E.M. Jellinek at Worcester: A Bare Beginning

Bunky Jellinek Doesn't Work Here Anymore

Had Bill W. or Dr. Bob been employed in some capacity at Worcester State Hospital for almost a decade in the 1930s, it’s a pretty safe bet there’d be more than a little written material on that patch of their lives in the recovery movement’s literature.  E.M. Jellinek worked at Worcester for almost a decade, yet that phase of his research career is virtually a blank in his biographical treatments.  As it happens, Jellinek wasn’t sitting on his hands at Worcester either; near the end of his tenure there he’d earned an appointment to the New York Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Worcester State Hospital was the first public asylum for the insane in New England; its doors opened on January 12, 1833.  Almost a hundred years later, in 1927, a Schizophrenia Research Service (SRS) was launched at Worcester, under the direction of Roy G. Hoskins.  The service had an unlikely initial chief external funding source in Katherine Dexter McCormick (1875-1967), wife of Stanley Robert McCormick (1874-1947), youngest son of McCormick harvester developer, Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884).

There are two convenient ciphers available in the literature for approaching Worcester’s Schizophrenia Research Service and Jellinek’s experience there.  The first, on the McCormicks, is an article by Miriam Kleiman, titled “Rich, Famous, and Questionably Sane: When a Wealthy Heir’s Family Sought Help from a Hospital for the Insane,” published in 2007 in Prologue Magazine.(1)  The second, published in 1972, is an organizational history of the SRS by David Shakow, its Chief Psychologist and Director of Psychological Research from 1927 to 1946.(2)

The McCormick Background
Soon after his marriage to Katherine Dexter in 1904, Stanley McCormick showed signs of schizophrenia.  He was first hospitalized at McLean Hospital for the Insane in Boston in 1906.  In 1908, he was moved to “Riven Rock,” the McCormick family estate in Santa Barbara, California.(3)  “In 1909,” wrote Kleiman, “Stanley was declared legally incompetent, and a judge appointed Katharine, along with Stanley’s siblings Anita and Harold, to serve as the ‘Personal Care Board’ to direct and oversee his treatment.”

Katherine Dexter McCormick

Katherine McCormick was an educated and accomplished woman.  She was the second female to attend MIT and the first to graduate with a degree in science, having majored in biology; she served as vice-president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and towards the end of her life used her considerable wealth to fund research into oral contraceptives.  Perhaps based in part on her educational background, Katherine believed that her husband’s malady “…was due to a hormonal imbalance, or a defective adrenal gland” and thus inaccessible to Freudian psychotherapy.  “But the doctors did not agree with her,” wrote Kleiman, “and records in the National Archives detail the decades they spent fighting her and trying to diagnose and treat Stanley’s condition, without much progress, through psychotherapy.” Katherine also wished her husband to receive a variety of treatments reflecting new and different therapeutic perspectives in relation to mental disorders.

Matters came to a head in 1928 when Katherine sued for sole guardianship of Stanley.  She attacked the exclusively psychoanalytic treatment approach of Stanley’s psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Kempf.  The case became a battle royal, with a great deal of national press coverage.  It was described by one observer, according to Kleiman, as “’the Freudian equivalent of the Scopes trial.’” In the end, Katherine succeeded in gaining the dismissal of Dr. Kempf but failed to secure sole guardianship.  Instead, the court ordered that two academics be added to Stanley’s Personal Care Board.

In 1927, the year before the famous trial, Katherine sought to bolster physiological and endocrine research on schizophrenia by granting funds to both Harvard and Worcester State Hospital.  At Harvard Medical School, according to Kleiman, she established “a Neuro-Endocrine Research Foundation…in 1927. Originally called the ‘Stanley R. McCormick Memorial Foundation for Neuro-Endocrine Research Corporation,’ it was the first such U.S.research institute to explore the link between endocrinology and mental illness.”

At Worcester, Katherine established the Memorial Foundation for Neuro-Endocrine Research, with Roy Hoskins in charge.  “In setting up the Foundation,” wrote David Shakow,

Mrs. McCormick imposed stringent limitations on the use of the estate funds, directing that money be allotted only to organic studies and not for any purpose related to psychiatry and psychology.  Afterwards, although psychophysiological items were occasionally “sneaked” into the research, funds for these as well as for anything pertaining to psychiatry and psychology had to be obtained from other sources. (1972, p. 70)

There are perhaps intriguing echoes of Jellinek’s future in alcohol studies in his circumstance at Worcester.  One wonders, for example, how much R. Brinkley Smithers’ post-1954 role at NCA reminded Jellinek of Katherine McCormick’s role at the SRS.  It is also notable that the physiological approach initially favored at Worcester must have resonated with the physiological and non-psychiatric inclinations of Mrs. Marty Mann and her Grapevine survey–and the alcoholism movement it helped foster.

