Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Psychiatrist

Bookplate, Smith Ely Jelliffe

In 1942, a few years before Smith Ely Jelliffe died at his summer home at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, he started to think about selling his vast collection of books and journals. Twenty thousand, it was estimated – volumes not dollars.

Jelliffe had to part with the library because his savings were decimated in 1929 when the stock market crashed. But he intended to keep a few thousand of his most beloved books about psychiatry, histology, and pharmacology, not to mention Tolstoy and Shakespeare.

I imagine the collection precisely organized from floor to ceiling. Each June the doctor ships his favorites from the family’s West Side apartment to the country house. In the fall the books return to the city.    

An “alienist” who gained renown testifying at some of the famous murder trials of the day, Jelliffe played an important part in the emerging field of psychiatry during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Yet he never fully entered the pantheon with Freud, Jung, Adler, and others.

The psychiatrist, early nineteenth century
(NIH: U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Some historians theorize that the psychiatrist, twice married and father of five, fell out of fashion because his second wife, Belinda (“Bee” or “Lady Bee” if you knew her well), alienated his friends and colleagues. Indeed, she did cause a stir with a shocking autobiography, thinly disguised as a novel, in 1936. Bee had once been her husband’s patient and she spared no one. 


 When Jelliffe was born in Brooklyn in 1866, industry already clogged the waterfront and polluted the creeks. The Navy Yard had been around since 1801. Yet swaths of what was still its own city resembled an old Dutch landscape, with churches, shops, and houses scattered along dirt roads. There were ponds where boys jumped in and stole each other’s clothes.

The son of a public-school principal, Jelliffe never played hooky. In fact, he would zip through the syllabus and ask for more. While studying at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute he developed a particular interest in microorganisms and materia medica, remedies used in the practice of medicine.

After receiving an M.D. from Columbia University around 1890, Jelliffe traveled to Europe. For the rest of his life, he would refer reverentially to his Wanderjahr.

He walked everywhere he could, crisscrossing mountains and valleys. He visited the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, and England. Along the way he attended conferences and met with scientists, expanding his knowledge of germ theory and microbiology.

A youngish Victorian, Jelliffe complained about the licentiousness of the Europeans. He was grateful to live in America “even with its Wanamakers and Anthony Comstocks,” he wrote to his fiancĂ©e Helena Leeming. The prudishness would disappear by the time he immersed himself in psychoanalysis; perhaps even sooner during his honeymoon. 

Traveling in Europe as a young man, Jelliffe developed
wide-ranging intellectual interests. 

Returning to the United States, Jelliffe married Helena, a belle of Park Slope who had studied botany at Barnard College. He took a job with the Brooklyn Board of Health where he analyzed drinking water and held teaching positions at the New York College of Pharmacy, Fordham University, and St. Mary’s Training School for Nurses.

Amid stunning advances in scientific and medical research, Jelliffe’s interest shifted to psychotherapy and psychosomatic illness. Now a visiting neurologist at City Hospital on Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt Island), he treated criminals and the mentally ill – work that precipitated his role as an expert witness in the trial of Harry K. Thaw, husband of the sultry actress Evelyn Nesbit. Her affair with the architect Stanford White drove Thaw to murder the eminent New Yorker.    

Thaw did the deed in a jealous rage, firing three shots at White’s head and shoulder during a late-night show in an open-air theater perched on the roof of the original Madison Square Garden on Twenty-Sixth Street – designed by Stanford White.  

One of several psychiatrists who examined Thaw for the defense, Jelliffe coined the term “brainstorm” to describe Thaw’s mental state while planning and committing the murder. Jelliffe testified at two trials (the first ended in a mistrial). In 1908 Thaw was found innocent by reason of insanity and sentenced to imprisonment for life at a state asylum. Eventually he was freed.


