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Origin of The Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic

Postcard of Phipps

by Neil Grauer

Psychiatry was coming into its own as a medical specialty by the early 20th century. As Sigmund Freud's and Carl Jung's theories of the subconscious were catching fire in Europe, American researchers were rushing to investigate the causes of insanity and learn more about the brain's anatomy. In 1908, a book called A Mind That Found Itself, by Clifford Beers, a recovered psychiatric patient, described the horrifying conditions in American's turn-of-the-century insane asylums.

Henry Phipps
Henry Phipps

Henry Phipps, a Philadelphia steel magnate and one-time partner of Andrew Carnegie, had been a major benefactor to Hopkins, establishing the Phipps Tuberculosis Dispensary in 1905. On a May 1908 visit to the Hospital to see how his TB clinic was operating, Phipps asked William Welch (Dean of the School of Medicine) if any other projects needed funding. Welch promptly handed him a copy of A Mind That Found Itself. He pointed out that it had been published with the help of Adolf Meyer, a Swiss-born and -trained pathologist who then was a professor of psychiatry at Cornell, as well as the worlds' first psychobiologist, intent on determining whether biological factors and mental problems were inseparable. Welch liked Meyer's thinking and told Phipps that Hopkins needed to become a leader in this new field of psychiatry, too. Within a month, Phipps agreed to donate $1.5 million to fund a psychiatric department and clinic.

Clifford Beers
Clifford Beers

Welch swiftly recruited Meyer to become the new department's director in 1908. Meyer became psychiatrist in chief of Hopkins Hospital in 1909 and oversaw the building and development of the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, of which he also became the first director. By 1901 ground was broken for the elegant building, which would have marble floors, gardens, porches, fireplaces, and even a pipe organ in a spacious auditorium. Its formal dedication occurred on April 16, 1913 - although the modern psychiatric concepts it represented coexisted with superstition: The date on a plaque above the main entrance says "1912", because a year ending in "13" was considered bad luck.

- From Leading the Way: A History of Johns Hopkins Medicine, published by the Johns Hopkins Health System Corp., 2012. Used with permission.


Read More About Our History

Minding the Whole Patient  |  Johns Hopkins Gazette  |  March 2013

When Psychiatry Was Very Young  |  Winter 2008  |  Hopkins Medicine Magazine

Where a Mind Could Find Itself  |  Winter 2003  |  Hopkins Medical News

Meeting on the Same Errand: Origins of Mental Hygiene  |  Fall 2003  |  Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine