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Charles B. Ferster Papers

VOLUME: 4.5 linear feet

ACCESS: This collection is open to the public upon request. 

COPYRIGHT: Please consult the archivist for information about duplication or publishing of any materials from this collection.

RELATED COLLECTIONS: The Archives of the History of American Psychology at the University of Akron holds records related to Ferster dating from 1956-1969.

Biographical Note

Charles Bohris Ferster, a psychologist, researcher and educator, was born 1 Nov. 1922 in Freehold, N.J. to Julius B. and Molly Madwin Ferster. He graduated with a BS from Rutgers University in 1947, and went on to earn an MA in 1948 and a PhD in 1950 from Columbia University. Ferster married Elyce Zenoff in 1964, and together they had four children: William, Andrea, Sam and Warren.

A behavioral psychologist, Ferster’s research touched on a wide range of issues, from behavioral approaches to the treatment of autism and depression to developing progressive approaches to teaching and learning. Ferster collaborated with B.F. Skinner during five years of research on intermittent reinforcement, which culminated in the publication of Schedules of Reinforcement in 1957.

Ferster held research positions at Harvard (1950-1955) and Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology (1955-1957) as well as a professorial position at Indiana School of Medicine (1957-1962). He served as executive director at the Institute for Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, M.D. (1962-1966) and as professor at Georgetown University (1966-1968).

Ferster joined the faculty of American University in 1969, served as chairman of the psychology department and eventually became director of the Learning Center, a progressive, multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. He died of a heart attack on 3 February 1981.

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains correspondence, lectures, articles, research (including federal grant studies) and course material related to Ferster’s tenure at American University (1968-1981). Many items, especially manuscripts and notes, are undated, untitled and/or unsigned. This collection does not include personal papers or professional writings that do not coincide with Ferster’s time at AU. A personnel file containing administrative documents related to Ferster’s employment, including his CV, is housed separately in the American University Archives.  This collection contains restricted material related to Ferster’s clinical consultancy at the D.C. Institute.

Processing Note

Arrangement of this collection is alphabetical by document type. Arrangement within the document types is chronological, except where material is undated or dated inconsistently. For ease of organization, writings by others are arranged alphabetically by article title. Course Material (lecture notes, syllabi, etc.,) is grouped, wherever possible, by course title.

Box & Folder Listing

Box 1

  • Bibliographies
  • Correspondence, 1968-1981
    • By, to, about Ferster
  • Course Material
    • Faculty annual reports, teaching, independent studies
    • Lecture notes, behavior principles, behavior seminar
    • Behavior theory, learning, teaching practicum
    • Group process
    • Verbal behavior
  • D.C. Institute, restricted
  • Grants and Reports
    • 1960-1966 (2 folders)
    • Linwood Project, 1965-1966
    • Linwood Project, Final Report, parts I-III
    • Linwood Project, Final Report, parts IV, V
    • Linwood Project, Final Report, parts VI-VIII
    • Linwood Project, Final Report, part X (no part IX), plus Follow-up Report, 1973
    • “The Treatment and Education of Autistic Children” (bound report)
    • Chestnut Lodge, 1970
    • Deal, 1973-1981


Box 2

  • Meetings / Interviews, 1973-1976 (2 folders)
  • Notes
    • Miscellaneous - Finances, Georgetown Course, University and the Future, 1964-1969
    • Teaching - Department, Experiments, Outline for clinical book, University Learning Center
  • Presentations
    • Notes, 1956-1960
    • Notes, 1961-1965
    • 1966-1973
    • 1974-1980
    • Undated (2 folders)
  • University Learning Center (2 folders)


Box 3

  • Writings by Ferster
    • April 1953–October 1961
    • January 1962–December 1968
    • Publisher evaluation of mss. 1968
    • 1970-1977
    • March 1978–1979
    • 1979 (continued)
    • Behavior Principles
    • 1980-1981
    • Dated journal notes, commentary
    • Unpublished and undated manuscripts and commentary
  • Writings by Others
    • Cameron (3 folders)
    • Skinner
    • Writings by Others (4 folders)
    • Verbal Behavior, chapters 1-5 (heavily annotated by Ferster)
    • Verbal Behavior, chapters 6-12
    • Verbal Behavior, chapters 13-18