Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Biography: Albert Deutsch (23 Oct. 1905-21 June 1961)

An historian and journalist, he was born in New York City. Raised on the lower east side, Deutsch was the fourth of nine brothers and sisters in a poor Jewish family that had recently emigrated from Latvia. At the age of five, following an accident, his right eye had to be enucleated. He was largely self educated. Before finishing high school, he left home and traveled around the United States, working as a longshoreman, a field hand, and a shipyard worker. While on the road, he continued his education in public libraries around the country.
By the early thirties he had returned to New York where he found work doing archival research. In 1934 while surveying documents for a proposed history of the New York State Department of Welfare, he found records on the public care of the mentally ill. Recognizing the social as well as historical value of these records he submitted a written proposal for a history of the public care of the mentally ill in America to Clifford Beers the founder of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. He worked under contract with the Committee for two years to complete The Mentally Ill in America (1937), a 530 page scholarly social history of the care of the mentally ill from colonial times to the present. Remarkable because it was written by someone without a college education or any direct training or experience in psychiatry, this book immediately established Deutsch's reputation as the most important historian of American psychaitry up to that time.
Between 1936 and 1940 while employed at the New York Department of Welfare as a Research Associate, he wrote, with David Schneider, The History of Public Welfare in New York State,1867-1940 (1941). In 1938 he was elected to the newly formed "Innominate Club," which later became the New York Society for the History of Medicine, where he presented many scholarly papers on the social history of psychiatry and medicine. In 1942 he published an important paper, "Historical inter-relationships between medicine and social welfare" in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. In 1944 he contributed scholarly papers on the history of the mental hygiene movement and military psychiatry during the American civil war to One Hundred Years of American Psychiaty, a volume commemorating the centennial of the American Psychiatric Association.
In 1941 Deutsch began to write a daily column for the newspaper PM. Deutsch used this column to speak out on a wide range of contemporary social issues related to health care. In 1945 his columns criticizing the maltreatment of psychiatric patients in veterans hospitals led the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to demand that he name his news sources. He refused and was voted in contempt of Congress. Later the committee rescinded its action and many of Deutsch's suggestions for improved treatment were adopted by the Veterans Administration. In 1945 and 1946 the American Newspaper Guild's gave him its Heywood Broun citations for this series of articles. In 1947 the New York Newspaper Guild honored him for "the most distinguished and effective humanitarian crusading in American journalism."
In 1948 he gathered together a series of articles on mental hospitals written for PM and published them, as well as numerous photographs, as The Shame of the States, a powerful indictment of state hospital care in America. The following year he won the Lasker Award "for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of mental health through his journalistic efforts." In 1958 he he was made an Honorary Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.
In addition to PM, Deutsch published articles various popular magazines including The New York Times Magazine, Colliers, The Woman's Home Companion, The Saturday Evening Post and The Reader's Digest. When PM closed he wrote breifly for other New York newspapers. In 1949 he gave up daily newspaper work in order to explore social problems more deeply. In 1950 he published Our Rejected Children, a book on juvenile delinquency. In 1955 he brought out another crusading book on the need for police reform, The Trouble With Cops.
Deutsch was married once and divorced. He died in England while attending an international research conference convened by the World Federation for Mental Health.

Works about Deutsch include: an obituary in The New York Times, 20 June 1961; M. E. Kenworthy, "Albert Deutsch," American Journal of Psychiatry, 118 (1962):1064-1068; Jeanne L.Brand, "Albert Deutsch: The Historian as Social Reformer," Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 18 (1963):149-57; George Mora, "Three American Historians of Psychiatry: Albert Deutsch, Gregory Zilboorg, George Rosen," in Edwin R. Wallace,IV and Lucius C.Pressley (eds) Essays in the History of Psychiatry,(1980); George Mora, "Early American Historians of Psychiatry," in Mark S. Micale and Roy Porter, (eds.) Discovering the History of Psychiatry,(1994).
In addition to his books and popular articles Deutsch published scholarly articles including: "Dorthea Lynde Dix: Apostle of the Insane," American Journal of Nursing, 36(1936):987-997; and "The cult of curability, its rise and decline," American Journal of Psychiatry, 92 (1936):1261-1280; "Historical inter-relationships between medicine and social welfare," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 11(1942): 485-502.

Edward M. Brown

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