Jellinek, as Portrayed in Shakow’s Historical Article
According to his 1972 article, David Shakow (4) clearly esteemed Jellinek and his contribution to the research service’s work very highly.  The group’s physiological and endocrine orientations to its subject matter lent themselves well – indeed, demanded – the pursuit of quantitative and statistical rigor.  This central position for quantitative and statistical excellence provided a promising setting for Jellinek, who arrived in 1931 as the research service’s head of biometry.  Shakow wrote glowingly about the key role biometry and Jellinek played in the service’s approach to research.  Here is his description:

What was probably the unique aspect of our research for a long time was our acceptance of the Biometrics Department, organized by Jellinek upon his arrival, as the central core of our evaluation procedure.  Its two major functions were to help the investigators in their efforts to organize their research data into analyzable form and to provide analyzed material which might serve as a basis for publication.  The first of these embraced safeguarding the completeness of the empirical observations and the evaluation of all data (which involved a check on the incoming reports and the establishment of a suitable filing system); seeking to improve the accuracy of observations; aiding in the detection of experimental errors; simplifying techniques of recording; and periodically reviewing ongoing projects.

The second function called for a quantitative analysis of the observational data for a particular project upon its completion.  This entailed statistical analyses that included not only the establishment of the constants by both large and small sample statistics, as indicated by the nature of the data, but also the correlations and other appropriate statistical analyses.  After discussions with the investigators about their studies and the derived data, the complete analyses were provided them in detailed tables and scatter diagrams along with memoranda spelling out the statistical and logical implications of the data.  These memoranda were usually prepared by Jellinek himself; in those rare instances when they were prepared by his associates or assistants, he carefully reviewed and supplemented them.  Not only were they masterpieces of statistical and logical insight, but they were frequently suffused with a finely honed sense of irony and humor, adding, of course, to the eagerness with which they were awaited. (pp. 71-72)

Jellinek and his Biometrics Department served a number of additional functions for the research service as well.  For instance, Jellinek taught a course in small sample statistics to a group of investigators in 1932 and 1933.  Shakow wrote, “His extensive experience with Fisherian and similar techniques at Elder and Dempster [sic] in West Africa and with the United Fruit Company in Central America, had provided him with unusual background for this task.”  Jellinek also launched a journal, Biometrics Bulletin, in June, 1936, which ran for four issues (in Dec., 1936; Dec., 1937; and Sept., 1938) and to which he and other investigators contributed articles.(5)  Jellinek also published a number of co-authored and singly authored articles in peer-reviewed journals

Perhaps most telling of all – as an indicator of Jellinek’s importance to the group – was the research service’s extensive self-examination conducted in 1934-1935.  When leadership decided in November 1934 that a “major stocktaking” of the team’s research program was needed, Jellinek was appointed chair of the investigative committee – dubbed The Committee on Coordination of Research (see 1972, p. 86).  Jellinek and his committee worked for almost a year on this review.  Submitted on October 11, 1935, Shakow wrote of it:  “The report, 176 pages of text and 98 pages of appendices, was an excellent, hard-hitting document.”

After Hours, Worcester State Hospital (Life Magazine, 1949)

Summing Up
Jellinek left his Worcester post in 1939 and was recruited by Norman Joliffe to head the literature review study being conducted by the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol and funded by the Carnegie Corporation.(6)   Shakow’s article tells us nothing about why Jellinek and Worcester parted ways, but a biographical memo authored in the mid-1960s by Jellinek’s daughter, Ruth Surry, suggested that he and Roy Hoskins fell into some sort of conflict.(7)

Be that as it may, the resonances of Katherine McCormick’s role in setting the research agenda at the Schizophrenia Research Service and Shakow’s account of Jellinek’s important place in that group’s projects certainly suggest to me the value of a substantive study of Jellinek’s work at the SRS from 1931 to 1939.  SRS scientists had to grapple with what schizophrenia was before they felt they could adequately study it; this too forms an interesting part of the backdrop of Jellinek’s later work on alcoholism.  Drawing connections and illuminating disjunctures between Jellinek’s work at Worcester and his later work in alcohol studies would also provide a valuable new window on E.M. Jellinek as a complex and brilliant personality and scientist.  I don’t know if any historically oriented graduate students read this blog, but if any do, then please – one of you – get on this research undertaking ASAP!

(1) Summer 2007, Vol. 39, No. 2, available online at:  http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/summer/mccormick.html

(2) David Shakow, “The Worcester State Hospital Research on Schizophrenia (1927-1046),” Journal of Abnormal Psychology Monograph 80(1):67-110, (August) 1972.

(3) Stanley McCormick’s troubled life was the focus of a 1998 novel, titled Riven Rock by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

(4) On Shakow, see Robin L. Cautin, “David Shakow and schizophrenia research at Worcester State Hospital: The roots of the scientist-practitioner model,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 44(3),219–237, (Summer) 2008.

(5) For example:
Jellinek, E.M., “Measurements of the consistency of fasting oxygen consumption rates in schizophrenic patients and normal controls,” Biometric Bulletin 1:15-43, 1936.
Jellinek, E.M., “Some uses and abuses of statistical method in psychiatry,” Biometric Bulletin 1:97-108, 1937.

(6) On the Carnegie funded study, see Chapter 8, Section I and Chapter 4 of my dissertation – available, respectively, at www.roizen.com/ron/dissch8.htm and www.roizen.com/ron/dissch4.htm.

(7) Surry, Ruth, Memo to R. Brinkley Smithers, in Christopher D. Smithers Foundation Files, Mill Neck, NY.  (I thank Penny Booth Page for providing a copy of this document.)

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