Despite financial debt, Jelliffe seems to have been a happy man. He often traveled to Europe with Helena and found his work stimulating. A prolific writer, he dove into the world of medical publishing with his longtime collaborator William Alanson White. They co-founded a monograph series on mental illness in 1908 and the first American journal devoted to psychoanalysis, The Psychoanalytic Review, in 1913. Later Jelliffe and White wrote Diseases of the Nervous System (1915), a widely respected textbook used in neurology and psychiatry.

Helena died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1916, leaving Jelliffe with oversight of their five children, ages fourteen to 21. Within a year, however, he remarried to Belinda Dobson, a nurse 24 years his junior who had wended her way to New York City from a miserable childhood replete with suicide, murder, violence, and drunkenness in North Carolina and Oklahoma.*

Smith Ely Jelliffe and Belinda, passport photo, 1920s

With Belinda, Smith Ely Jelliffe continued to travel abroad and narrowed his focus to psychosomatic illness, a longtime interest that grew out of his work in neurology.

In Sketches in Psychosomatic Medicine (1939), Jelliffe invoked the Socratic principle, as related by Plato: “One looks to the cure of the ‘soul’ in order to cure the body.”

He died in September 1945, five years after his retirement.   


*Belinda would publish a stunning memoir, For Dear Life (1936) and has been the subject of some scholarship. She died in 1979.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A Long Way from Junction City

Postcard of Junction City, early twentieth century

Someday I’ll get to Junction City, Kansas, where Alice Edwards came of age during the early twentieth century. She had six brothers and sisters, and her daddy went back and forth to Ohio where he’d spent his youth and had another large family with a woman who was not his wife.

When Alice died at the age of 95 in 1993, her daughter said, “It was a long journey for a little girl from a wheat field in Kansas to an old woman in Maine.” 

Author of 23 children’s books about nature, Alice once described her goal as a writer: “To combine a sense of wonder, beauty and appreciation of the world around us without in any way sacrificing scientific accuracy.”

Junction City is located in the Flint Hills, which run longitudinally through central Kansas. Nearly 10,000 square miles, it is the largest area of tallgrass prairie left in the world. The undulating landscape, cast in green and gold, is breathtakingly beautiful.

I know that because I’ve been there, although not to Alice’s hometown.

The days of Junction City started in 1858. The town flourished on the banks of the Kaw River in the shadow of Ft. Riley, which brimmed with Indian killers led by George Armstrong Custer. During the Civil War, Ft. Riley was a defensive post and prison for Confederate soldiers, but fell into disuse for many years after.  

Wild Bill Hickok came to Junction City in 1871, stayed at the Empire Hotel, shot wild birds and restored order at the request of the city marshal. After the outlaws left, everyone went back to farming, lumbering and working in the grain mills and sawmills. 

Junction City, late nineteenth century
Alice’s father John was a farmer. He must have had a terrible time during the 1870s when drought and grasshoppers wrecked the crops and betrayed the promise of the land. Around that time, many Plains farmers switched from corn to wheat, which proved to be less vulnerable to the plagues.  

Alice finished at the top of her high school class. I wasn’t surprised to find she was a debate star. The Kansas high schools have long produced competitive, talented debaters. In fact, the Kansas High School Debating League was established in 1910, just before Alice entered Junction City High School. 

The League sounds awfully dry and bureaucratic. But that was not the case!

The brainchild of Kansas native Richard Rees Price, who had gone off to Harvard for a master’s degree and returned full of verve, the League was part of the University of Kansas Extension Division over which Price presided. It embodied ambitious, progressive ideas about education, which usually is cause for excitement.

Richard Price and KU chancellor Frank Strong took a page from the University of Wisconsin, whose president enunciated the “Wisconsin Idea” in 1904: the boundaries of the university should be one and the same as the borders of the state. It was more than an idea, of course; really a plan to educate all citizens about government, society, and the big issues that wracked the world.

