl Stumpf
he received his degree in psychology. Shortly there after he entered the
Kaiser’s army and went into the infantry division. He spent four year fighting
in WWI until he was wounded. He left the army as a lieutenant
an iron cross (Johnson, & Johnson, 2000).
In 1917 Kurt married Maria Landsberg, a schoolteacher.
She gave him two children but the marriage only lasted ten years. His first
child was a daughter named Agnes who was born in 1919. The second was a
son, Fritz born in 1922. In 1929 he married Gertrud Weiss. He had his third
child a daughter named Miriam in 1931. His fourth child a son named Daniel
came in 1933. His mother was killed in a Nazi extermination camp in 1944.
In 1947 Kurt died suddenly of a heart attack (Johnson, & Johnson, 2000).
In 1921 at the Psychological Institute of the
University of Berlin he was appointed to lecture in philosophy and psychology.
Lewin’s teaching manner was enthusiastic and informal which attracted students
into tight groups to discuss various social problems. They would often
meet at a café across from the institute. While he was in Berlin
he oversaw many experimental research studies. He had no problem allowing
women to participate in both collegial discussions and significant research.
This was during Tichner’s rein in America with his experimentalist who
did not allow women in his group.
Lewin attended a meeting of the International
Congress of Psychologist at Yale in 1929 (Schultz, & Schultz 2000).This
event would be his first time in America. He presented a film on the barriers
and field forces at play. It was about children learning to sit on a stone.
Stanford invited Kurt to spend six months as a visiting professor in 1930.
The recommendation for the job came from the Director of the Psychological
Laboratory at Harvard, Edwin Boring. He had heard Kurt speak at the Yale
After his term at Stanford was over Kurt and
his new wife headed home to Germany. His wife was held up due to their
daughter being ill, Kurt continued on his journey. After hearing about
Hitler’s rise to power his wife and daughter decided to stay in New England.
Kurt was soon able to return to America due to the combined efforts of
the Committee on Displaced Scholars and Ethel Waring. Dr. Warning was a
specialist on child development at Cornell, and was impressed by Lewin’s
work while she visited the Psychological Instute in Berlin. He came for
a two-year term at Cornell’s School of Home Economics. After the
funding expired at Cornell he was accepted to another two-year term in
1935 at the University of Iowa. During the time spent at Iowa he assessed
the Child Welfare Research Station. This is where he stayed until 1944.
A collection of Kurt’s papers were published
in English in 1935, titled “A Dynamic Theory of Personality”. The paper
consisted of a comparison of German and American psychology based on observations
of pre-school aged children. During 1936 a second publication was printed
titled “Principles of Topological Psychology”. The year 1946 brought on
another two publication “Psychological Problems in Jewish Education” and
“Frontiers in Group Dynamics” (Schultz, & Schultz 2000).
Harvard University invited Kurt to be a visiting
professor during the spring terms in 1938 and 1939. He chose not to go
through the Psychology department but rather the Psychological Clinic instead.
Henry Murray was the director of the clinic at this time. His concepts
about human personality were influenced by Kurt’s theories. In 1940 Kurt
became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He helped with the mobilization
effort when the US entered WW II. He had the security clearance and was
a consultant on a large variety of national problems related to the war.
In 1944 Kurt established the Commission on
Community Interrelations (C.C.I.). Kurt also lectured on minority problems
and intergroup relations, which made him quite popular. He was also looking
for an academic institution for his research work on group dynamics. He
came to a conclusion that it would be one of two places either MIT or UC
at Berkley. MIT’s Douglas McGregor was the first to inform him of his acceptance.
He left Iowa and started to build his dream on 1945.
Since his sudden death in 1947, his colleagues
have published many of his unfinished papers. Lewin’s contributions to
psychology were greatest in social and child psychology. Lewin also promoted
educators and business leaders use sensitivity training to minimize intergroup
conflict and develop the individuals’ true potential. In conclusion his
contributions to psychology are still recognized and use today.
1890-Born in Moglino, Prussian province of Posen (now known as poland)
1914-Enters Kaiser's Army for four years during WWI
1914-Completed Ph.D. at the University of Berlin
1917-Married Maria Landsberg
1919-First child born daughter named Agnes
1921-Appointed to lecture at the University of Berlin
1922-First son born named Fritz
1929-Maried Gertrud Weiss
1931-Second daughter born named Miriam
1932-Visiting Professor at Stanford University
1933-Second son born named Daniel
1933 Fled Germany to United States
1933-Faculty at Cornell University
1935-Published "A Dynamic Theory of Personality
1935-Professor at the University of Iowa
1936-Published "Prinicples of Topological Psychology
1940-Became an American citizen
1944-Started Research Center for Group Dynamics, M.I.T.
1944-Started Commission on Community Interrelations (C.C.I.)
1946-Published "Psychological Problems in Jewish Education"
1946-Published "Frontiers in Group Dynamics"
1947-Died of heart attack