Tag Archives: criminal

Recent Blog Post: “Surgery for Desperados” On Neurosurgical Solutions to Criminality

In a recent post on the history of medicine blog Remedia historian of science Delia Gavrus documents efforts to reform criminals through brain surgery. These surgeries, undertaken from the late-nineteenth century through the 1920s, helped set the stage for the advent of the lobotomy in the 1930s. As Gavrus notes,

The belief that surgery on the skull and brain could cure afflictions of the mind may appear out of place in the 1920s, coming as it did many years before the Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz developed a psychosurgical technique in which the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain were severed in an attempt to alleviate symptoms of mental illness (the prefrontal leucotomy or lobotomy, first performed in 1935).

In fact, ‘escaping’ prison by way of surgery on the skull or brain was far from unprecedented in the decades before the introduction of lobotomy. If Gardner didn’t learn about the procedure from a doctor, he might very well have been inspired by the many stories similar to his own which appeared in the newspapers. For instance, a decade and a half earlier, a notorious check forger underwent a much talked about skull operation that drew commentary even from a former chief of the United States Secret Service. The Governor of New York pardoned Edward Grimmell because “[m]any scientific men are interested in seeing whether his criminal tendencies have disappeared, which can only be determined by his conduct when at large […] I am willing that the Parole Board should permit the experiment to be tried in this case […].”

The full post can be read online here.

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HoP in Social History of Medicine

The April 2010 issue of Social History of Medicine contains a number of articles on topics related to the history of psychology and the history of psychiatry. These include pieces on insanity and the right to marry in nineteenth century England, concerns surrounding mentally unfit soldiers during World War Two, and the importance of an individual’s capacity to work to psychosurgery practices in the early twentieth century. A further article explores the psychiatric classifications of criminals in New York State in the first half of the twentieth century (by Stephen Garton, right). Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Capacity to Marry: Law, Medicine and Conceptions of Insanity,” by Ezra Hasson. Continue reading HoP in Social History of Medicine

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