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Clifford W. Beers

Clifford W. Beers: Advocate for the Insane

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    Clifford W. Beers
    Book Description:

    Norman Dain offers a compelling biography of Clifford W. Beers, whose lifelong battle against his own mental illness inspired him to become a champion for mental health. Beers' autobiography,A Mind That Found Itself,created a public outcry in 1908, as it chronicled Beers' experiences during his three-year confinement in an asylum. Despite his disability, Beers went on to found the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (now the National Association for Mental Health), the American Foundation for Mental Hygiene, and the International Committee for Mental Hygiene.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7628-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    William T. Beaty II

    The American Foundation for Mental Hygiene is pleased to introduce this significant biography of Clifford Whittingham Beers, the sponsorship and guidance of which has been a major activity of the Foundation.

    We consider ourselves fortunate to have obtained the scholarly interest and skill of Professor Norman Dain to undertake this important task of portraying the life and times of the founder of the mental hygiene movement. We believe Professor Dain’s work enables greater appreciation of Mr. Beers’ formidable personality and contributions and is a uniquely worthwhile addition to historical literature.

    A special word of commendation is due to the officers...

  2. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    Bertram S. Brown
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xxiii-2)

    In 1908 Clifford W. Beers’A Mind That Found Itselfappeared, published by the venerable firm of Longmans, Green and endorsed by William James and other notable Americans. The book brought Beers immediate fame and became a classic of that genre of books written by former mental patients to expose conditions in mental hospitals and to depict their own struggles with mental illness.A Mind That Found Itselfis the best work of that kind yet published and probably the best known. It was in its time extraordinary and has remained so, not only on account of its literary quality,...

  4. 1 Early Years: Crisis and Collapse
    (pp. 3-18)

    As Clifford Whittingham Beers, descending slowly from the high excitement of mania, celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday in the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane, he had no doubt that society would soon reward him with fame and fortune.¹ Family history, however, afforded no outstanding forebears to justify his hopes for a famous future. His paternal ancestors were obscure Englishmen who came to the British Colonies in North America from Gravesend, Kent, about 1635. All that is known of Clifford Beers’ paternal grandparents is their identity: Anthony Beers, a native of Newtown, Connecticut, who married Betsy Ruggles, from Brookfield, Connecticut. As...

  5. 2 Stamford Hall
    (pp. 19-24)

    The realization that Clifford was disturbed enough to be hospitalized must have been calamitous for the family, as it has been for most families, but especially so for the Beerses. Sam, after suffering for six years, was dying. Now Clifford, the promising young businessman and lively companion, sat mute and unreachable. And who knew whether he might not again attempt suicide? There probably seemed no alternative but to institutionalize him.

    By this time, the beginning of the twentieth century, hospitalization of those thought to be mentally ill was widely accepted in the Western world. Although a stigma remained attached to...

  6. 3 The Hartford Retreat
    (pp. 25-35)

    Beers arrived at Wallingford on March l3 and stayed a little over three months. Everyone was kind to him and Wordin gave his usual attentive care, but Beers remained depressed and withdrawn and suffered from fear of his “enemies.” Wordin allowed him considerable freedom, even letting him wander about the community unattended – a serious mistake, Beers recalled, because his delusions were coupled with a hostility so fierce that “had I had a Gatlin gun I would [have] shot everyone in sight – and then myself.”¹

    The Beers family, discouraged, debated sending Clifford back to a mental hospital, possibly even one for...

  7. 4 Connecticut Hospital for the Insane
    (pp. 36-52)

    On November 8, 1902, fourteen months after entering the Hartford Retreat, and nearly two and a half years after jumping out of his bedroom window, Beers was admitted as an “indigent” to a state hospital, a course that his family had wanted to avoid.¹ But this time there was no choice; they had exhausted the other possibilities. And at Connecticut Hospital for the Insane, at Middletown, although he was to experience and witness abuses even worse than those at the Retreat, Beers finally “recovered.”

    The case records at the Connecticut Hospital (later the Connecticut State Hospital and now the Connecticut...

  8. 5 Back in Circulation
    (pp. 53-60)

    Beers went home on September 10, 1903, with the good wishes of the staff, including Dr. Thomas, who in the case record described his recovery as only “fairly satisfactory” and predicted a recurrence of the illness.¹ Beers had his own forebodings, but he put on an optimistic face. His friends greeted him as “one risen from the dead” and avoided talking about his illness until Beers, anxious to put them at their ease, directed the conversation to the subject – a tactic that enabled him, he believed, to resume warm and easy relationships. One childhood friendship that he renewed, according to...

