Donor Spotlight: Dr. R. Allen Gardner
Dr. R. Allen Gardner, a noted psychologist was a world-renowned researcher in the field of comparative psychology. A fellow of the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Reno, he was most famous for leading Project Washoe, an attempt to teach American Sign Language (ASL) to a female chimpanzee named Washoe. Along with his late wife, Dr. Beatrix Tugendhut Gardner, also a psychologist, they considered themselves foster parents to young chimps, their efforts to teach them sign language garnering international attention.
Through a generous gift from their estate for more than $5 million, Dr. Gardner has endowed The Cummings Center Endowed Fund, which will advance the mission of the Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology at The University of Akron.
The Gardners adopted the chimpanzee Washoe in 1966 and raised her in their home as if she were a deaf human child. Washoe was believed to be the first non-human to acquire a human language. Early results reported to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New York in 1967 said Washoe had learned signs for hundreds of words and that the chimpanzee created expressions like “water birds” for a pair of swans and “open flower” to gain admittance to a flower garden, and even seemed to be teaching sign language to a young companion. The Gardners did similar tests with four more chimpanzees: Moja, Pili, Tatu and Dar. In his estate, Dr. Gardner, who passed away last year at the age of 91, has also bequeathed his intellectual property (films, books, papers, etc.) to The Cummings Center.
“Allen and Beatrix Gardner were pioneers in the study of nonhuman language, challenging our ideas about the limits of nonhuman primate communication. The rich collection of images, films, and documents now housed at The University of Akron tells the story of how the Gardners raised chimpanzees as they would human children on their ranch in Reno, Nevada,” says Dr. Cathy Faye, executive director of the Cummings Center
“We are so pleased that the Gardners entrusted the Cummings Center with such a generous financial contribution and with the archival records of their work.”