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John C. Whitehorn

Director 1941-1960
John C. Whitehorn

Whitehorn was well established as a biochemist and physiologist at McLean Hospital outside of Boston, as a psychiatrist on the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital and a faculty member at Harvard, when he was appointed psychiatrist-in-chief at Washington University’s Barnes Hospital in St Louis. After a few years there he was recruited to the chair at Johns Hopkins. His legacy extended beyond Hopkins to advocacy for the profession and its patients.

“[He] was appointed to Hopkins in the hope that his background would motivate him to link psychiatry to the basic sciences. In actual fact, he devoted his clinical, teaching and research efforts almost exclusively to psychotherapy, at the time the major activity of psychiatrists….His Guide to Interviewing and Personality Study was a nationwide bible for psychiatric residents for decades….He was taciturn and retiring and often seemed depressed. He was decisive but made decisions only after careful thought. As a result, in the words of one of his residents: ‘He took only tiny steps forward; he never took a step backward.’…His retirement dinner was attended by all but one of his present and former chief residents who were able to come.“Impressed by his keen intelligence, excellent judgment and total integrity, his medical colleagues at Hopkins chose him to head the Medical School curriculum committee. Nationally, his psychiatric colleagues repeatedly chose him to chair major policy-making and funding committees. In these roles he exerted a powerful and continuing but unpublicized influence on the shape of American Psychiatry.”

Jerome D Frank, Impressions of Half a Century at Hopkins. Maryland Psychiatrist 22(1) 1995