  9. 6 Writing the Autobiography
    (pp. 61-86)

    The doctors designated Clifford Beers improved, not recovered. He thought he was fine, especially since after only a few days out of the hospital he helped to compose and edit a booklet,Some Bank Work, published for Hoggson Brothers. But he did postpone work on his autobiography, intending instead to compose many letters and talk as much as he could about his life in order to clarify his ideas. His friends would just have to suffer through it – what else were friends for, if not to help one another?¹

    His chance to write letters came during a five-month business trip,...

  10. 7 Publication of A Mind That Found Itself
    (pp. 87-99)

    Various delays postponed publication ofA Mind That Found Itselfuntil March 1908, when it came out in New York and London. The dust jacket included a revised version of Lounsbury’s letter of the year before, and the introduction consisted of William James’ letters of July 1, 1906, and November 10, 1907, prefaced by the following paragraph:

    A story so strange as to challenge belief must needs be presented in a way especially calculated to inspire confidence. Thanks to Professor William James of Harvard University, I am able to cut off incredulity at its source by quoting his opinion. That...

  11. 8 A Reform Movement Launched
    (pp. 100-115)

    WhileA Mind That Found Itselfwas in press Beers had gone ahead with great energy to start his national society, the aim being to announce its formation simultaneously with the book’s publication. The money for its activities would come later. Because his ideas were still amorphous and had to be worked out as he went along, and because he tried to follow the advice of others, especially Adolf Meyer, the picture kept changing.¹

    The “To Whom It May Concern” statement that Meyer had supplied to help Beers raise a loan was also to be used in starting the reform...

  12. 9 The Connecticut Society and Founding the National Committee
    (pp. 116-133)

    Beers spent the early spring of 1908 soliciting charter members for the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene, which was founded by thirteen people on the afternoon of May 6 at the Stokes home in New Haven, a historic house that later became the Yale Faculty Club. Among the members of the temporary executive committee was Dr. Diefendorf, who expressed confidence in Beers and in his plans — thus certifying his mental health — and moved that he be appointed acting secretary, which the meeting approved. (Later he was named executive secretary at twenty dollars a week, finally achieving a salaried position again.)...

  13. 10 “The Ox and the ‘Wild Ass’ ”
    (pp. 134-153)

    Although he did have much to be happy about, Beers was as usual overoptimistic. For the next three years the National Committee remained quiescent while he and a few active members tried to find financial support.

    Their first big effort was the appeal to Rockefeller. Beers, Meyer, Russell, James, and other members of the executive committee worked on this during the spring of 1909, with Clifford the most heavily involved. This activity, together with his work for the Connecticut Society, fully occupied him. In mid-March Beers had suggested, with Meyer’s approval, that Meyer and Russell each submit to him notes...

  14. 11 Phipps “To the Rescue”
    (pp. 154-164)

    Clifford Beers no longer had to worry about what Meyer thought, but he determined that, by following a course similar to the one Meyer advocated, he would demonstrate that his resignation was unwarranted. So, although the Connecticut Society did hire a social worker (with the title of field secretary) to take over much of the aftercare work, Beers continued actively as executive secretary and also accepted an appointment to the Committee on Defectives of the Connecticut State Board of Charities.¹

    He received and replied to a steady stream of letters from former patients and their friends and other interested parties....

  15. 12 The National Committee in Action: The Salmon Years, First Phase
    (pp. 165-192)

    William James had said thatA Mind That Found Itselfcould be considered a success if Clifford Beers managed to found a permanent national mental health organization within five years of its publication. Beers had done it in four. He could look forward to a new life as a married man and as a paid official of a national organization backed by money and prestige. The job now was to accomplish its goals, and for this a medical director must be found. The position was not especially attractive. The National Committee had only enough money to pay someone for a...

  16. 13 “Canning Salmon and Bottling Beers”
    (pp. 193-218)

    Despite the failure to obtain an endowment to match Mrs. Anderson’s pledge, the National Committee was in an excellent position at the war’s end. The discovery that a considerable proportion of drafted men were rejected for armed service because of mental disabilities and then the sensational reports about “shell shock”—the horrors of trench warfare disabled almost as many men as did battle wounds—created a new public awareness of the seriousness of mental problems that proved critical to winning sympathy and money for the work of the National Committee. Precedents for the federal government’s involvement in mental hygiene had...

