Parapsychology Laboratory records, 1893-1984

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Parapsychology Laboratory
340 Linear Feet
250,000 Items
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The Parapsychology Laboratory records span the years 1919-1984, with the exception of an 1893 letter written by Richard Hodgson, Secretary of the American Society for Psychical Research, to William James. Included are personal papers of J. B. Rhine, J. G. Pratt, L. E. Rhine and other Laboratory staff, as well as professional correspondence, research records, legal and financial papers, clippings, and photographs. Over half the collection is represented by correspondence, and about a third of it by research files. Included are editorial files (1942-1959) of Dorothy Pope, Managing Editor of the Journal of Parapsychology, and papers (1957-1963) relating to the tenures of Rhea White and J. G. Pratt as officers of the Parapsychological Association.

The collection reveals a comprehensive picture of the Laboratory during its existence at Duke. The extensive research records make it possible to trace the development of research concerns and methodology. The collection also provides a detailed picture of Rhine's life and career, and because J. B. Rhine and the Parapsychology Laboratory were so closely involved with the development of modern parapsychology, it provides an unequalled resource for understanding the history of the field. The collection would support a variety of studies in biography and in the history and sociology of science.

The bulk of the collection relates to the period (1930-65) when the Parapsychology Laboratory operated at Duke. The period before the Rhines arrived at Duke (1919-1927) is well documented in the Correspondence Series, although not in other parts of the collection. Coverage of the subsequent period (from 1965) when activities were transferred to the Institute for Parapsychology of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man is uneven. The later period is best documented in the Correspondence Series, which continues through J. B. Rhine's death in 1980 to L. E. Rhine's death in 1983. The later period is also covered in the J. B. Rhine Miscellaneous Files Series and in the Clippings Series.

An important theme of the collection is the relationship of the Laboratory to Duke University. Materials bearing on this question are contained in the Correspondence Series, in the J. B. Rhine Miscellaneous Files Series, and in the Financial Papers Series. The original research was conducted under the direction of William McDougall, Chairman of the Psychology Department, with the support of Duke President W. P. Few, University President. With the deaths of McDougall in 1938 and Few in 1940, support began to weaken. Although Rhine tried at least from the early 1940s to have a special Institute for Parapsychology established at Duke, he was never successful. The University, however, did supply material and financial assistance in the forms of office and research space, salaries of the secretaries and the Director, and research grants through the Graduate Research Council. In 1962, University support for parapsychological research on a smaller scale was considered. The decision to leave Duke was part of the reason for J. G. Pratt's resignation from the staff in 1963. Rhine continued to hope that the Laboratory would eventually be re-affiliated with the University, a possibility he raised as late as 1979 with Duke President Terry Sanford.

The history of the Parapsychology Laboratory must be viewed within the context of the development of the field of parapsychology as a whole, which in turn is bound up with the personal history of J. B. Rhine. The period between 1930 and 1980 was crucial for the development of modern parapsychology, and Rhine's role in the process was pivotal. Rhine was largely responsible for instituting an experimental paradigm in parapsychology--which at the time he began his work at Duke was largely concerned with the study of mediumship and the question of survival after death. The field at the end of his life looked very different from the way it did when he began his career.

J. B. and L. E. Rhine received their Ph.D.s in Botany from the University of Chicago. The first boxes of the Correspondence Series document their disenchantment with botany, and their growing involvement in psychical research, as parapsychology was then known. J. B. Rhine's early research assistanceships (1927-1929) with J. F. Thomas and William McDougall at Duke are undocumented, as are the first ESP experiments conducted at Duke (1930). However, there is some material, mostly in the Alphanumeric Files subseries of the Research Files Series, relating to the work Rhine reported in Extra-Sensory Perception (1934).

Rhine's early correspondents (1919-1934) include persons active in psychical research circles, such as Theodore Besterman, Whately Carington, Hereward Carrington, Hans Driesch, Nandor Fodor, Hornell Hart, William McDougall, Gardner Murphy, W. F. Prince, H. F. Saltmarsh, J. F. Thomas, and Elwood Worcester. Rhine began a regular correspondence with the writer Upton Sinclair following the publication of the latter's book, Mental Radio (1930). Rhine also began a lifelong correspondence with some of his early experimental subjects and laboratory assistants, among them T. Coleman Cooper, Harvey Frick, A. J. Linzmayer, Hubert Pearce, and George and Sara Zirkle.

