WHITE, WILLIAM ALANSON (1870- 1937)

White, a leading figure in the development of American psychiatry, was bom in New York City and received his medical degree at Long Island College. He was then appointed to the staff of the Binghamton State Hospital. While serving there he became vitally interested in brain pathology, and also collaborated with a psychologist, Boris Sidis, on an investigation of the concept of the unconscious. In 1903 he became superintendent of the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington (later named St. Elizabeth’s Hospital), a position he held for the rest of his life. There he instituted new approaches and sweeping reforms that helped to establish the hospital as a “scientific community,” a phrase that fully applies to this day.White became head of the Government Hospital at a time when practically no research was being conducted at such institutions, since their function was almost entirely custodial. To reverse this tradition, he developed a pathology laboratory which had been started by his predecessors, and organized one of the first psychology laboratories to be located in a mental hospital. He also turned the attention of the hospital toward active treatment of patients by developing a full department of internal medicine. It became the first in the Western Hemisphere to administer malarial therapy for general paresis, and the first in a public mental hospital to be accredited for the training of interns. Under his direction the hospital also recognized the psychological needs of mental patients by installing such services as a circulating library, a beauty parlor, and a cafeteria.White was convinced that students of psychiatry should receive training in a mental hospital setting, and as a result of his efforts, St. Elizabeth’s became a leading center for psychiatric training and was used to train medical officers of the Veterans Administration after World War I. White himself taught both in Army and Navy medical schools, as well as in the Georgetown University and George Washington University Schools of Medicine. In addition to these activities, he played a leading role in forensic psychiatry, not only rendering expert testimony in the courts, but writing many articles and two books on the subject (Insanity and the Criminal Law, 1923, and Crimes and Criminals, 1933). He was also largely instrumental in creating a “pact” which resulted in greater co-operation between the American Bar Association and the American Psychiatric Association.White’s early interest in the unconscious came to full fruition when he came into direct contact with the works of Freud. He and Smith Ely Jelliffe became second only to A. A. Brill in disseminating the psychoanalytic doctrine in the United States. Together, these two men founded and edited the Psychoanalytic Review in 1913. His defense of psychoanalysis at meetings of the American Psychiatric Association is believed to represent a turning-point in the history of the movement in this country. He later became president of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Psychopatholog- ical Association. He was also an early supporter of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene and presided over the first Congress of Mental Hygiene in 1930.His many duties and responsibilities did not prevent White from becoming one of the most voluminous psychiatric authors of his time. In addition to numerous articles and monographs, he wrote seventeen books, including the widely used text Outlines of Psychiatry (1907), Diseases of the Nervous System (with Jelliffe, 1915), Principles of Mental Hygiene (1919), Foundations of Psychiatry (1921), Essays on Psychopathology (1925), and The Meaning of Disease (1926). While he was still alive his admirers established the William Alanson White Foundation, an organization which has exerted an important influence on the development of psychiatry in this country. The William Alanson White Institute was founded in 1943 by Harry Stock Sullivan, Clara Thompson, Erich Fromm, David Rioch, Janet Rioch, and others, “for the training of resourceful psychoanalysts sensitive to man’s changing role in modem society.” Among its other activities today are research on mental illness, psycholinguistics, emotional disturbance in preschool children

Cite this page: Nugent, Pam M.S., "WHITE, WILLIAM ALANSON (1870- 1937)," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/white-william-alanson-1870-1937/ (accessed December 10, 2018).
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