University of Kansas, 1910

Through KU’s Extension Division, any resident of Kansas – even in the smallest town, which probably lacked a public library – could borrow magazines, books, and digests to better understand the federal income tax, immigration restrictions, government ownership of the railways and so forth.

Alice at the University of Kansas

Needless to say, the flow of information was a boon to debaters like Alice and her champion teams.  

Like most American high schools, those in Kansas offered several curricula: commercial, vocational, college preparatory, and normal (teaching). In 1915, Alice received a combined degree in the latter two.

Alice standing, far left

Although members of the Edwards clan had not previously attended college, Alice unquestionably would. She went off to the University of Kansas, established in 1865 on Mount Oread, a treeless ridge in Lawrence about 100 miles west of Junction City. After college she taught in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie.

Alice married her first husband in Kansas in 1918. He was her ticket out of town. Wayne G. Martin, Jr. worked for the Miller Publishing Company, which owned newspapers nationwide. The couple moved east during the 1920s and lived in a suburb of New York City. They divorced in 1945.

Soon after, Alice married Earl Goudey, a science teacher in the local public school. She started writing books for children, including the “Here Come” nature series about deer, bears, bees, beavers, dolphins and other animals. Two of her books were runners-up for the Caldecott Medal.   

It was a long way from Junction City but a journey that had to be taken. Go west or east but go somewhere. Since the turn of the twentieth century, the farm had grown less and less attractive to young people.

In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a Commission on Country Life to study the social problems of rural America and figure out how to make agriculture a more appealing profession. But the tide kept turning.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do, but – well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.”

So spoke a young woman to her small-town suitor in “The Ice Palace,” a 1920 story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Bottled Up

Arthur Bartlett Maurice

On January 7, 1917, a New York writer and editor, Arthur Bartlett Maurice, sailed to Europe on the Nieuw Amsterdam. He had been appointed a delegate to the American Relief Commission in Belgium and would spend three months behind German lines. 

The Commission was headed by future President Herbert Hoover, a master of disaster relief who would brilliantly manage rescue work following the 1927 Mississippi River flood.  

When Maurice returned to the U.S., he published Bottled Up in Belgium, The Last Delegate’s Informal Story, a grim account divided into three sections: “Getting into the Bottle,” “Inside the Bottle,” and “Getting Out of the Bottle.”

During the past few years, I’ve often thought that the last few pages of the book would express my feelings upon learning that President Trump had been defeated.

It is a description of Maurice’s voyage back home on the USS Chicago, which was a target of the German Navy.

He wrote:

The first two nights on deck, near your boat, fully dressed, and with life belt at hand, were the instructions as the vessel neared the danger zone. The third day a man in naval uniform, with black circles about his eyes, appeared in the dining salon. It was the Commandant, for the first time leaving the bridge. The U-boat infested waters were behind us. We were in the open sea. Across it we came back to an America that I had never seen before, and, once this grim job is done and thoroughly done, may I never see again.



Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Son & His Father

Earl Starrett Goudey, 1937

I always hoped to circle back to Earl Starrett Goudey, born in North Adams, Mass. in 1895, a man who took a circuitous path to his vocation.

Earl Goudey spent 35 years teaching biology and sex education to students at the public school in Bronxville, N.Y., a suburban village outside New York City, 29 minutes by train to Grand Central Terminal. Unruffled by controversy, he worked calmly with parents and pastors who wished to keep a lid on things.

The eldest son of Nova Scotian immigrants Henry and Mary Goudey, Earl battered his way out of his boyhood home and navigated through the thicket of church and school before launching himself into the world.

Mary Goudey died of consumption in 1906, leaving her husband with four children, the youngest just two years old. Their father, Henry James Goudey, was a minister affiliated with the Advent Christian Church. He preached in North Adams and Lynn, Mass., Hartford, and Brooklyn.

