When the University of Kansas was founded in 1865, it had three faculty members and 55 students. At that time psychology had not been separated from philosophy as part of the university's curriculum. The chancellor of the university, R. W. Oliver, taught a "Mental Philosophy."

In 1867 John Fraser, for whom Fraser Hall is named, became chancellor of the university. He taught the mental philosophy course during his six-year tenure. Over the next twenty years, the title of the course evolved; first it became "Moral and Mental Philosophy," then "Mental and Moral Science." During this time it was the expectation that the president of the university would continue to teach the course.

Apparently the first course with a scientific orientation to psychology was taught in 1888, by Olin Templin, as associate professor of philosophy. The textbook was Ladd's Physiological Psychology. By now the University had a faculty of 33 and a student body of 542. By the 1888-1889 year there was also a course in experimental psychology; by 1895, there were seven courses offered. Apparently the first laboratory course and the first course for graduate students were offered in 1899.

During the 1903-1904 academic year, the Department of Philosophy was re-organized; of its 16 courses, five were in psychology. The first course with "psychotherapy" in its title was offered in 1910-1911. It was called "Psycho-Therapy," and was a study of "sleep, fatigue, hypnotism, and other processes having to do with mental and physical health."

The philosophy and psychology curricula were completely separated for the first time in 1916-1917. There were now 15 courses in psychology, with three faculty in that department. Walter S. Hunter was named director of the psychology laboratories. The first Master's degrees in Psychology were apparently awarded in the early 1920's.

Fritz Heider (February 18, 1896 – January 2, 1988) was an Austrian psychologist whose work was related to the Gestalt school. In 1957, Heider was hired by the University of Kansas, after being recruited by social psychologist Roger Barker. In 1958 he published The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, which systematized and expanded upon his creation of balance theory and attribution theory. This was one of his most important works.

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