Extra-Sensory Perception brought Rhine international attention, and from 1935 onwards there is a substantial amount of correspondence, much of it with major figures in parapsychology and other fields. Included are C. G. Abbot, G. E. Buck, C. Ray Carpenter, Alexis Carrel, R. Winfred George, O. L. Reiser, C. Hilton Rice, Lucien Warner, Warren Weaver, and Goodrich C. White. Many of these persons undertook research projects of their own. Established parapsychologists such as Hans Bender, S. G. Soal, Robert Thouless, and G. N. M. Tyrrell, also enter the correspondence around this time, as do persons who spent time on the Laboratory staff, including Esther Bond Foster, J. G. Pratt, Burke M. Smith, Charles E. Stuart, J. L. Woodruff, and the statisticians, J. A. Greenwood, T. N. E. Greville.

Rhine's work was brought forcibly to public attention in the fall of 1937 with the simultaneous broadcast of a series of ESP experiments sponsored by the Zenith Radio Corporation and the publication of New Frontiers of the Mind, a popular book which was chosen as a main selection by the Book of the Month Club. The first manufactured ESP cards were produced, offered to Zenith listeners and Book of the Month Club members, and advertised for sale by Farrar and Rinehart, the book's publishers. Also in 1937, the Journal of Parapsychology, edited at the Laboratory, began to be issued by the Duke University Press. The late 1930s was also a time of controversy for Rhine, beginning with early criticisms by R. R. Willoughby, J. L. Kennedy, Dael Woffle, and Charles Kellogg, much of which is reflected in Rhine's correspondence. An attempt to counter the criticisms was made in 1940 in the scholarly book, Extra-Sensory Perception after Sixty Years, which Rhine co-authored with Pratt, Smith, Stuart, and Greenwood.

Rhine's influence on the scientific world began to be most strongly felt during the post-World-War-II period when the modern field of parapsychology began to take shape. Correspondents during this time include W. E. Cox, Jan Ehrenwald, Jule Eisenbud, Robert A. McConnell, Carroll Nash, Gertrude Schmeidler, and later on, Charles Honorton, Stanley Krippner, Robert L. Morris, K. R. Rao, W. G. Roll, Rex Stanford, Ian Stevenson, and Charles T. Tart. Correspondence with some of these persons begins with their student years and continues as they assume professional positions. On the international scene, Rhine began regular correspondence with Remy Cadoret, C. T. K. Chari, Remy Chauvin, Haakon Forwald, Alexander Imich, Martin Johnson, H. H. J. Keil, M. C. Marsh, Hiroshi Motioyama, E. K. Naumov, Soji Otani, J. J. Poortman, Milan Ryzl,and Christiane and Paul Vasse. The culmination of this period came in 1957 with the establishment of the international Parapsychological Association, with many of these persons as charter members.

Rhine's prominence may be estimated by the amount of correspondence he had with persons in fields other than parapsychology. Among the psychologists and psychoanalysts with whom he had considerable correspondence were George Estabrooks, Hans J. Eysenck, Aldous Huxley, Julian Huxley, Joseph Jastrow, C. G. Jung, Timothy Leary, Leslie M. LeCron, and C. A. Meier, also appear prominently, as does Henry Margenau. Anthropologists represented in the correspondence include Weston La Barre, Ralph Linton, Robert Lowie, Margaret Mead, Ronald Rose, and John Swanton. Philosophers include C. D. Broad, C. J. Ducasse, and H. H. Price.

Although the Parapsychology Laboratory was supported by Duke to some extent, most of its funding came from private sources. Benefactors included Ellen A. Wood, Florence Anspacher, Marie Higby Avery, Henry W. Belk, W. P. Bentley, Frances Bolton, Chester F. Carlson, Eileen Garrett, Gertrude Maurin, O. K. Merritt, Charles E. Ozanne, and W. Clement Stone. The correspondence reveals that many of these persons were more interested in the question of spirit survival than they were in the experimental problems the laboratory investigated. The Laboratory also received grants from private foundations and government agencies, notably the Rockefeller Foundation (1950-54) and the Office of Naval Research (1953-59), the latter for research on homing pigeons conducted under Pratt's direction.

