Alice I. Bryan (1902---1992)

pre-publication version

by Mary Niles Maack

Known for her achievements as a psychologist, scholar, library educator, and feminist , Alice I. Bryan devoted most of her career to the Columbia University School of Library Service (SLS) where she played an important role in the development of the doctoral program. Although she published innovative articles on bibliotherapy and the psychology of reading as well as research in psychology, she is now best remembered for her monumental study of public library personnel ( The Public Librarian , New York: Columbia University Press, 1952). In analyzing the results of this survey based on responses from 2,395 public library staff members, Bryan not only provided benchmark data, but also documented the unfairness of the dual career structure in a field where ninety-two percent of the public librarians were female, but directorships of major public libraries nearly always went to men. Keenly aware of the barriers that still faced professional women of her generation, Bryan systematically attempted to advance her own career by obtaining impeccable educational credentials (she held three degrees in psychology from Columbia University as well as a master's in library science from the University of Chicago ). She also drew attention to discrimination against women in psychology and librarianship, and through her writing and activism, attempted to promote equal opportunities for women. As a result, she was considered a role model to younger women in both fields. After Bryan 's death, Phyllis Dain, a former student and colleague at SLS, wrote: "As a professional woman.Alice Bryan stood for something very precious -intellectual integrity and high scholarship. .She was living proof that able women could be tough thinkers, and that they could be scholars and professors and reach the top of their profession." (Dain 1994,p 133-134). A decade earlier, two feminist psychologists, Agnes O'Connor and Nancy Felipe Russo, identified Alice Bryan as one of the women "pioneers" who contributed to the growth of American psychology. For the 1983 biographical anthology which they edited, Bryan prepared a candid essay decribing how her career as a psychologist and library educator was impacted by discrimination against academic women. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes below are drawn from this autobiographical essay.

Born on September 11, 1902 Alice Isabel Bever was the second child and only daughter of Ewald Bever, a banker, and his wife, Caroline Lawrence Bever. Because her paternal grandfather, Ewald von Bévern, strongly opposed the growth of nationalism and militarism in Germany in the 1870s, he left a position with a major shipping company and migrated with his wife and children to the United States . The maternal side of the family traced its roots to early settlers of New England and Alice 's mother took special pride in the fact that she was a cousin, several generations removed, of Ralf Waldo Emerson. In her autobiographical sketch, Bryan notes that her mother attended business school in New York and then became a secretary in a law firm where she began reading law. However in 1897 when she married Ewald Bever she gave up her job and her aspirations for a legal career. Alice remembered her mother as active in the local women's club and the amateur drama club as well as being devoted to her children in whom "she sought to instill what she considered cardinal virtues: self-reliance, initiative, perseverance, responsibility, honesty and self-respect" (p.71). The family lived in the Arlington section of Kearny , New Jersey where Alice recalled her childhood as a happy, active time when she was introduced to painting, drama, and music as well as reading. A bright student who excelled in school, Alice skipped two grades and entered high school in 1914, at the age of 12. While maintaining top grades she served as secretary of her class and actively participated in the high school debating team and in the drama club as well as doing volunteer work for the Red Cross.

As graduation approached, Alice began to consider a teaching career. Much later she recalled: "My first awareness that being a woman might be a disadvantage in practicing one's chosen profession came in June 1918 during an informal talk .with two of my most admired women teachers who stopped me in the hall one afternoon to inquire about my post-graduation plans. When I informed them that I wanted . to become a teacher of English literature, they painted a dismal picture for me of the economic and social discrimination encountered by women in this traditional woman's profession." (p. 72 ). Because US entrance into the war had allowed unprecedented numbers women to fill jobs vacated by servicemen, her two mentors advised her "to take advantage of the seemingly unlimited career opportunities now opening to ambitious young women. Start by acquiring some business skills, they advised, that will open doors for you." (p. 72 ). Following this advice, Alice completed a two year course of academic and secretarial studies offered by the extension division of Columbia University . She then found employment in the publishing industry, first working as a proof-reader for Cosmopolitan Book Corporation and then as an editorial assistant at the American Book Company which published public school readers. At the same time she continued taking extension courses at Columbia and at New York University ,and through friends, developed an interest in theosophy, mysticism and parapsychology.

In January 1921 she obtained a new positioaster's degree in 1930, and enrolled in the doctoral program where she spent an extra year taking courses in educational and clinical psychology at Teacher's College as well as additional courses in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology at Columbia 's College of Physicians and Surgeons. She later recalled: "I wanted to prepare as broadly and soundly as possible for effective competition in the job market, for it was tacitly agreed among the graduate students that men were the preferred candidates .for .most teaching positions at the college level. And I did want to teach." (p. 75). She completed her doctorate in 1934, presenting a dissertation, which was entitled "The Organization of Memory in Young Children."

