Biography of George Kelly

Of all the personality theorists discussed in this book, George Kelly had the most unusual variegated experiences—mostly involving education, as either a student or a teacher.

George Alexander Kelly was born April 28, 1905, on a farm near Perth, Kansas, a tiny, almost nonexistent town 35 miles south of Wichita. George was the only child of Elfleda M. Kelly, a former schoolteacher, and Theodore V Kelly, an ordained Presbyterian minister. By the time Kelly was born, his father had given up the ministry hi favor of becoming a Kansas fanner. Both parents were well educated, and both helped in the formal education of then son, a fortunate circumstance because Kelly's schooling was rather erratic.

When Kelly was 4 years old, the family moved to eastern Colorado, where his father staked a claim on some of the last free land in that part of the country. While in Colorado, Kelly attended school only irregularly, seldom for more than a few weeks at a time (Thompson, 1968).

Lack of water drove the family back to Kansas, where Kelly attended four different high schools in 4 years. At first he commuted to high school, but at age 13, he was sent away to school in Wichita. From that time on, he mostly lived away from home. After graduation, he spent 3 years at Friends University in Wichita and 1 year at Park College in Parkville, Missouri. Both schools had religious affiliations, which may explahi why many of Kelly's later writings are sprinkled with biblical references.

Kelly was a man of many and diverse interests. His undergraduate degree was in physics and mathematics, but he was also a member of the college debate team and, as such, became intensely concerned with social problems. This hiterest led him to the University of Kansas, where he received a master's degree with a major in educational sociology and a minor in labor relations and sociology.

Dining the next few years, Kelly moved several times and held a variety of positions. First, he went to Minneapolis, where he taught soapbox oratory at a special college for labor organizers, conducted classes hi speech for the American Bankers Association, and taught government to an Americanization class for prospective citizens (Kelly, 1969a). Then hi 1928, he moved to Sheldon, Iowa, where he taught at a junior college and coached drama. While there, he met his future wife, Gladys Thompson, an English teacher at the same school. After a year and a half, he moved back to Mhmesota, where he taught a summer session at the University of Minnesota. Next, he returned to Wichita to work for a few months as an aeronautical engineer. From there, he went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as an exchange student, receivhig an advanced professional degree hi education.

At this point hi his life, Kelly "had dabbled academically hi education, sociology, economics, labor relations, biometrics, speech pathology, and anthropology, and had majored hi psychology for a grand total of nine months" (Kelly, 1969a, p. 48). After returning from Edinburgh, however, he began in earnest to pursue a career hi psychology. He enrolled at the State University of Iowa and, in 1931, completed a PhD with a dissertation on common factors in speech and reading disabilities.

Once agahi, Kelly returned to Kansas, beginning his academic career in 1931 at Fort Hays State College in Hays, Kansas, by teaching physiological psychology.

With the dust bowl and the Great Depression, however, he soon became convinced that he should "pursue something more humanitarian than physiological psychology" (Kelly, 1969a, p. 48). Consequently, he decided to become a psychotherapist, counseling college and high school students in the Hays community. True to his psychology of personal constructs, Kelly pomted out that his decision was not dictated by circumstances but rather by his interpretation of events; that is, his own construction of reality altered his life course.

Everything around us "calls," if we choose to heed. Moreover, I have never been completely satisfied that becoming a psychologist was even a very good idea in the first place . . . The only thing that seems clear about my career in psychology is that it was I who got myself into it and I who have pursued it. (p. 49)

Now a psychotherapist, Kelly obtained legislative support for a program of traveling psychological clinics hi Kansas. He and his students traveled widely throughout the state, providhig psychological services dining those hard economic times. During this period he evolved his own approach to therapy, abandoning the Freudian techniques that he had previously used (Fransella, 1995).

During World War II, Kelly johied the Navy as an aviation psychologist. After the war, he taught at the University of Maryland for a year and then, hi 1946, johied the faculty at Ohio State University as a professor and director of their psychological clinic. There he worked with Julian Rotter (see Chapter 17), who succeeded him as director of the clinic. In 1965, he accepted a position at Brandeis University, where, for a brief time, he was a colleague of A. H. Maslow (see Chapter 10).

From his days at Fort Hays State, Kelly began to formulate a theory of personality. Finally, hi 1955, he published his most important work, The Psychology of Personal Constructs. This two-volume book, reprinted hi 1991, contains the whole of Kelly's personality theory and is one of only a few of his works published during his lifethne.

Kelly spent several summers as a visiting professor at such schools as the University of Chicago, the University of Nebraska, the University of Southern California, Northwestern University, Brigliam Young University, Stanford University, University of New Hampshire, and City College of New York. During those postwar years, he became a major force hi clinical psychology in the United States. He was president of both the Clinical and the Consulting Divisions of the American Psychological Association and was also a charter member and later president of the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology.

Kelly died on March 6, 1967, before he could complete revisions of his theory of personal constructs.

Kelly's diverse life experiences, from the wheat fields of Kansas to some of the major universities of the world from education to labor relations, from drama and debate to psychology, are consistent with his theory of personality, which emphasizes the possibility of interpreting events from many possible angles.

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