Reverend Goudey often delivered a speech, “Facts About Hell,” at the local YMCA. With his mother, sister, and brother, Henry had sailed on the schooner Gladiator from Yarmouth to Boston in 1871 and imbibed some sort of gladiatorial ferocity along the way.

Reverend Henry J. Goudey, 1935

He directed his abusive temperament at Earl, forcing the boy to memorize long passages of the Bible as punishment for scrappy behavior. At the age of thirteen, Earl ran away from the family’s wood frame home in Lynn and became a loom setter. (During the late nineteenth century New England’s textile industry had begun to shift to the South, but plenty of cotton and woolen mills remained.)

Earl finished high school at night and, trying to please his father, entered the Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, Mass. In the spring of 1917, on both the verge of graduating and the eve of the U.S. entrance to World War I, Earl headed to the Boston Navy Yard and enlisted. He joined the Navy Medical Corps as an apprentice seaman and served as a Pharmacist’s Mate First Class. 

A PHM1 is a petty officer who – under the supervision of physicians – offers care to naval personnel. In the course of his work on a hospital ship, Earl came to know David Linn Edsall, dean of the Harvard Medical School and an expert in preventive medicine and public health. They worked together on a study of the 1918 flu pandemic, and Edsall encouraged Earl to become a doctor.

First he needed a college degree, so he enrolled at Boston University where he met his first wife, Marjorie Pelton. Her father, who ran a business college, told Earl to skip medicine and go into the brave new world of sales.

Once again Earl danced for others, climbing the ranks to become a top salesman in the soap and ice cream businesses. To assuage his conscience, he also directed “boy’s work” at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston. He would always have a soft spot for wayward boys.

Imagine Earl during these years. Is he frantically trying to find a place in the confusing decade that followed World War I? Is he philosophically ticking through the professions in order to figure out which one is right for him?

When I interviewed Earl’s son Pelton in 1997, he did not know how Earl came to the attention of the superintendent who presided over the nationally-known progressive school in Bronxville. But Willard W. Beatty had a nose for great teachers, and in 1928 Earl joined the faculty.

Clipping about "Elementary Biology," the
sex education class Goudey taught in Bronxville

During the 1920s, Reverend Goudey remarried and divorced and remarried. In 1936, he hopped on a train to Miami, where he felt welcome and decided to stay a while. The Adventists gobbled up his screwball theories about astronomy and physics.

“The earth is an outstretched plain,” he explained, “founded upon the waters of the deep; the sun, moon and stars in motion above; over the whole being the firmamental vault or floor of Heaven.”     

In 1941 Henry published Earth Not A Globe, Scientifically, Geometrically, Philosophically Demonstrated, in which he summoned 75 reasons to explain why the earth is flat.

It was as if he couldn’t stop punishing Earl but realized he’d have to swap out Bible passages for scientific bunk in order to torture his son to the greatest extent possible.

Henry Goudey died in Boston in 1947.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Chasing Jack White (part 3)

The shape of things to come:
more scandals for the White family


I couldn’t understand why John Jay White, Jr. and his wife Grace, glittering New Yorkers with indisputable ancestry, decamped to Washington, D.C. in 1908.

Certainly, Washington had great appeal.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife Edith had banished the gloom, transforming the capital with modern manners both aristocratic and democratic. Progressive politics livened the discourse and expanded the realm of women activists.    

Yet Grace and Jack would seem to belong in their Fifty-Seventh Street brownstone, or in Bar Harbor in the summer, or visiting their unhappily-married daughter Louise at her millionaire husband’s home at Blue Point, Long Island.

Born in New York City in 1861, “Jack” White and his two sisters and two brothers would inherit a fortune upon their father’s death in 1903, but for years before the windfall it was not necessary for any of them to have paid income. Most of the time Jack occupied himself with a few interrelated hobbies.

