Both sons also later attempted suicide

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayEarly in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, Charles Murray notes that:

The explicit rejection of a role for biology in the social sciences occurred from the end of the nineteenth through the beginning of the twentieth centuries, with the leading roles played by Émile Durkheim in sociology, Franz Boas in anthropology, and John Watson in psychology.

I didn’t immediately recognize John Watson. He was the American psychologist who established the psychological school of behaviorism — and I think he had his reasons:

Watson was born in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, to Pickens Butler and Emma Kesiah (née Roe) Watson. His mother, Emma Watson, a very religious woman who adhered to prohibitions against drinking, smoking, and dancing, named Watson after a prominent Baptist minister in hopes that it would help him receive the call to preach the Gospel. In bringing him up, she subjected Watson to harsh religious training that later led him to develop a lifelong antipathy toward all forms of religion and to become an atheist. His alcoholic father left the family to live with two Indian women when Watson was 13 years old (a transgression which Watson never forgave).


Despite his poor academic performance and having been arrested twice during high school (first for fighting, then for discharging firearms within city limits), Watson was able to use his mother’s connections to gain admission to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.


John B. Watson married Mary Ickes, a sister of Harold L. Ickes, while he was in graduate school. They had two children, also named John and Mary Ickes Watson. The younger Mary’s husband was Paul Hartley, and their daughter is the actress, bipolar disorder advocate, and founder of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mariette Hartley.

John B. Watson’s wife Mary later sought divorce due to his ongoing affair with his student, Rosalie Rayner (1898–1935). Watson’s affair had become front-page news during divorce proceedings in the Baltimore newspapers. Mary Ickes Watson, his wife, had searched Rayner’s bedroom. She discovered love letters Watson had written to Rayner. In October 1920, Johns Hopkins University asked Watson to leave his faculty position because of publicity surrounding the affair.

After the divorce was finalized, Watson and Rayner married in 1920 in New Jersey. They remained together until her death in 1935. John and Rosalie had two children, William Rayner Watson (1921) and James Broadus Watson (1924), and they raised them with behaviorist principles that John believed in. Like their half-sister, Mary, both sons also later attempted suicide. William died of suicide in 1954.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    So,,, predilections to fanaticism and to irresponsible behavior run in the family?

    I can buy that, but I don’t see that it’s necessarily via a genetic mechanism. Crazy parents mess their kids up.

  2. Neovictorian says:

    I used to confuse the psychologist and the guy who founded IBM. Not as bad as Manny in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, however:

    “Mike was not official name; I had nicknamed him for Mycroft Holmes, in a story written by Dr. Watson before he founded IBM. This story character would just sit and think—and that’s what Mike did. Mike was a fair dinkum thinkum, sharpest computer you’ll ever meet.”

  3. Graham says:

    Funny. I always see John Watson, behaviorist, and think of James Watson, molecular biologist. How curious.

  4. Paul Watson Hartley says:

    I am Mariette Hartley’s brother. I would like to be included as a member of the Watson family. I am a research philosopher and writer (The Seventh Tool, available at Amazon Books) and PhD in philosophy. I have not attempted suicide, nor will I. I do not drink. My writings lead the way to living in the full-planetary wilderness.

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