In 1934 she also obtained the final decree in amical divorce settlement with Chester Bryan . Having earned her university degrees and established herself as a scholar under the name of Alice I. Bryan, she retained that name for the rest of her professional career, even though she remarried twice. Her second husband was Frank Marvin Blasingame, a sculptor and painter from California who had recently come to New York with his small son after a divorce from his first wife. Blasingame had trouble establishing his artistic career in New York , and after eight years together, he and Bryan divorced. Faced with contributing to the support of her new family at the height of the depression, Bryan simultaneously held two or three part-time jobs; these positions included: teaching psychology at Sarah Lawrence College; counseling and offering courses in psychology for students in the Pratt Institute's teacher training program; and teaching a two semester course in research methods for master's students in the Columbia SLS program.

Initially Alice Bryan was recruited to SLS by Dean C. C.Williamson, an economist who believed that it was essential for library students to be prepared to conduct scientific research. He also invited her to teach an evening course in psychology for practicing librarians, and finally in 1939 he was able to offer her a full-time position as an assistant professor. Anxious to focus her "professional interests and energy" at Columbia , Bryan gave up her two other positions even though it meant a twenty percent cut in pay. At the time she became an assistant professor at SLS, she also began to publish articles that focused on the intersections of librarianship and psychology. Her topics ranged from interviewing techniques in the library, to the psychology of reading, and bibliotherapy. In 1939 she published an article entitled "Can There Be a Science of Bibliotherapy?"-a question which she answered by stating that the field already had a philosophical justification, a working hypothesis, and a definition, but greatly needed experimental data and scientifically trained workers. (see Library Journal 64:773-776) In her introduction to the Bibliotherapy Sourcebook , Joyce Rhea Rubin described Bryan as the foremost bibliotherapy theoretician of the 1930s; however despite her early contributions to the new field, Bryan herself did not pursue empirical research in bibliotherapy, and as the 1940s brought new challenges and opportunities she abandoned the topic.

With the encouragement of Dean Williamson, Bryan continued her research in psychology, publishing in the Journal of Consulting Psychology, the Journal of Applied Psychology, the Journal of Educational Psychol­ ogy, Psychological Bulletin, and the Transactions of the New York Academy of Sci­ences. She also was active in psychological associations and when World War II began, she and a few other female colleagues became concerned that women psychologists were denied representation on the joint committee to deal with the national emergency. These women decided to form their own association, and the preliminary organizing meeting was held in November 1940 in Bryan 's New York apartment where the National Council of Women Psychologists was conceived. Because Bryan had served as president and vice-president of this organization, she was appointed as a delegate to the Emergency Committee in Psychology of the National Research Council. Through this committee she became acquainted with Professor E. G. Boring from Harvard and the two of them collaborated on a series of studies that appeared from 1944 to 1947 under the general title, "Women in American Psychology." Boring later wrote a paper on "the woman problem" where he implied that because of her "feminist bias" Bryan had been "unwilling to accept and present as our joint conclusions some 'admonitory' generalization he thought could be inferred from our date." (p. 79) Bryan later responded that she had no disagreement as to the findings, but believed that some of the conclusions Boring wanted to draw were "personal value judgments not warranted by our findings."(p. 79)

After the war ended, Bryan again turned her attention to research in librarianship and in 1945 she also addressed her own career prospects at Columbia, since she had received no promotion or raise in over six years. Despite the quality of her teaching and research (duly documented by outside experts) the second SLS dean, Carl White, told her that her prospects for advancement were "dim" because she did not have a library degree and because "the university is still very much a man's world." Decades later she wryly observed:

"To have attempted to challenge and change that world would have required the faith and self-delusion of a Don Quixote with an impossible dream. Even to contemplate changing my gender would have been contrary to my nature; I was happy to be a woman. Obtaining a library school degree and thereby eliminating the first strike against me was my remaining option. Although time consuming, it was a least possible." (Bryan, 1994, p. 18)

Bryan therefore decided to take a sabbatical and enroll for a master's degree in library science at the University of Chicago. However before leaving for Chicago, she was recruited to conduct a study of library personnel by Robert D. Leigh, who was then serving as director of the Public Library Inquiry--an ambitious, multifaceted study being undertaken by the Social Science Research Council with funding from the Carnegie Corporation. Bryan collected data for her study of librarians in 1948 and continued working on the report while completing her course work at Chicago. She was awarded the master's degree in 1951; the following year her book, The Public Librarian, was issued by Columbia University Press as the final PLI report. Although Bryan's study was generally well received, the Library Quarterly review criticized it as a sterile collection of facts, lacking a guiding hypothesis; the reviewer nonetheless believed that the conclusion of the study appeared "reasonable and sound" and acknowledged that "Bryan has much to say of value on personnel adminstration." (see Goldhor, Herbert. Library Quarterly 23:144-46(April 1953)