Rhine ceased to be directly involved in research around 1945, and began to devote full time to correspondence, fund raising, writing, and lecturing. Drafts of several of Rhine's books and other writings are contained in the J. B. Rhine Miscellaneous Files Series, while his correspondence with editors and publishers is found throughout the Correspondence Series. Rhine's teaching responsibilities are reflected in lecture notes, term papers, department communiques, and other records in the Correspondence and J. B. Rhine Miscellaneous Files Series. The Clippings Series contains copies of many of Rhine's journalistic publications.

The key to the collection is in many ways the J. B. Rhine Miscellaneous Files series. The Personal Files subseries includes not only correspondence of a personal nature, but also materials considered sensitive or critical, especially relating to the Laboratory's relationship to Duke University. The bulk of the parallel Correspondence Series is formed of Rhine correspondence, but includes much material relating to other staff members. In other sections of the collection, Rhine is much less prominent. His presence in the Research Files Series is relatively slight, and he appears in few other series except Clippings. Rhine emerges as the administrative head of the Laboratory, most of whose management and day-to-day activities, apart from correspondence, were conducted by other persons, especially Pratt.

L. E. Rhine's connection to the Parapsychology Laboratory is considerably less well documented than is her husband's. L. E. Rhine's personal correspondence is contained in the J. B. Rhine Miscellaneaous Files Series. There are also occasional letters to and from L. E. Rhine interfiled with correspondence of J. B. Rhine (and other Laboratory staff members) in the Correspondence Series. L. E. Rhine's involvement in some of the research, especially as an experimental subject, is reflected in the Research Files Series, but the collection contains no records of her work with spontaneous case reports. The major portion of the case collection remains at the Institute for Parapsychology.

J. G. Pratt's personal life, his Parapsychology Laboratory (1937-1963) work, and other professional involvement in parapsychology are well documented in the collection. The bulk of Pratt's correspondence is in the J. G. Pratt Miscellaneous Files Series, but there is some also in the Correspondence Series (much of it in staff folders), and in the Research Files Series. Some of the latter relates to Pratt's roles as an editor of the Journal of Parapsychology. Pratt's substantial contribution to the

Laboratory's research is evident in the large number of boxes (51) devoted to his work in the Experimenter Files subseries of the Research Files series and in his association with many other parts of the collection.

The earliest Pratt research files relate not to parapsychology, but to rat studies he conducted for his M.A. and Ph.D. theses under Donald K. Adams. There is a considerable amount of material relating to work Pratt did in New York, while he was at Columbia University studying with Gardner Murphy (1935-37). Other records relate to studies of Eileen Garrett (1945-47). There are several boxes of records pertaining to Pratt's research with homing pigeons (1953-58). Later research files include letters received by the Herrmann family after the Seaford (Long Island) poltergeist disturbances became public. Records of other Pratt work, such as that with Hubert Pearce and the series of experiments conducted with J. L. Woodruff, are contained in other parts of the Research Files Series. Pratt is also represented in the Financial Records and Parapsychological Association Records Series.

Other Laboratory staff members represented by a substantial amount of material include E. Paul Gibson, Betty M. Humphrey, Elizabeth A. McMahan, Winifred Nielsen, Karlis Osis, Dorothy Pope, Burke M. Smith, Charles E. Stuart, Rhea White, and J. L. Woodruff. The bulk of the material relating to most of these persons is in the Research Files Series, and may include personal and professional correspondence, some of it research records. Several of these persons are also represented in the Correspondence Series, often in Staff files. The files of Dorothy Pope are contained in the Journal of Parapsychology Records Series. Rhea White is represented in the Correspondence Series, in the Research Files series, and in the Parapsychological Association Records Series.