Around 1890, Jack and Grace started traveling together through the western U.S. They joined the Women’s National Indian Association, formed in 1879 to oppose the white settlement of the Oklahoma Indian Territory.* Captivated by Native American design, the couple began collecting art and objects. Their collection now resides at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Parfleche saddle bag, Cheyenne, around 1900
(National Museum of the American Indian,
gift of John J. White, Jr.)

Increasingly, while Grace stayed in New York City where she volunteered as a public-school inspector, Jack went off to visit tribal leaders and officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He spent some time in Yellowstone National Park. Several of his photographs and articles appeared in popular magazines.   

White's photographs of the construction of a lodge
by the Cheyenne appeared in Forest and Stream, 1907. 

Collecting wampum belts, Jack grew interested in currency. He became a booster of the American Numismatic Society and a member of the American Anthropological Association soon after its founding in 1902.

Surely the scholars in these fields regarded Jack as a dilettante but he took himself seriously.  

Jack came by his third hobby, shooting big game in the American West and East Africa, when wealthy men began the tradition of trophy hunting during the 1890s.

Jack White is at the far right in this photograph, which appeared in an article he wrote for Forest and Stream, 1910.

Unfortunately, Jack wasn’t well in mind or body, according to the masseur who treated him on Friday, September 20, 1907 at the Whites’ home in New York City. The house had been boarded up for the summer and Grace installed in Maine, but she unexpectedly walked through the front door at the very moment that the corpse was being removed by employees of the burial company.

It was a suicide, the masseur reported. The 40-year old woman, Marguerite Carter, lived in a studio on Twenty-Ninth Street where Jack visited often and paid the rent. With Grace’s approval, Marguerite often nursed Jack when he was drunk and upset. It was an arrangement that seemed to work all around, and Jack’s doctor, George V. Foster of New York Hospital, relied on Marguerite to care for his patient.

Grace told the Evening World: “I knew Mrs. Carter. I met her through charitable work. She was undoubtedly insane. There was nothing wrong between her and my husband. She called here to see him and when he would not see her, she killed herself.”

Marguerite had arrived around 8 in the evening with a package she wished to give Jack personally. The masseur blocked Jack’s bedroom door but Marguerite waited around. Finally, at 4 in the morning she shot herself through the head. The package turned out to contain two $100 bills, a pair of gold cufflinks, and a receipt for $700. 

While Marguerite’s friends viewed her body and accompanied it to a crematorium, Jack suffered a breakdown. Dr. Foster came to the rescue. He was a great help to the Whites, fending off a police investigation that was launched when correspondence disappeared from Marguerite’s apartment under mysterious circumstances. 

The doctor asked the coroner to write a letter stating that Marguerite’s death had been a suicide. He explained that the Whites wished to leave town and wanted an assurance they would not be stopped.

Now I understand why Grace and Jack moved to Washington in 1908.

White accompanied Rainsford, rector of St. George's Church
in Manhattan, on several trophy hunts to Africa.  

Four years later, their daughter Louise would follow Marguerite by taking her own life. Not a single reference to the 1907 scandal appeared in the extensive newspaper coverage that followed.

In 1914 Jack moved permanently to London and Grace carried on the pursuit of peace and women’s rights. He died in 1923 and she in 1937.

While Jack could be considered a philanthropist and Grace an off-kilter altruist, they are reminiscent of Daisy and Tom Buchanan, immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby:

“They were careless people . . . they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness . . .”

Rainsford with his trophy, 1909

*Unfortunately, the WNIA also advocated for Indian boarding schools and the Dawes Act, both devastating to Native American culture and community.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Louise Suydam Noble & Her Mother (part 2)

There will be a big story for you some day – maybe in a month, maybe in a year. But when it comes it will be a first-page story with big headlines.

Those were the words of Louise Suydam Noble, speaking with an acquaintance in late January of 1912.  

“You’re just blue. Your mood will pass,” he replied.

