Edmund Williamson

Edmund Griffith Williamson was born on August 14, 1900, in Rossville, Illinois. In 1925, he received a B.A. degree from the University of Illinois. He received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1931. Williamson joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota in 1931 as assistant professor of psychology and was named director of the University of Minnesota Testing Bureau (now the University of Minnesota Counseling and Consulting Center), 1931-1938. During this decade, the Minnesota Employment Stabilization Research Institute was established at the University of Minnesota to assist workers who had lost their jobs during the Great Depression. This effort operationalized Frank Parsons’s concepts of matching the characteristics of workers with jobs using the methods of differential psychology. This approach came to be labeled trait-factor counseling. Williamson successfully adapted the methods developed by the Minnesota Employment Stabilization Research Institute to address the career development concerns of college students. Because of Williamson’s prolific and influential writings on trait-factor counseling, it was sometimes referred to as the Minnesota point of view. Under Williamson’s leadership, the University of Minnesota Testing Bureau became the prototype for all future college counseling centers.

Williamson became the coordinator of student personnel services in 1938 and was promoted to Professor of Psychology and Dean of Students in 1941. During his tenure as dean, he developed the idea of in loco parentis—the concept that universities should assume parental responsibility for the behavior of undergraduate students. This concept fell into disfavor in the 1960s, but is now being revisited by some universities. Contrary to the paternalism he was sometimes charged with, Williamson supported the inclusion of students’ ideas and opinions in the administration of the University of Minnesota. During his career, Williamson influenced the work of many other researchers in vocational psychology. His influence was particularly strong at the University of Minnesota, which produced leading vocational psychology researchers such as John Holland, Lloyd Lofquist, Rene Dawis, David Campbell, and Jo-Ida Hanson during his tenure there.

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Williamson retired from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and was named a regents professor emeritus. In 1977, a new building housing the University of Minnesota bookstore and student services offices was named for Williamson. Among his other career accomplishments, Williamson was a Fulbright Scholar in Japan in 1956. He served the Advisory Committee on Counseling in Vocational Rehabilitation and Education of the Veterans Administration from 1946-1969 and in leadership positions with the American College Personnel Association from 1941-1954, including serving as president in 1944-1945. He died on January 30, 1979. Williamson’s leadership in the field of student counseling and his scholarly accomplishments were such that many consider him the leading figure in the founding of the field of counseling psychology.


  • James, R. K., & Gilliland, B. E. (2002). Theories and strategies in counseling and psychotherapy (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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