  17. 14 Branching Out
    (pp. 219-243)

    In the midst of the conflict at the National Committee, Beers had gone ahead with his international organizing. On December 11, 1922, there was a meeting of the organizing committee of the International Committee for Mental Hygiene attended by representatives from Canada, Belgium, and Brazil, as well as the United States (including Russell, Salmon, Clarke, and Hincks). The speeches must have soothed Beers’ hurt ego. He was lauded as a modern counterpart of Philippe Pinel, the great psychiatric reformer of the French Revolution. Dr. Auguste Ley, professor of psychiatry at the University of Brussels and founder of the Belgian National...

  18. 15 The First International Congress on Mental Hygiene
    (pp. 244-253)

    The First International Congress on Mental Hygiene was perhaps the acme of Clifford Beers’ career. Certainly that is the way he regarded it. Running six days, from May 5 through 10, 1930, it was a hectic affair filled with scientific sessions, field trips, luncheons, dinners, and receptions—all packed with thousands of delegates, among them leading practitioners, researchers, and theoreticians in mental hygiene, psychiatry, social work, and allied fields from all over the world. Beers was in the middle of it all, rushing around in an old-fashioned straw hat whose bobbing in the lobbies, reception rooms, and meeting halls marked...

  19. 16 Traveling and Family Troubles
    (pp. 254-268)

    Beers wanted to be freed from routine duties of his secretarial positions to devote his time to raising big money and developing his projects, and he knew just the man to become his executive secretary—the efficient (though, according to others, hucksterish and amoral) Colonel Bullis, who, financially pressed, had changed his mind about working for Beers. After some haggling and a “scene,” Beers got half a year’s salary for Bullis from a contribution and the American Foundation gave the other half, so that Bullis really worked for Beers rather than the National Committee. When Bullis worried about how Williams,...

  20. 17 Twenty-Five Years After: Fame and Honors
    (pp. 269-276)

    Williams’ article was a slap at Beers, and one he would not forget, but it was not so stinging as it might have been. Soon afterward he received the gratifying news that he was to be awarded the Cross of the Knight of the Legion of Honor of France in November 1932. Wanting to make the most of it, for his own sake and that of the cause, Beers asked White to try to reach the French ambassador in Washington with a request to award the ribbon at the embassy. White complied, and the award was made at the French...

  21. 18 Personal Interests
    (pp. 277-288)

    The mid-1930s were somewhat less hectic years for Beers than the previous twenty-five, but they were neither inactive nor fruitless. Beers’ intimate involvement with the National Committee diminished, but he still knew what was going on and took a hand in its affairs when he thought he had to. He also did international work, helped to further the mental hygiene movement in various states. and became involved in several special projects.

    Occupying a good deal of his time was the Second International Congress, which was postponed from 1935 to 1936 and finally 1937, because of both the international situation and...

  22. 19 The Mentally Ill Intrude
    (pp. 289-304)

    Besides the many letters Beers received praising his book, his increased fame brought numerous requests for help from people with mentally ill friends and relatives and from the mentally ill and formerly mentally ill themselves. Some applicants came to his office or telephoned him; many more wrote. There was also a noticeable rise in complaints addressed to him or to the National Committee about conditions at mental hospitals. This increase reflected both the successes and the failures of the mental hygiene movement; Beers’ response indicates the directions his thinking and activities had taken through the years. That more people were...

  23. 20 Final Years: Crisis and Collapse
    (pp. 305-322)
    Clifford W. Beers

    There was increasing doubt whether even the general staff would survive the lingering economic depression which had dried up funds for so many organizations like the National Committee and forced them to curtail their activities. It was discouraging to Beers that, after all the work and the success, the National Committee should still be insecure. If it should go under he believed that some similar organization would have to be created to take its place, so great was the need for mental hygiene work. He predicted at one time that the American Foundation would probably outlive the National Committee, which...

  24. Epilogue
    (pp. 323-332)

    Clifford Beers died disappointed. He had finally, and again, succumbed to the disorder he had dedicated his life to ameliorating and which had destroyed his brothers. It was as if he could not escape the Beers’ family destiny, no matter how he challenged it and, some might say, tempted it by making the world of mental illness nearly his whole existence.

    But despite his final disconsolation, Beers’ life had been the grand success he had hoped for. Mental illness had not been vanquished, thoroughgoing reforms had yet to come, mass support had still to be mobilized. But a great beginning...