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Christiana Drummond Morgan

Embarks on research career, Co-creates Thematic Apperception Test

American clinician who co-created the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).

Christiana Drummond Morgan grew up living the life of a debutante and may well have become no more than a society figure. Because she came of age at a time of social upheaval throughout the world, and because her life crossed paths with many influential scientists and intellectuals, she was able to expand her talents and make important contributions to behavioral therapy. Her unorthodox romance with the behaviorist Henry Murray no doubt opened many doors for her, and she served as an inspiration for much of Murray's work as well. Yet the affair also kept her, in large part, in Murray's shadow. Combined with often precarious health, as well as the skepticism male psychologists harbored toward female psychologists, it is not merely a platitude to say that she possessed a store of untapped potential.

Born in Boston on October 6, 1897, Morgan was the second of three daughters of William and Isabella Coolidge Councilman. William Councilman was a physician who served as a professor at Harvard Medical School. Young Christiana and her sisters were raised like many well-to-do girls and attended private schools. In 1917 she met William Morgan, a Harvard student; they became engaged shortly before he went to fight in the First World War. She went to New York, where she enrolled in a nursing program and received a nurse's aide certificate. When the war ended, William Morgan returned, and the two were married in 1919. A year later Christiana Morgan gave birth to a son, Thomas.

Embarks on research career

The family moved to New York, where Morgan studied at the Art Students League from 1921 to 1924. Around this time the Morgans became increasingly close to Henry Murray and his wife. Henry Murray and Christiana Morgan were quickly drawn to each other but were reluctant to begin an affair. Both allowed themselves to be analyzed in Switzerland by the psychiatrist and former Freud disciple Carl Jung, who encouraged the affair as a way for both to unlock their unconscious. Although both Morgan and Murray remained married to their respective spouses, (her husband died in 1934; Murray's wife in 1964), the two were together until Morgan's death. In the 1930s Murray and Morgan were part of the group that created the Harvard Psychological Clinic; later, Morgan was named a Radcliffe Research Fellow, a title she held for the rest of her career.

Co-creates Thematic Apperception Test

Morgan's analysis with Jung led to a series of "visions" experienced in a semi-hypnotic state. Jung encouraged her to draw these visions, which he used in his ongoing research into the unconscious mind. Morgan's visions eventually became less psychologically provocative to Jung, but her experience set the stage for what she and Murray would develop together in the 1930s in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).

The TAT was a series of pictures (the test today consists of 31 pictures), each depicting some sort of interpersonal problem between people. Subjects are asked to create a short narrative story to go along with each picture. Different pictures can be used for men, women, and children. The idea behind the TAT is that as a person composes a story to accompany each picture, he or she will unconsciously reveal information that would not otherwise be shared. Based on this information, a trained psychologist can determine some of the dynamics of the individual's personality. Morgan and Murray first published their description of TAT in 1935. Initially, the TAT was known as the Morgan-Murray Thematic Apperception Test. Later, Murray was given primary credit for the test, along with "the staff of the Harvard Psychological Clinic." Why Morgan's credit was downplayed has been the source of speculation, but apparently she did not question this move.

For the next three decades, Morgan continued her work at Harvard, although she was plagued by a number of health problems. Her blood pressure was so dangerously high that she was obliged to undergo an operation called a radical sympathectomy, which severs the body's sympathetic nervous system from the spinal cord. (This operation, which can have severe side effects, is no longer performed today.) In later years, she succumbed to alcoholism. All the while her stormy relationship with Murray continued. By now Murray was recognized as an important figure in behavioral psychology. His interest in her seemed to wax and wane—and even though she was aware of what was happening, her emotional attachment was too strong for her to break off the relationship. In the mid-1960s Murray became infatuated with a younger woman, although he did not break off his relationship with Morgan. The strain appeared to be too much for Morgan, now 69. On March 14, 1967, during a trip with Murray to the Virgin islands, Morgan drowned herself.

George A. Milite

Further Reading

Douglas, Claire. Translate This Darkness: The Life of Christiana Morgan. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists