Noted Yale University Child Psychologist William Kessen Dies

Noted child psychologist William Kessen, who was the Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Psychology and professor of pediatrics at Yale University, died on Saturday, Feb. 13, at the age of 74.

Professor Kessen’s research centered on the behavior of children in the first years of life. He was especially known for his research on how infants organize and make sense of the world before they are able to speak. He also studied the emergence of professional psychology in the last years of the 19th century.

In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, Professor Kessen’s publications included several books, among them “The Language of Psychology” (with George Mandler), “The Child,” “Childhood in China” and “The Rise and Fall of Development.” At the time of his death, he was completing his work on “The Baby Book: Seventy-five Years of Infant Care.”

Professor Kessen’s research led him to many parts of the world, including Italy, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and China, where he led one of the first delegations following the re-establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations.

Born in Key West, Fla., Professor Kessen earned a B.S. degree in 1948 from the University of Florida and a Sc.M. degree in 1950 from Brown University. He began his career at Yale as a postdoctoral fellow at the Child Study Center in 1952, the same year he earned his Ph.D. degree from the University. He was named the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology in 1976 and became a professor of pediatrics in 1978.

Professor Kessen chaired the department of psychology 1977-80 and served as Acting Secretary of the University during the fall of 1980. A fellow of Calhoun College, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, Professor Kessen was Acting Master there in the spring of 1989. He retired from Yale in 1997.

A trustee of Barnard College, Professor Kessen was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among other scholarly organizations. His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Russell Sage foundations, and a DeVane Medal for Teaching and Scholarship from Yale’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter. He was to receive the Distinguished Contributions to Education in Child Development Award from the Society for Research and Child Development in April of this year.

In addition to his wife, Marion Lord Kessen, the Yale psychologist is survived by three daughters, Judith Kessen Crawford of Millersville, Md.; Deborah Kessen Trofatter of Branford, Conn.; and Anne Kessen Lowell of St. Louis, Mo.; three sons, Peter C. Kessen of Branford, Conn., Andrew L. Kessen and John M. Kessen, both of Boston, Mass; and by six grandchildren. He was a resident of Branford, Conn.

A memorial service in Professor Kessen’s honor will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the Marquand Chapel at the Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St.

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