The collection contains not only records of work conducted at the Parapsychology Laboratory, but also a considerable amount of material related to research using similar methods done by persons working elsewhere. In some of this outside research, experimenters worked closely with Laboratory staff members, whereas in other cases the research was done independently but was evaluated or prepared for publication by staff members. Some of the outside research is reflected in the Correspondence series, which contains many research records. The bulk of this research is contained in the Research Files Series, where it is most often associated with one of the staff members listed in the last paragraph. In exceptional cases, files are associated with outside experimenters themselves. Most prominent among these are Margaret Anderson, E. Paul Gibson (who in the later 1930s was a member of the Laboratory staff), Olivia Rivers, and J. G. van Busschbach. The Research Files Series also includes several laboratory notebooks (1912-1917) kept by J. E. Coover at Stanford University. Original records of research conducted by Dorothy Martin and F. P. Stribic at the University of Colorado are contained in the Experimenter Files subseries of the Research Files series under Pratt's name.

Several manuscript collections related to the Parapsychology Laboratory Records are available in the Rubenstein Library and in the Duke University Archives. The most important related collection may be the personal papers of L. E. Rhine. The papers of Gertrude Schmeidler are available in the Rubenstein Library as well, as are records of the Parapsychological Association, placed on deposit by W. G. Roll. Tape recordings of interviews conducted by S. H. Mauskopf and M. R. McVaugh during research for their book, The Elusive Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), as well as other notes, including a card file calendaring of Rhine's early correspondence, are also available. The papers of William McDougall are available in the Archives. The Institute for Parapsychology retains most of the original correspondence and classifications of L. E. Rhine's case collection project, as well as editorial records of the Journal of Parapsychology and records of research conducted at the Institute for Parapsychology after 1965. For information on related collections in other repositories, see the article "Archives and Psychical Research" (Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1987), a copy of which is in the unnumbered Information Box shelved with the collection.

Published sources of an historical or biographical nature are also available. In addition to The Elusive Science, which tells the story of Rhine's career and the history of experimental parapsychology to 1940, see D. Brian, The Enchanted Voyager (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1982), for an authorized biography of Rhine. Other biographical material on Rhine is to be found in K. R. Rao, J. B. Rhine: On the Frontiers of Science (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1982), A. S. Berger, Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology (McFarland, 1988), and L. E. Rhine's biography/autobiography, Something Hidden (McFarland, 1983). Material on L. E. Rhine is contained in her book and in K. R. Rao, Case Studies in Parapsychology (McFarland, 1986), which includes a biographical essay by the Rhines' daughter, Sally Rhine Feather Hendrickson. Material on Pratt is contained in his autobiography, Parapsychology: An Insider's View of ESP (New York: Doubleday, 1964) and in J. Keil (Ed.), Gaither Pratt: A Life for Parapsychology (McFarland, 1987), as well as in Berger's Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology. Lesser figures in the history of the Parapsychology Laboratory have not yet received in-depth treatment, although biographical material is available on many of them in the form of obituaries or other notes in the Journal of Parapsychology.

