Health Magazine

L. Joseph Stone & Studies of Normal Personality Development

By Chp

~ contributed by Seth Huffman

Seth Huffman completed a practicum with CHP in Fall 2013, earning his MLIS from Kent State University School of Library and Information Science. He worked with the CHP film collection creating metadata, rehousing and cleaning, and testing for acetate decay. Early in his work, he became especially interested in the films of Dr. L. Joseph Stone.

Dr. L. Joseph Stone was a child psychologist who worked for Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Before starting his work with the Department of Child Study at Vassar in 1939, Stone worked for the Sarah Lawrence College. In the early part 1940 the department at Vassar College was given grants from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the General Education Board.  Stone used the money from these grants to build a sound studio and an editing room.  These would become the foundation of the Vassar Film Program.  It was his dream to produce films on child behavior in order to teach others how to properly raise them and oversee their care.  In the late 1940s Josef Bohmer became the technical director of the Vassar Film Program and he and Stone worked closely for over twenty years.

L. Joseph Stone & Studies of Normal Personality Development

During his time with Vassar, Stone completed a twenty-three film series entitled Studies of Normal Personality Development.  This series consist of seventeen films funded through the University and six that were funded through The Office of Economic Opportunity – Head Start Training films.  The series started in 1941 with the film Finger Painting and ended in 1967 with three Head Start Films, Organizing Free Play, Head Start to Confidence, and Discipline and Self-Control. Most of these films focused on children between the ages of two and eight and their raising.  

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In 1965 the filming of infants and their development in institutions was added to the film program.   This footage was filmed with the intention of creating another series focusing on infant development. 

While all films in this series are notable, there are some which standout as true treasures.  One film which shows the true time and effort that was needed for these films is entitled: This is Robert.  In preparation for this film, Stone filmed a child who was deemed “difficult” for five years.  Starting when Robert was two years old until the time he was seven, Robert was filmed with the hopes of capturing the developing personality.

Three other films that should be mentioned are: When Should Grownups Help and When Should Grownups Stop Fights from 1951, 1952 respectively.  These films along with And Then Ice Cream, 1950, made up a sub-series entitled: Preschool Incidences.

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In these films a clip is shown of a child in a situation and the viewer is asked to decide what action to take.  For example in the film When Should Grownups Help, a little girl is seen with a rope caught around her ankle and in the spokes of her tricycle.  The audience is then asked if they would help the little girl and to what extent.    

One of the last films created was Organizing Free Play.  This film shows scenes from around twelve Head Start and other preschools centers and the many activities that the children can choose to participate in.  These activities and the choices that the children make all are part of the “curriculum of discovery.

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The films in this series are fascinating for many reasons.   They provide a great window into past views on children and their development.   Each film is remarkable not only for the content shown, but for the time and care that Dr. Stone invested each one.  This series covers a period of over twenty-five years and throughout that time the amount of work that was done by Dr. Stone help lay the groundwork for future studies into child development.     


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