Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MENNINGER, KARL (1893-1990)

One of the most distinguished and influential American psychiatrists of the twentieth century and cofounder with his father of the Menninger Clinic (later Foundation), Karl Augustus Menninger was born July 22, 1893, in Topeka, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Menninger attended Harvard University, receiving his medical degree in 1917. Menninger's father, Dr. C. F. Menninger, had already established his practice in Topeka, and, influenced by the family arrangement of the Mayo Clinic, he had planned on his son joining him in practice. This Karl Menninger did, but not as his father had foreseen. While at Harvard, Menninger's chief influence was Elmer Ernest Southard, a professor of neuropathology. Southard turned Menninger's interest toward mental health, and after his return to Topeka Menninger steered the direction of the joint practice toward psychiatry.

In 1920 father and son founded the Menninger Clinic, thus initiating the younger Menninger's long and productive career in Kansas. Five years later, the clinic was complemented by the Menninger Sanitarium in Topeka, and in 1926 the Menningers started the Southard School for children with psychological problems. In 1941 the clinic and sanitarium, by then among the most prestigious in America, were reorganized into the notfor- profit Menninger Foundation. In 1942 Menninger and his brother William, who had also joined his father in the enterprise, established the Topeka Institute for Psychoanalysis. After World War II, during which Menninger had been sent to Europe to assess the need for psychiatric care of military personnel, Karl Menninger became manager of the nation's largest Veterans Administration hospital, Winter Hospital, in Topeka, where students at the newly founded Menninger School of Psychiatry trained.

Menninger's approach to psychiatry during these years became increasingly Freudian. He underwent analysis in 1930 with Chicago psychoanalyst Franz Alexander and again in the early 1940s in New York with Ruth Mack Brunswick. He not only applied these psychoanalytic concepts in his clinical practice but also reflected them in his prolific writing. In 1930 he published The Human Mind, which became a best-seller and a Book-of-the- Month Club selection, the first work by a serious psychiatrist to achieve such popularity. In it, he developed a style that would mark much of his work: the ability to translate abstract concepts into vivid, concrete cases. His second book, Man against Himself (1938), a study of suicide, describes the power of the death instinct when it is directed inward: the externally aggressive will to kill combined with the internal desire to be killed and to die. In addition to the psychiatric books that Menninger continued to publish throughout his life, he also popularized psychiatry in a column about child rearing that he wrote from 1929 to 1942 in Household magazine and in a short-lived advice column in the Ladies' Home Journal (1930–32). In a speech honoring Menninger at the Smithsonian Institution, Erik Erikson said that he "translates Freud into American literature. He is not a popularizer, but an enlightener."

Menninger was a crusader not only for Freud and for enlightenment about mental illness but for social issues as well. Early in his career his causes were directly related to psychiatry. He was chair of the first commission to investigate the role psychiatrists play in legal proceedings, and in 1946 he chaired an investigatory panel studying conditions in Kansas mental hospitals. Later in life he turned his attention to matters such as capital punishment (in 1968 he published The Crime of Punishment ), child neglect (in 1966 he founded The Villages, Inc., a Topeka group home for homeless children), and the mistreatment of Native Americans. In 1978, at the age of eighty-five, he was appointed co–project director of a federal program to develop programs and housing for five southwestern Native tribes.

Menninger was married twice. In 1916 he married Grace Gaines, with whom he had three children: Julia, Robert, and Martha. They divorced in 1941. Later that year he married Jeanetta Lyle, who was to become his collaborator on many projects, including cowriting his third book, Love against Hate, in 1942. They adopted a daughter, Rosemary, in 1948.

In 1981 President Jimmy Carter honored Karl Menninger with the Medal of Freedom for his long career and invaluable contributions to American life. Menninger is the only psychiatrist ever to be so recognized. Menninger died of abdominal cancer in a Topeka hospital in July 1990, just four days short of his ninety-seventh birthday.

Howard J. Faulkner Washburn University

Faulkner, Howard J., and Virginia D. Pruitt, eds. The Selected Correspondence of Karl A. Menninger. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995.

Friedman, Lawrence. Menninger: The Family and the Clinic. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Hall, Bernard. A Psychiatrist's World. New York: Viking Press, 1959.

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