Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 295–320 | Cite as

Was William James a Patient at McLean Hospital for the Mentally Ill?

  • Donald CappsEmail author


Rumors that William James was a patient at McLean Asylum near Boston have persisted for several decades. I focus on the reasons why the question has been so difficult to answer in any definitive way; assess the evidence presented in support of the rumors; note that two different periods in James’s life (late twenties and early sixties) have been judged the most likely; and explore the diagnostic question as well: If he was in fact a patient, for what was he being treated? I also discuss evidence that his younger brother Robertson was a patient at McLean and consider the bearing of this evidence on the question of whether William James was a patient at McLean and on the diagnostic issue.


Mental illness William James McLean Hospital Diagnosis Age issue Robertson James 



I want to thank John Capps for bringing the chapter by Louis Menand to my attention and Nathan Carlin for his assistance in tracking down several articles discussed in this paper.


  1. Anderson, J. W. (1979). William James’s depressive period (1867–1872) and the origins of his creativity: A psycho-biographical study. Doctoral dissertation (The University of Chicago).Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J. W. (1980). “The worst kind of melancholy”: William James in 1869. Harvard Library Bulletin, 30, 369–386.Google Scholar
  3. Beam, A. (2001). Gracefully insane: Life and death inside America’s premier mental hospital. New York: Public Affairs Press.Google Scholar
  4. Beers, C. W. (1981). A mind that found itself. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press (Original work published in 1907).Google Scholar
  5. Capps, D. (2003a). From masturbation to homosexuality: A case of displaced moral disapproval. Pastoral Psychology, 51, 249–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Capps, D. (2003b). John Nash’s pre-delusional phase: A case of acute identity confusion. Pastoral Psychology, 51, 361–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Capps, D. (2004a). John Nash’s delusional decade: A case of paranoid schizophrenia. Pastoral Psychology, 52, 193–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Capps, D. (2004b). John Nash’s post-delusional period: A case of transformed narcissism. Pastoral Psychology, 52, 289–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cole, A. H. (2005). A poetic path from melancholy to mourning: Robert Lowell’s elegies as case study. Pastoral Psychology, 54, 1034–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  11. Feinstein, H. M. (1984). Becoming William James. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  12. James, W. (1910). A suggestion about mysticism. The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 7, 85–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. James, W. (1950). The principles of psychology, 2 vols. New York: Dover Publications (Original work published in 1890).Google Scholar
  14. James, W. (1982). The varieties of religious experience. New York: Penguin Books (Original work published in 1902).Google Scholar
  15. James, W. (1987). On some mental effects of the earthquake. In W. James (Ed.) Writings 1902–1910 (pp. 1215–1222). New York: The Library of America (Original work published in 1906).Google Scholar
  16. Jamison, K. R. (1993). Touched with fire: Manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  17. Jamison, K. R. (1995). An unquiet mind: A memoir of moods and madness. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  18. Kazin, A. (1993). William James: To be born again. Princeton University Library Chronicle, 54, 244–258.Google Scholar
  19. Lewis, R. W. B. (1991). The Jameses: A family narrative. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.Google Scholar
  20. Menand, L. (2002). William James and the case of the epileptic patient. In American Studies (pp. 3–30). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  21. Moorman, M. (1992). My sister’s keeper: Learning to cope with a sibling’s mental illness. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  22. Myerson, A., & Boyle, R. D. (1941). The incidence of manic-depressive psychosis in certain socially important families: Preliminary report. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 98, 11–21.Google Scholar
  23. Neugeboren, J. (1997). Imagining Robert: My brother, madness, and survival—a memoir. New York: Henry Holt & Company.Google Scholar
  24. Richards, R. J. (1982). The personal equation in science: William James’s psychological and moral uses of Darwinian theory. Harvard Library Bulletin, 30, 387–425.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Richards, R. J. (1987). Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Roazen, P. (1975). Freud and his followers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  27. Robinson, F. G. (1992). Love’s story told: A life of Henry A. Murray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Simon, L. (1998). Genuine reality: A life of William James. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.Google Scholar
  29. Taylor, E. (Ed.) (1984). William James on exceptional states: The 1896 Lowell lectures. Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
  30. Torrey, E. F., & Miller, J. (2001). The invisible plague: The rise of mental illness from 1750 to the present. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Townsend, K. (1996). Manhood at Harvard: William James and others. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton Theological SeminaryPrincetonUSA

Personalised recommendations