Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


G. Stanley Hall publishes Adolescence  

G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924) is not only known as the founder of organized psychology as a science and profession but also as the father of the child study movement, and a national leader of the educational reform.” (Grezlik 1999). In 1904, G. Stanley Hall published Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. This massive two-volume work of 1,337 pages, which took ten years to complete and was Hall’s first book, shaped America’s conception of adolescence and received instant recognition for being the first work ever published that synthesized the preexisting theories into a systematic portrayal of the life stage (Ross 1972). 

In Adolescence, Hall puts forth a number of theories that work together to conceptualize the existence of adolescence as a stage of life. Hall’s “theory of recapitulation explained that each person goes through changes in both the psychic and somatic senses which follows the evolution scale of the mind and body” (Grezlik 1999). Hall proclaimed that the discovery of the natural development of the child was only the first step towards educational prescription and that beyond nature, educators had to decide what the child’s path of learning should be (Hall 1904). He understood that nature endowed children with differing capacities, which required different levels of education. Children, he said, had the right to be educated to their capacities but not beyond. In discussing the concept of “individualization,” Hall spoke of the idea of new education as being the adjustment of methods to reflect individuals’ variations of age, sex, ability, and vocational expectation (Ross 1972). Through presenting the progression of a child’s development coupled with the contents, skills and values that should be taught, Hall tried to outline what he thought to be the “ideal school.”  

Hall argued that in adolescence the child has a rebirth into a sexed life and hence at this age there should no longer be coeducation. He stated that both sexes cannot optimally learn and get everything out of the lessons in the presence of the opposite sex. He went on to state that true education can only begin in adolescence when the child is ready to deal with moral issues, kindness, love, service for others, and beginning to understand reasoning.  During adolescence, said Hall, the balance between freedom and control needs to be nurtured naturally by the process of education.   

Hall’s book was published at a particular historical period when child labour laws were being enacted, compulsory education laws were being enforced, and high school was coming into formal existence. Also, delayed entrance into the job market postponed adulthood and contributed to the development of the adolescent. The interplay of these dynamics –together with the publication of Adolescence and other influential works- constituted predominant factors in high schools becoming the most rapidly growing education institution of the first half of the twentieth century (Karier 1983). 

Patsy Eubanks Owens (1997) states that the publishing of Adolescence was a major event in the debates about the evolution of the teenager and the features of educational provision. By bringing academic and public attention to the unique characteristics of adolescence, and insisting that the future depended on how the powers of adolescence were harnessed, the book help to legitimate and promote the existence of high schools (Owens 1997). Hall called adolescence the apical stage of human development before the decline of the highest powers of the soul that come with maturity and age (Ross 1972). Hall also discusses the importance of concentrating the abundant energies of adolescence, and supports directing young energies into high schools rather than entering the workforce.  

Even though Hall’s theories were instrumental in the development of the adolescent, there was much criticism of his work. Dorothy Ross states “the giant volumes contained masses of half-digested data from the enumerated fields.” She also noted that the ideas Adolescence contained were tied to biological speculations that were barely plausible, at best, and constantly embellished with lyrical references to the psychological truth of Christian doctrine.” (Ross 1972). Despite these and other problems of the book, Ross recognized that such problems do not to overshadow the fact that interlaced with the mass of data and rhetoric Hall provided a vivid portrait of the adolescent stage of life. 

The complex theories that Hall sets out in Adolescence help us to understand today, a century later, how young people were perceived at the beginning of the 20th century and in the decades that followed. This work provided the framework for supplemental research on adolescence in a variety of fields and from different theoretical perspectives. The publication of the book can be seen as an important moment in history that still has implications in many fields of study on adolescence and education.   


Hall, G. Stanley (1904). Adolescence, Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. 2 Vols. New York, Appleton. 

Grezlik, Amy (1999). G. Stanley Hall. Accessed online December 1, 2006.  

Karier, Clarence J. (1983). G. Stanley Hall: A Priestly Prophet of a New Dispensation. The Journal of Libertarian Studies 7 (1), Spring. College of Education University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  

Owens, Patsy Eubanks (1997). Adolescence and the cultural landscape: Public policy, design decisions, and popular press reporting. Landscape and Urban Planning 39: 153-166.  

Psychology History Website on G. Stanley Hall. Visited November 10, 2006. 

Ross, Dorothy (1972). Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.    

Prepared by Rachelle Ricotta, OISE/University of Toronto, 2006

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