Biographical / historical:
Parapsychology Laboratory
Date Event
Duke Psychology Department established with William McDougall as Chair
Extra sensory perception (ESP) research began in Psychology Laboratory
Psychokinesis (PK) research began in Psychology Laboratory
Parapsychology Laboratory established within Psychology Department; McDougall Research Fund created to support work of Laboratory
1937, Mar.
Journal of Parapsychology inaugurated with J. B. Rhine as senior editor
Journal of Parapsychology editorship transferred to G. Murphy and B. Reiss
Journal of Parapsychology editorship returned to Parapsychology Laboratory, with Rhine as senior editor
Parapsychology Laboratory moved out of Psychology Department and became Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University
Parapsychological Association established at Duke under auspices of Parapsychology Laboratory
Psychical Research Foundation established, operating out of Parapsychology Laboratory
Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man established in Durham with Rhine as Director
1965, Aug.
Parapsychology Laboratory closed at Duke; moved to Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man as Institute for Parapsychology
Helmut Schmidt became Director of Institute for Parapsychology; Rhine remained Director of Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man
Jay Levy became Director of Institute for Parapsychology
Rhine resumed Directorship of Institute for Parapsychology
K. R. Rao became Director of Institute for Parapsychology
Joseph Banks Rhine
Date Event
1895, Sept. 29
Born in Waterloo, Pennsylvania
Served in Marine Corps
1920, Apr.
Married Louisa Ellen Weckesser
B.S. in Biology from University of Chicago
M.S. in Biology from University of Chicago
Research Fellow in plant physiology at Boyce Thompson Institute, Yonkers, NY
Instructor in Botany, West Virginia University, Morgantown
Ph.D. in Biology from University of Chicago
1926, Fall
Sittings with Minnie Soule for J. F. Thomas
Studied Philosophy at Harvard
1927, Fall
Went to Duke on behalf of J. F. Thomas
Research Assistant to Thomas and McDougall
Instructor in Philosophy and Psychology
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Duke
1930, Fall
Began ESP experiments
Professor of Psychology, Duke
Founded Journal of Parapsychology with William McDougall
Retired from teaching
Established Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man in Durham
Retired from Duke faculty
Elected President of (London-based) Society for Psychical Research
1980, Feb. 20
Died, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Publications: Extra Sensory Perception (1934), New Frontiers of the Mind (1937), Extra-Sensory Perception after 60 Years (1940), Reach of the Mind (1947), New World of the Mind (1953), and Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind (1957).

Joseph Gaither Pratt
Date Event
1910, Aug. 31
Born, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
B.A. from Duke
Worked at Parapsychology Laboratory
M.A. in Psychology from Duke
Studied under Gardner Murphy at Columbia
Ph.D. in Psychology from Duke
Married Nellie Ruth Pratt
Co-author of Handbook for Testing Extra-Sensory Perception
Returned to Duke and full time work at Parapsychology Laboratory
Unpaid Instructor of Psychology at Duke
Co-author of Extra-Sensory Perception After 60 Years
Served in U.S. Navy
Joint editor of Journal of Parapsychology
Returned to Parapsychology Laboratory
Treasurer of Parapsychology Laboratory
President of Parapsychological Association
1963, July 1
Left Parapsychology Laboratory
Professor of Psychiatry at University of Virginia
Research Associate at Division of Parapsychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Virginia
1979, Nov. 3
Died outside of Charlottesville, Va.
Acquisition information:
The Parapsychology Laboratory Records were donated to the Duke University Library between 1961 and 1986 by Drs. J. B. and L. E. Rhine and by the Institute for Parapsychology of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, Durham, North Carolina.
Processing information:

Processed by: Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Staff

Encoded by Stephen Douglas Miller and Alvin Pollock

Updated to include new additions by Meghan Lyon, March 2009

Although the Parapsychology Laboratory became the Institute for Parapsychology (at the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man) in 1965, the bulk of the records represented in this collection guide relate to the earlier Parapsychology Laboratory period (1930-1965). For this reason, this collection has been cataloged under the heading for the earlier name. Added entries have been made for earlier and later forms of the laboratory's name. The general order of the records before processing may be determined from a box list prepared in October 1986 and from index cards that include detailed accounts of the contents of each box, prepared in the initial stages of processing (see Information Box shelved with collection). The records at this time were loosely grouped according to the series and subseries that were established during processing. In arranging the collection, an effort was made to follow the original order.

The original order of most of the correspondence was kept, and is reverse chronological, although there are a few files in which it is chronological. Many research and other files are in reverse chronological order or have general information in the back.


Parapsychology of the Rhine era employed numerous technical abbreviations that appear throughout the collection and are reflected in the folder labels and thus in the container lists in this inventory. Since these abbreviations may not be readily understandable, brief definitions are given below. More complete definitions are given in Glossaries in each issue of the Journal of Parapsychology published through 1987, and thereafter in the December issue of each year. A copy of the original 1937 Glossary will be found in the Information Box.

Blind matching
Before touching
Down through
Extrasensory perception
General extrasensory perception
Long distance
Precognitive down through
Preferred matching
Psychic shuffle
Pure telepathy
Quarter distribution
Retrocognitive down through
Screened touch matching

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[Identification of item], The Records of the Parapsychology Laboratory, 1893-1984, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.