Southard in the Spotlight

By , January 26, 2015

The E.E. (Elmer Ernest) Southard papers were opened to researchers late in 2014. Southard (1876-1920) worked as a neuropathologist and pathologist for the state of Massachusetts. He was the administrator for the first psychopathic department at the Boston State Hospital and worked with Myrtelle Canavan and Mary Jarrett to create the field of psychiatric social work. Southard was also deeply interested in the relationship between psychiatric illness and organic abnormality.

Detail of Southard's handwriting.

Detail of a handwritten note in the collection.

The bulk of the collection consists of files reflecting planned work for a book on psychiatric illness and organic abnormality. Southard was a proponent of the terminological change from ‘dementia praecox’ to ‘schizophrenia’ and some of that work is reflected in the papers. There is also material collected by Frederick P. Gay who wrote a posthumous biography of Southard, The Open Mind. Gay collected recollections of Southard from a wide range of people including Harvey Cushing, Myrtelle Canavan, Karl Menninger, and Roscoe Pound as well as Southard family members.

The collection attracted the attention of Mary Commisso, a writer with the Harvard Medical School Office of Communications. She arranged for a one-to-one session with the processor of the collection and, just before the holiday break, the News published her piece on the Southard collection. Commisso’s curiosity had been piqued by the blog post Massachusetts Heiress on Trial! and was interested to know more about Southard’s role in psychiatric history. Her piece can be found here: Blazing a Trail.

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