Tag Archives: Rosalie Rayner

Romano-Lax’s Behave: The (Fictionalized) Story of Rosalie Rayner Watson

Way back in the Spring of 2013 we brought you news that author Andromeda Romano-Lax was working on a fictionalized account of the life of psychologist Rosalie Rayner Watson. That book, now titled Behave, has just been published by SoHo Press. A trailer for the book is featured above and a recent Kirkus review of Behave can be found here.

The book is described on the publishers website:

“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.” Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner, Watson’s ambitious young wife and the mother of two of his children.

In 1920, when she graduated from Vassar College, Rayner was ready to make her mark on the world. Intelligent, beautiful, and unflappable, she won a coveted research position at Johns Hopkins assisting the charismatic celebrity psychologist John B. Watson. Together, Watson and Rayner conducted controversial experiments on hundreds of babies to prove behaviorist principles. They also embarked on a scandalous affair that cost them both their jobs — and recast the sparkling young Rosalie Rayner, scientist and thinker, as Mrs. John Watson, wife and conflicted, maligned mother, just another “woman behind a great man.”

With Behave, Andromeda Romano-Lax offers a provocative fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman whose work influenced generations of Americans, and whose legacy has been lost in the shadow of her husband’s. In turns moving and horrifying, Behave is a richly nuanced and disturbing novel about science, progress, love, marriage, motherhood, and what all those things cost a passionate, promising young woman.

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Latest on Little Albert: Not Neurologically Impaired After All?

Now available via  History of Psychology‘s OnlineFirst option is the latest in the ongoing saga over the identity of John Watson and Rosalie Rayner’s Little Albert. Forthcoming in History of Psychology is an article from Nancy Digdon, Russell A. Powell, and Ben Harris challenging the recent depiction of Albert as a neurologically impaired child. Full article details, including abstract, follow below.

“Little Albert’s Alleged Neurological Impairment: Watson, Rayner, and Historical Revision,” by Nancy Digdon, Russell A. Powell, and Ben Harris. The abstract reads,

In 2012, Fridlund, Beck, Goldie, and Irons (2012) announced that “Little Albert”—the infant that Watson and Rayner used in their 1920 study of conditioned fear (Watson & Rayner, 1920)—was not the healthy child the researchers described him to be, but was neurologically impaired almost from birth. Fridlund et al. also alleged that Watson had committed serious ethical breaches in regard to this research. Our article reexamines the evidentiary bases for these claims and arrives at an alternative interpretation of Albert as a normal infant. In order to set the stage for our interpretation, we first briefly describe the historical context for the Albert study, as well as how the study has been construed and revised since 1920. We then discuss the evidentiary issues in some detail, focusing on Fridlund et al.’s analysis of the film footage of Albert, and on the context within which Watson and Rayner conducted their study. In closing, we return to historical matters to speculate about why historiographical disputes matter and what the story of neurologically impaired Albert might be telling us about the discipline of psychology today.

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The Expert: A Novel Based on the Life of Rosalie Rayner

Author Andromeda Romano-Lax has crowd funded, through USA Projects, a book in progress on the life of Rosalie Rayner (left). Tentatively titled The Expert, Romano-Lax’s the novel will be a fictionalized account of Rayner’s short life (1899-1935). Most famously, Rayner was John Watson’s graduate student assistant during the Little Albert study. Following a scandal caused by their affair, while Watson was married to someone else, they married and had two children.

As described on the project’s now closed fundraising site,

He was the founder of behaviorism and the most influential American psychologist of his day—a famous parenting “expert” who counseled mothers never to kiss or cuddle their children, and who went on to apply behaviorist principles to Madison Avenue advertising. She was the 19-year-old graduate student who assisted his research—and within a year, found her own career derailed when their steamy affair made front-page news in the East Coast newspapers.

John Watson is well known in psychology circles, but his second wife, Rosalie Rayner, the narrator of this based-on-real-events novel, is known mostly as a textbook footnote—a woman involved in scandal who retreated from her own career ambitions to support her larger-than-life, controversial husband before dying at the tragically young age of 35. Rayner’s own little-known story (informed by the stories of other women psychologists and professionals of the same time period) aims to shed light on the life of a 1920s Vassar-educated woman and mother, part of a post-suffragette, interwar, Jazz Age generation that looked to science, technology, and corporate slogans for expert answers on how to live.

….I will use project funds to continue the first phase of research (which began with a visit to Baltimore MD, Washington DC, and Poughkeepsie NY and continues with ongoing follow-up historical research) necessary to write dramatically about a woman of cultural and scientific significance who left almost no paper trail. It would be easier to write about her famous husband, but it is the little-known quality of Rosalie’s life – and the story of forgotten women like her – that draws me to this project. To recreate Rosalie Rayner’s life, I will continue to seek out scarce primary sources on Rayner, visit places that were formative to her development, and also continue to learn more about women psychologists and Baltimore life from 1900 to the mid-1930s.

Although this crowd funded project is a literary endeavour — one that just happens to overlap with the history of psychology — this kind of funding initiative raises questions about the future of funding for historical work more generally. What role, if any, will crowd funding have in future research in the history of psychology?

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