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Stanley Cobb, M.D.
Chief of Psychiatry 1934-1955

John Nemiah, M.D.
Chief of Psychiatry 1965-1967

Thomas P. Hackett, MD
Chief of Psychiatry 1974-1989

Jerrold F. Rosenbaum, MD
Chief of Psychiatry 2000-


t present, the venerable traditions of Harvard’s teaching hospitals are “caught” and not “taught.” That is to say, one discovers the history of a particular hospital as a new arrival informally, by being there, eventually meeting the elder statesman and woman, perusing the old photos on the walls, possibly getting the chance to browse through ancient patient records, or by pondering over the portraits hanging in the Trustees’ Rooms. The lore of a place is passed on by the medical practitioners and staff, and most often through mentoring relationships, where the lineage of a place is discussed from time to time, and stories of the “Greats” are passed on from one generation to the next. To augment these important moments, a reconstruction of the history of psychiatric services at the Massachusetts General Hospital has been underway in order to acquaint new residents at a glance with their tradition.

The timeline begins with a period that can only be described as “The Separation of Mind and Body: 1811-1875.” Here, medical patients were treated at the MGH, while all mental cases were shipped immediately across the Charles River to the Charlestown Asylum. A new period began with “The Era of Putnam: 1875-1912,” when James Jackson Putnam, Harvard’s second professor of neurology (the first was Brown-Sequard), opened the Out Patient Department for Diseases of the Nervous System in 1875. Eventually he was assisted by George Waterman, E.W. Taylor, Boris Sidis, and Harry Linenthal. The period from 1912-1934 was something of a psychiatric hiatus at the MGH (The center of neurology at Harvard had shifted to the BCH). The Era of Stanley Cobb began with the official founding of Psychiatry in 1934 with Rockefeller funding, with the express purpose of developing liaison psychiatry in a general hospital setting. Cobb was assisted by Carl Binger, Jacob Finesinger, Erich Lindemann, and others. The Cobb era ended in 1955 when Lindemann took over and launched the new era of community psychiatry. Lindemann was succeeded briefly by John Nemiah, but a revolt against psychoanalysis in the Hospital led to the appointment of Leon Eisenberg, who was intensely interested in psychiatric epidemiology and medical education. This was also the era of Seymour Kety at the McLean and Gerald Klerman at the Lindemann. Eisenberg’s tenure ended in 1974 when Thomas P. Hackett became Chief, assisted by George Murray and Ned Cassem. Cassem took over in 1989 with Hackett’s untimely death, just at the advent of managed care, and Jerrold Rosenbaum succeeded Cassem upon his retirement in 2000. Most importantly, Hackett’s era returned the Department to its original focus of liaison psychiatry, the young medical residents from which—Ted Stern, John Herman, Jerry Rosenbaum, and others, have now matured into our senior professors of today. In this manner, a great tradition continues.

Written by Eugene Taylor, PhD Lecturer on Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Senior Psychologist on the Psychiatry Service at The Massachusetts General Hospital

Erich Lindemann, M.D.
Chief of Psychiatry 1955-1965

Leon Eisenberg, M.D.
Chief of Psychiatry 1967-1974

Ned Cassem, M.D.
Chief of Psychiatry 1989-2000

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Teaching new residents about their tradition:
A history of Psychiatry at MGH
A historical perspective
of MGH Psychiatry

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