Of course, the big story had been dancing in the headlines nationwide since Louise had left her millionaire husband to run away with Fred Noble, a younger man of a much lower socio-economic class four months earlier.
Louise’s mood did not pass, for she longed to be back inside the social whirl. Yet her former friends now shunned her, and it all became too much.

One evening she went uptown to spend the night at the apartment of her mother and sent a message to the landlord of the building where she and Fred, now her husband, lived. She asked the landlord to bring to her We-uns and Dixie, two of her beloved Pomeranian dogs. Pluffles, the third Pomeranian, stayed with the landlord. 

In the wee hours of the morning, Louise secretly returned to the apartment on Twelfth Street. She threw a kimono over her lace nightgown and Fred dressed in a silk shirt, trousers, and silk stockings. They turned on the oven and gas burners and bolted the windows in the apartment.

When Louise’s mother woke the next morning and found her daughter missing, she frantically called the landlord and Louise’s ex-husband Walter and headed downtown, arriving at the same time as Walter and Fred Noble’s father and a police captain with several lieutenants. 

The cops broke the lock, barreled through the furniture that blocked the entrance, and made their way to the kitchen where Louise and Fred lay dead in each other’s arms beside the open stove.   

The Nobles' double suicide joined a
lynching, a drowning, a murder, and a fire
in this newspaper report. 

Louise was the only daughter of Virginia Grace Hoffman White and John Jay White, Jr. Jack, as he was known, descended from Knickerbockers and listed his profession as a “broker” but lived largely off inherited wealth. 

Grace, as she called herself, was born in Cape Palmas, Liberia, where her father, the Episcopal Reverend Cadwallader Colden Hoffman and her mother Caroline devoted their lives to missionary work.

Reverend Cadwallader Colden Hoffman 

After marrying in 1885, Grace and Jack moved to a house on fashionable East Fifty-Seventh Street, and their daughter Louise came along in 1887. Years passed; then suddenly in 1908 the couple left New York City for Washington, D.C. When I discovered this detail, it struck me as an odd move.

But it suited Grace. Ensconced in a limestone mansion near Dupont Circle, she became involved in various charities and causes. After her daughter’s scandal and death in 1911-1912, Grace plunged headlong into the Progressive Era. She became active in the National Woman’s Party founded by suffragist Alice Paul. After the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920, the NWP kept pushing for an Equal Rights Amendment.   

Grace further burnished her reputation when the Chicago reformer Jane Addams, who established the social settlement Hull House in 1889, invited the worshipful Grace to join the board of the Woman’s Peace Party, established in 1915.

Evidently Grace gained a few enemies because of her indiscretion. Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian-born activist, wrote a blistering four-page letter to Grace after she became aware of catty gossip concerning her own appointment as the International Secretary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). 
Grace stands fourth from right at a WILPF meeting in Zurich in 1919.

“Before and after the organizing meeting in Washington,” Schwimmer wrote,

I received press cuttings from all over the country . . . representing me as a ‘person who had to leave England because she behaved so aggressively.’ I don’t know whose interest it was to publish such absolutely unfounded stories. I had to tell you all these things because we cannot work for peace and harmony on the basis of mistrust and discord.

In 1934 while serving as chair of the New York City branch of the WILPF, Grace was described as suffering from a “Mayflower complex” and probably better suited to the D.A.R. than the WILPF.
Grace is seated third from left in this 1934 photograph of NWP leadership.

In keeping with the ethos of the “New Woman,” Grace became a poet and published Up Ship, Wings to Dare, Christus, and other collections of verse.

During these years Jack White lived far away, having moved permanently to London in 1914.

Grace died in 1937 surrounded by servants at The Kedge, the White family home in Bar Harbor, Maine, overlooking Frenchman Bay off Mt. Desert Island.
To be continued.

Photos of WILPF and NWP courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History at Smith College

The Psychiatrist

Bookplate, Smith Ely Jelliffe In 1942, a few years before Smith Ely Jelliffe died at his summer home at Lake George in the Adirondack Mounta...