Albert Ellis was one of the most influential figures in modern psychology, best known for developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). In December 2010, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University acquired his papers, approximately 300 linear feet of correspondence, manuscripts, journals notebooks, and audio materials, documenting his fascinating and controversial life and career. This blog will follow my progress as I sort through and organize these records.
Ellis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1913. He was the oldest of three, a brother, Paul, and a sister, Janet. His father was a salesman and spent a considerable time on the road. When Ellis was four, the family moved to New York, first to an apartment in Manhattan, and later to the Bronx.
When Ellis was twelve, he entered junior high at Public School 79 and then attended the High School of Commerce. Ellis went on to enroll in the Baruch School of Business and Civic Administration of CCNY obtaining his Bachelor of Business Administration in 1934.
He had always been an avid reader, and much of his reading centered on the subjects of love, marriage and sex, leading him to becoming what he called a "sex-love revolutionist." He wrote about these topics frequently and as a result, many friends and family members would approach Ellis for advice. He founded the Love and Marriage Problem (LAMP) Institute for research and therapy, but without a degree in said subject matter, he decided to pursue one in 1942, enrolling in the psychology program at Teachers College. Ellis received his MA in Guidance in 1943, and his PhD in Counseling in 1947, both from Teachers College. After obtaining his PhD, he became chief psychologist of the New Jersey State Diagnostic Center and then chief psychologist of the State of New Jersey. In 1951, he published his first book, The Folklore of Sex.
After practicing liberal psychoanalysis for many years, Ellis left it behind and developed REBT. The development of REBT happened over the course of a few years, from 1953 to 1955. This therapy includes "cognitive, emotional, and action-oriented techniques, but was highly philosophic. It used many methods of ancient philosophies–such as Socrates, Epictetus, and Seneca; but also favored modern methods of Emerson, Dewey, Santayana, Russell, and Wittgenstein." 1 In addition, Ellis was greatly influenced by Afred Korzbyski, who developed the theory of general semantics, and Paul Tillich, an existentialist. The psychologists Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, and Karen Horney were also primary influences.
In 1959, Ellis founded the Albert Ellis Institute in Manhattan, which trained therapists in the United States and abroad, gave professional and public presentations and distributed published materials on REBT.
I was hired at the end of 2010 by Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library to process, (arrange and describe), the Albert Ellis Papers donated to the University by the Albert Ellis Institute and Ellis’s widow, Debbie Joffe Ellis.
I took some photographs of the boxes piled up in my office. While the papers appear a bit chaotic, the fact that I do not have an inventory of these records should provide some surprises as I move through them.
Part of the joy for archivists is research. A substantial part of our job is the description of materials, which will serve as an aid to any future interested parties wishing to conduct research. The descriptive aspect requires reading and learning as much as possible about the subject, or in this case, individual. One document can lead to a quest, usually turning up a story. The most common complaint among fellow archivists is lack of time–we always wish to be able to read everything held within these collections. I hope you will follow me as I post materials here and supply some of my work and history behind them.
Ellis materials, reel to reel
Ellis materials, audio cassette tapes
1. Ellis, Albert, All Out! An Autobiography (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010) 548.