Exhibition: "100 Years of Child Study at Yale", on display at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, September 21, 2011 - January 9, 2012

The Centennial Exhibit of the Yale Child Study Center (1911-2011)

Gesell Dome, circa 1947

The Gesell Dome highlights a major innovation that Child Study Center founder, Arnold Gesell, M.D., brought to the study of behavior. In order to remove the distraction of having numerous observers in the room with child and tester he devised the concept of one-way vision screens. At first these were ordinary metal screening with the child side painted either white or with child-appropriate pictures to maximize reflection and with the observers stationed in a darkened room on the other side. This worked from a visual standpoint, but it meant that observers had to remain almost motionless and very quiet because sounds penetrated rather easily. To facilitate motion photography in such an arrangement Gesell built a dome of screens which had slots to allow access by the cameras and inside of which the parent and child were on a turntable which could be revolved for better camera angles. In time all these screens were replaced with newly developed one-way mirrors which allowed even better vision and more comfort for the observers and through which photography was possible. Through this innovation, radical for its day, Gesell introduced careful behavioral observation as a standard method for studying the notion of developmental trajectories in childhood.

Click here to download the flyer.

The history of child development as a scientific field of study is primarily a story of the 20th century. The Yale Child Study Center stands as one of the few institutions – and the only one in a major University and School of Medicine – which has been a major source of leadership in the field from virtually the start of the field to the present. This achievement has several important roots – the position of the Center in a great research university, the support of many Presidents and Deans, the devotion of faculty, and the prescience of the senior leadership. An important component has been the capacity for long-term planning and program development that has resulted from the dedication of senior faculty, who have devoted their careers to the Center, the continuity of senior leadership, and a commitment to the career development of young scholars, clinicians, and scientists. Also, in the 100 years of its existence, from 1911 to 2011 the Center has had only six directors, each of whom has helped guide the Center during distinctive epochs in the fields of child development and child and adolescent psychiatry.
Arnold Gesell, Ph.D., M.D. ’15 (1880-1961)

1911-1948: Arnold L. Gesell, M.D., Ph.D.

The originator and first director of the Child Study Center was Arnold L. Gesell, Ph.D., M.D. (1880-1961). He was a psychologist and a pediatrician and is considered the father of child development in this country. In 1911, the Dean of the Yale School of Medicine made available to Gesell a room in the New Haven Dispensary that became the origin of the Yale Clinic of Child Development. In 1930, the clinic became a department in the School of Medicine. During Gesell's tenure of 37 years, the clinic moved into a larger building, and the staff grew in size and productivity. Gesell was a meticulous observer and researcher and a prodigious writer in both the scientific and lay press. What made Gesell most famous were his studies of normal child development. Beginning in the 1920'S, he used cinema analysis to document developmental milestones for children from infancy and school-age up to and including adolescence. Gesell published more than a dozen books about his findings, but his most famous book is the monumental, An Atlas of Infant Behavior, that contains 3,200 action photographs.

Milton J.E. Senn, M.D.

1948-1966: Milton J.E. Senn, M.D.

In 1948, Milton J.E. Senn, MD (1902-1990) from Cornell University, assumed the directorship. Dr. Senn was a pediatrician with psychoanalytic training. He was recruited to serve as both Chairman of Yale's Department of Pediatrics and Director of the Yale Clinic of Child Development. Dr. Senn changed the latter's name to the Yale Child Study Center. By university definition, a center is a full-fledged department, but with a more multidisciplinary faculty. The term "child study" denoted a more active purview than child development, and included pediatrics, psychiatry, and psychology. In short, a child study center was more academic and comprehensive than a child development clinic. Senn initiated numerous clinical and research collaborations with pediatrics. He also began a major longitudinal study of infants. After 10 years, he resigned from his chairmanship of the Department of Pediatrics to devote all of his time to direct the Child Study Center. At age 65, Dr. Senn retired.

Albert J. Solnit, M.D.

1966-1983: Albert J.Solnit, M.D.

Albert (Al) J. Solnit, M.D. (1920-2002) was a child psychiatrist, pediatrician, and psychoanalyst who pioneered work on social policy and child custody, as well as new ways for providing early, effective intervention for children at risk. He fostered collaborations with the Department of Pediatrics, Yale Law School, and oversaw the establishment of the Center as a Department of the Yale School of Medicine and of Yale-New Haven Hospital. He expanded the research program in neurobiology by recruiting Donald Cohen, M.D. who would succeed him in 1983 as the fourth Director of the Center. Dr. Solnit was Director from 1966-1983.

Donald J. Cohen, M.D.

1983-2001: Donald J. Cohen, M.D.

In 1972, Dr. Solnit hired Donald J. Cohen, MD (1940-2001), a young child psychiatrist who was a researcher on brain neurotransmitters, and who would become an adult and child psychoanalyst. In 1983, when Dr. Solnit retired, Dr. Cohen became Director until his death in 2001. Under Dr. Cohen, federal grant funding blossomed, particularly in the areas of neurochemistry, molecular and population genetics, and neuroimaging. In addition, Dr. Cohen was deeply committed to international activities. He actively promoted and improved research and clinical services for children and helped foster new clinics and strong collaborations throughout the world. This impact continues to be strongly felt and appreciated.

John E. Schowalter, M.D.

2001-2002: John E. Schowalter, M.D. (Interim)

John E. Schowalter, M.D., first came to Yale in 1960 as a pediatric intern. He was a child psychiatry resident at the Yale Child Study Center between 1963 and 1965. After serving two years in the army, he joined the Child Study Center faculty in 1967 and remained throughout his career. Dr. Schowalter’s career focused mainly on issues in pediatric liaison, adolescent care, and professional training. At the Child Study Center, Dr. Schowalter became a professor in 1975 and became the first Albert J. Solnit Professor in 1989. He served as the Center’s Interim Director, 2001-2002. He became emeritus in 2003, but continues to teach and consult.
Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.

2002-2006: Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.

Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., Director from 2002-2006. A clinical psychologist, he had previously been chair of Yale's Department of Psychology. Dr. Kazdin conducts research on the development and treatment of aggressive and antisocial behavior, precursors and characteristics of suicidality and childhood depression, and treatment processes and outcomes of psychotherapy for children and families. Prior to coming to Yale University, he was at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he directed a psychiatric intensive care inpatient service for children and an outpatient service for children referred for conduct disorder. A former president of the American Psychological Association, his work on evidence-based treatments for conduct disorders is world renowned.

Fred R. Volkmar, M.D.

2006 - Present: Fred R. Volkmar, M.D.

Fred R. Volkmar, M.D., Director from 2006 to present. A child psychiatrist, he has been active in advocating for dissemination of research findings into homes, schools, and communities. Dr. Volkmar is Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology and Director of the Yale University Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine.  He is also the Chief of Child Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, CT.  A graduate of the University of Illinois where he received in undergraduate degree in psychology in 1972 and of Stanford  University where he received his M.D. and a master’s degree in psychology in 1976.  Dr. Volkmar was the primary author of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV autism and pervasive developmental disorders section.  He is the author of several hundred scientific papers and chapters as well as a number of books (with another three books in varying stages of production).  He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.   He has served as co-chairperson of the autism/intellectual disabilities committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.   In addition to having directed the internationally known autism clinic he also served as director of autism research at Yale before becoming chairperson of the Department.