Having now established her credentials in librarianship and her reputation as a researcher, Alice Bryan finally received promotion to an associate professorship in 1952. When Dean White was succeeded at SLS by Robert D. Leigh (Acting Dean 1954, Dean, 1956-1959), administrative barriers to the advancement of women disappeared. Alice Bryan noted that "In rejecting the concept of the'glass ceiling' as it is called today,.Leigh was at least half a century in advance of his generation" (1994, p. 17). With his support Alice Bryan became, in 1956, the first woman in the history of SLS to attain a full professorship. That same year she married her third husband, George Virgil Fuller, a re­tired colonel who took great interest in her work . For the next fifteen years Bryan remained at SLS, where she taught research methodology and served as chair of the Committee on the Doctorate in Library Science (DLS). She was much less involved with empirical research in her later years, but instead devoted herself to her students. Especially remembered for working closely with all doctoral candidates in the program, she also provided financial aid to them by establishing a dissertation research award named in honor of her husband, George Virgil Fuller, who died in 1960. Upon her retirement in 1971, Dr. Bryan was honored with an appointment as Professor Emeritus

Although she published little in her later years, at the age of 89 Alice Bryan graciously and enthusiastically accepted an invitation from the ALA Library History Round Table to take part in a program on the Public Library Inquiry. For that occasion Bryan carefully researched and presented a paper in which she reflected both on the Public Library Inquiry and on her own career in library education. In regard to the findings of her 1948 PLI survey, she commented:

"For me, the most discouraging, although albeit not unexpected, finding of the personnel questionnaire was the extent to which discrimination against female middle administrators prevailed in .public librarianship. The most enheartening was the large percentage of the professional women, including the middle administrators, who said that if given the chance to relive their lives they would again choose librarianship as their preferred career. This raises the question of whether I, if given the opportunity to relive my life, would again choose the career to which Dean Williamson called me more than half a century ago. The answer is an unqualified Yes ."

"What happier destiny could I imagine than to have been privileged to teach those gifted, service-minded students who in turn continued to help other people fulfill their potentialities. These students and all who came before them, .form an invisible, indestructible network extending from each generation to the next." (Bryan, 1994, p. 24)

Her talk inspired a standing ovation and was an affirmation of the accomplishments of Columbia SLS, then in the process of being phased out. Described by one close colleague as "a beautiful woman who sparkled when she smiled," that day Alice Bryan's radiant appearance and dynamic delivery gave the impression that she was in robust health. However, it was later learned that she had struggled against the progressive effects of leukemia while preparing this final talk. Four months later, on October 30, 1992, she died at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan . Since the papers from the LHRT program were then being brought together as a theme issue of Libraries & Culture (Winter 1994), the editors decided to solicit comments from former students and colleagues to honor Alice Bryan. Along with reminiscences of her rigorous scholarship and her formidable class on "Communication" were comments on her kindness, generosity, elegance, wit and "her dazzling smile."

Biographical listings and obituaries -[Obituary] New York Times , November 4,1992. [Obituary] American Libraries , February 1993. Books and articles about the biographee . "Appreciations and Tributes from Friends and Colleagues." Libraries & Culture 29: 133-141 (Winter 1994). Bryan, Alice I. "Alice I. Bryan." in Models of Achievement, Reflections of Eminent Women in Psychology, vol. 1, edited by Agnes O'Connor and Nancy Felipe Russo , New York : Columbia University Press, 1983, pp. 68-86. Bryan, Alice I. "The Public Library Inquiry: Purpose, Procedures and Participants." Libraries & Culture 29: (Winter 1994)12-25. Dain, Phyllis. "Remembering Alice Bryan." Libraries & Culture 29: 133-135 (Winter 1994). Maack,Mary Niles. "Alice I. Bryan: Psychologist, Library Educator and Feminist, 11 September 1902-30 October 1992," Libraries & Culture 29: 128-132 (Winter 1994). Rubin, Rhea Joyce. Bibliotherapy Sourcebook . Phoenix , AZ : Oryx Press, 1978. Primary sources and archival materials : Alice I. Bryan's papers have been deposited with the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division of the Columbia University Library; as of this writing the collection has yet not been processed. Official papers related to the School of Library Service are in the Columbia University Archives.