In 1963 the station was renamed the Institute of Child Behavior and Development due to negative association amongst the public with the phrase "Child Welfare". In 1974 the Institute was closed as a research establishment.
The station was founded in 1917. A leader of the Iowa Congress of Mothers (a chapter of the National Congress of Mothers, which later became the Parent-Teacher Association) named Cora Bussey Hillis arranged for the station to be sited at the University of Iowa and procured funding from the state legislature and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Hillis worked with Carl Emil Seashore, then the head of the psychology department at the University of Iowa, to establish the station. Seashore helped author the following law, which was eventually signed into law in 1917:
Section 1. That the state board of education is hereby authorized to establish and maintain at Iowa City as an integral part of the State University, the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, having as its objects the investigation of the best scientific methods of conserving and developing the normal child, the dissemination of the information acquired by such investigation, and the training of students for work in such fields.
Section 2. That the management and control of such station shall be vested in a director appointed by the said board of education, and an advisory board of seven members to be appointed by the president of the university from the faculty of the graduate college of said university.