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History of Psychology Centre

100 Years of Member Networks

24 October 2019 | by History of Psychology Centre

The 24th of October marks the 118th anniversary of the formation of the British Psychological Society by its 10 founders at University College London in 1901 as well as 100 years since the first BPS Member Networks were formed. And what better way to mark this celebration than to take a look at their history and how and why they were first established?

Member Networks are specialist groups within the BPS, representing a particular area of psychology, which work to develop the profession through training and practice, supporting scientific interests and providing a forum for the exchange of ideas.

Since 1919 the Member Networks have been at the heart of what the BPS represents and what it has achieved as an organisation. Their formation and subsequent years helped shed light on what was going on in UK psychology in the first half of the 20th century and how psychology could provide benefits across a wide range of areas.

Charles S. Myers (1873-1946), a founding member and the first BPS President, was integral to the creation of the first Member Networks.

At the society's annual general meeting in January 1919, Myers reported that there were three groups outside of the BPS who wanted to focus on more specialist areas of psychology (medicine, industry and education).

These psychologists were proposing to set up alternative organisations to cater to these interests, threatening the society’s already low membership (then restricted to those in research and academia).[1]

Myers suggested that the society create its own “Sections” representing different psychological interests to entice these external groups to join the BPS.

Due to these radical proposals, a special general meeting was called in February 1919 and Myers’ suggestions were adopted by the executive committee.

Three initial Sections were formed: Medical, Educational and Industrial.

Along with the change in membership criteria (opening up membership to anyone interested in psychology), the effect the new sections had on membership numbers was considerable.

At the close of 1918 BPS membership stood at 98. However, by the end of 1919 this had increased dramatically to 427, with a large portion of new members attached to the new Medical and Educational Sections.[2]

Myers also soon after founded the National Institute of Industrial Psychology which led the way into research into industrial (later Occupational) psychology for over 50 years and provided a steady stream of members to that Section.

The shrewd creation of the Sections enabled the more academic and general interests in psychology to be kept at the centre of the BPS (within the renamed General Committee) with specialist interests on the periphery.

The Sections (or subsystems as they were known later) became a road to professionalisation, mainly for those working in the fields represented by the groups, allowing the more general psychological pursuits of General Committee to be left untouched while simultaneously increasing membership numbers and revenue.

Not long after the formation of the first Sections, the BPS local Branches were founded in 1924. The branch network grew slowly but progressively across the UK, as more universities began offering teaching and research into psychology.[3]

Another key figure in the ever expanding Member Networks was that of the pioneer in child guidance, Lucy G. Fildes[4] (1884-1968).

In 1942, a decision was reached that psychologists in child guidance would set up a committee to cater to their own needs for a professional association.

Fildes would, in turn, be appointed Chair of this aptly named Fildes Committee.

In 1943, the Ministry of Health carried out a neuroses survey and asked the BPS for evidence. They were referred in part to the Fildes Committee, as the society was keen to involve its professional members as well as its academics.[5]

Later, the Fildes Committee would evolve to be the BPS Committee of Professional Psychologists (Mental Health), leading to the formation of the first BPS Divisions in 1958 (the English Division of Professional Psychologists and the Scottish Division of Professional Psychologists) to jointly represent professional psychologists.

Lucy Fildes would also be a senior founding member of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology in 1966.

After the introduction of the first Sections, Myers commented that:

"…it is hoped in the near future to form further Sections for social psychology, the psychology of aesthetics, animal psychology, etc.’ [6]

While an Aesthetic Psychology Section did briefly exist during the 1930s the Social Psychology Section has been active since 1940 and, since then, the society has launched many more of these specialist interest groups to represent all the various psychological pursuits.

The most recent Member Networks formed last year include Political Psychology, Male Psychology, Defence and Security Psychology and Cyber Psychology just four of over 60 member networks existing today.

Together all these Branches, Divisions, Sections, Faculties and Special Groups contribute enormously to the furthering of psychological understanding, to the influence of psychology upon society, and to what the BPS is able to achieve.

Here’s to another 100 years!


[1] Lovie, S., Three Steps to Heaven: how The British Psychological Society attained its place in the sun, in: Bunn, G.C., Lovie, A.D., Richards, G.D. (eds.), Psychology in Britain: Historical essays and personal perspectives, 2001, pp. 95-114.

[2] Edgell, B., The British Psychological Society, British Journal of Psychology (1947), 37, pp. 113-132.

[3] The South West of England Branch was introduced in 1955, the Welsh Branch in 1955, the Northern Ireland Branch in 1956 and the North East of England Branch in 1957.

[5] BPS Archives, Rawlings, Grace  - Recording, AUD/001/25

[6] Clark-Carter, D., The evolution of the Society, The Psychologist, Vol.14, No.10, October 2001, pp.516.

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