Putting Psychiatry on the Map

  • Medicine & Health
  • 1932

As early as 1914 the Rockefeller Foundation had dabbled in what was then called “mental hygiene,” but in the 1930s the foundation became the driving force that built psychiatry into a serious academic discipline. In foundation reports, the expressed goal was “to find, to train, and to encourage first-rate [efforts at] correcting nervous disorders and mental behavior.” This would “counter the economic losses” of personal breakdowns and institutionalizations, “integrate into standard medical curricula a neglected field of medicine,” and “improve overall medical care by helping doctors understand connections between the body and mind.”

In its first ten years, this effort poured $12 million of John Rockefeller’s money into things like improving medical-school teaching, endowing university psychiatry departments, building research centers, and distributing fellowships to scientists working on mental health. By 1943, fully three quarters of all of the spending by Rockefeller’s division of medical sciences was being funneled into psychiatry. Among other results, this established full-time departments of psychiatry in a large number of hospitals and medical schools, including at McGill, Chicago, Duke, Harvard, St. Louis, Tulane, Yale, Washington, and other places.