THE PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION was created in Durham, North Carolina, on June 19th, 1957. Its formation was proposed by Dr. J. B. Rhine (Director of the Duke Laboratory) at a Workshop in Parapsychology that was held at the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University. Using the occasion afforded by this wide representation of the field, Dr. J. B. Rhine, Director of the Duke Laboratory, proposed that the group form itself into the nucleus of an international professional society in parapsychology. The time could not have been more opportune nor the audience more receptive.

Its first president was Dr. R. A. McConnell, then of the Biophysics Department, University of Pittsburgh, and the first vice-president was Dr. Gertrude R. Schmeidler of the Department of Psychology, City College of New York. Miss Rhea White was named Secretary Treasurer. Four others were elected to the Council, bringing the total to seven: Miss (later Dr.) Margaret Anderson, Dr. Remi Cadoret, Dr. Karlis Osis, and Mr. (now Dr.) W. G. Roll.

Emphasis was placed on the international and professional character of the association and on promoting better communication between scientists working in the field. The aim of the association was to:

* Advance parapsychology as a science.
* Disseminate knowledge of the field.
* Integrate the findings of parapsychology with those of other branches of science.

Long before the PA became a reality, many of those active in the field had felt a need for better communication with their colleagues. The international convention held by the Parapsychology Foundation at the University of Utrecht, Holland, in 1953, had demonstrated to those present that meetings of professional workers could help to overcome their isolation and act as encouragement to research.

From the start, emphasis was placed on the international and professional character of the Association. It had to be professional in order to attract well-trained and qualified scientists to the membership, and it had to be international to include scientific workers wherever they are. A special committee was established to draft a constitution which would reflect these intentions. Dr. J. G. Pratt became Chairman, two other members being Mrs. Dorothy H. Pope and Mr. Wadih Saleh. The work involved in drafting the Constitution and By-Laws of the Association soon spread beyond this committee until it involved most of the members of the founding Council. 

The Constitution defined the duties of the officers of the Association and established its standing committees. The term of office for Council members, first set at one year, was later extended to two, with terms expiring in alternate years to ensure continuity on Council.

Two main classes of membership were established, Member and Associate, and the professional and educational requirements were set for each. A third category, Honorary Member, was established for persons who had made special literary, philanthropic, or other contributions to the field.

The Constitution provided that the elective power should rest with Members and Associates alike and specified that the nominating group consist of the Members. This ensured that the Council represents the total membership rather than any special interests. The Presidency was limited to a maximum of two consecutive terms and has so far been restricted by the incumbents themselves to one term.

The By-Laws of the Association designated the Journal of Parapsychology as an affiliated publication of the Association, provided for other publications at the discretion of Council, set the amounts of membership dues, and fixed the dates for nominations and elections. In addition to these rules and the directions laid down in the Constitution, a large body of procedures developed in the course of the fifty-three years the Association has been in existence regarding the conduct of official business, such as the holding of elections and the annual conventions.

The Constitution stated that persons who joined the Association during the first year were to be designated Charter Members and Charter Associates. In June, 1958, there were 48 Charter Members and 55 Charter Associates. At the end of 1964 there were 74 Members, 92 Associates, and six Honorary Members. This group, which is no larger than a physics department at a medium-sized university, includes most of the active parapsychologists in the world. The promise that parapsychology holds for reaching a wider understanding of man justifies a much larger working force. It is the hope of the Association that it can help to increase the number of research workers by improving working conditions in the field and the lines of communication both inside it and with the scientific community at large.

The PA held its first convention at City College in New York in 1958 where a number of research papers were presented. Since that time an annual convention has been a focus of activity for the PA. The first convention outside the USA took place in 1964 at Oxford University in England. At present PA conventions are held alternatively in North America and in Europe, reflecting increased research activity in Europe. Conventions outside North America have taken place in England, Germany, Scotland, Holland, and Austria, Iceland, Sweden and France. At the annual convention, two awards are usually given: Outstanding Career Award and Outstanding Contribution Award.

Abstracts of full papers and research briefs presented at the conventions and the presidential address were published in the Journal of Parapsychology until 1964, as Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association until 1971, as Research in Parapsychology (published by Scarecrow Press) until 1993, and then again in the Journal of Parapsychology.

In 1969 the PA became an affiliated organization of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). As of 2010  the PA has 187 full and associate members and a total membership of 316 when affiliates and honorary members are included.