Staff Finds: Yakovlev, Freeman, and Lobotomy

By , May 1, 2018

Paul Yakovlev

While processing the Paul Ivan Yakovlev papers, Center staff came across correspondence, below, between Yakovlev and Walter Freeman regarding lobotomy. The first three images contain discussions between the two about lobotomy, and the last three contain a request from from Freeman for a letter of support, due to an issue with his recommendation of lobotomy for child at Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital, and Yakovlev’s letter of support. Freeman performed the first prefrontal lobotomy in the United States in 1936 (a modified version of one developed by neurologist Egas Moniz) and later performed the first transorbital lobotomy in the United States in 1946. The first image below contains this statement from Freeman, about a month after the first prefrontal lobotomy:

Our latest excitement down here is the Moniz operation of prefrontal lobotomy in the treatment of certain cases of mental disorder like agitated depressions. The results are quite promising. Indeed, one case of agitated depression is better now than she has ever been in her life. I believe that it has great possibilities in the treatment of the disabling anxiety neuroses and early dementia precox.

Unfortunately the psychiatrists in Washington are not sympathetic to the procedure and we shall have to wait for a considerable period before assembling enough material really to be able to talk about it in terms of large numbers of patients treated.

Paul Ivan Yakovlev was a neurologist, researcher, and Clinical Professor of Neuropathology at Harvard Medical School, as well as Curator of the Warren Anatomical Museum (1955-1961). His research was focused on the physiology of early acquired or congenital cerebral defects. Yakovlev’s Collection of Normal and Pathologic Anatomy and Development of the Human Brain was started in 1930 at Monson State Hospital and numbered nearly 1,000 normal and abnormal brain specimens at the time of his death.

The finding aid for the Yakovlev papers can be found here.

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

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