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Our History

The originator and first director of the Child Study Center was Arnold Gesell, Ph.D., M.D. Dr. Gesell is considered the father of child development in this country. He had obtained a doctorate in psychology before he attended the Yale School of Medicine. In 1911 the Dean of the medical school made available to Gesell a room in the New Haven Dispensary that became the origin of the Yale Clinic of Child Development. During Gesell's tenure of 37 years, the Clinic moved into a larger building, and the staff grew in size and productivity. Gesell was a meticulous observer and researcher. He was also a prodigious writer in both the scientific and lay press. What made Gesell most famous were his studies of normal child development. Beginning in the 1920's, he used cinema-analysis to document developmental milestones for children from infancy and school age up to and including adolescence. Gesell published more than a dozen books about his findings, but his most famous book is the monumental, An Atlas of Infant Behavior, that contains 3,200 action photographs.

Dr. Gesell retired in 1948, and he was replaced by Milton J.E. Senn, M.D. from Cornell University. Dr. Senn was a pediatrician with psychoanalytic training. He was recruited to serve as both Chairman of Yale’s Department of Pediatrics and Director of the Yale Clinic of Child Development. Dr. Senn changed the latter’s name to the Yale Child Study Center. This was a well thought out decision. By university definition, a center is similar to a full-fledged department, but with a more multidisciplinary faculty. The term “child study” denoted a more active purview than child development, now including pediatrics and psychiatry, as well as psychology. In short, a child study center was more academic and comprehensive than a child development clinic. Senn initiated numerous clinical and research collaborations with pediatrics. He also began a major longitudinal study of infants. After 10 years, he resigned from his chairmanship of pediatrics to devote all of his time to direct the Center. At age 65, Dr. Senn retired. He was in 1966 followed by Dr. Albert J. Solnit, who had been the Center’s first resident in child psychiatry.

Dr. Solnit was additionally a pediatrician, a psychoanalyst, and a social activist. He was exactly the right fit for the 1960’s and 1970’s. Collaborative work with pediatrics and developmental research with children in orphanages, in foster care, or who had been abused continued. New clinical programs were created, while consultations to juvenile courts and to local, state and federal policy makers became major new areas of interest. Dr. Solnit was, however, not only interested in legal, community and applied psychoanalytic understandings, he was aware that the brain was fast becoming the most popular and exciting type of biomedical research.

To be sure that the Child Study Center would be at the forefront of this revolution, 1972 Dr. Solnit hired Donald J. Cohen, a young child psychiatrist who had studied philosophy and psychology at Cambridge as a Fulbright Scholar, was a researcher on brain neurotransmitters, and who would become an adult and child psychoanalyst. In 1983, when Dr. Solnit retired, Dr. Cohen became Director until his death in 2001. Under Dr Cohen, federal grant funding blossomed, particularly in the areas of neurochemistry, molecular and population genetics, and neuroimaging. In addition, Dr. Cohen was deeply committed to international activities. He actively promoted and improved research and clinical services for children and helped foster new clinics and strong collaborations throughout the world. This impact continues to be strongly felt and appreciated.

In 2001, John E. Schowalter, M.D., became Interim and Acting Director of the Center. Dr. Schowalter has played a central role at the Child Study Center and a national and international leadership position in child psychiatry. He had directed the Child Psychiatry Residency Training Program for almost 30 years. His scholarship, clinical work, and mentoring at the Child Study Center, and his national and international role in leading professional organizations are universally known. In 2002, Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., became Director of the Child Study Center. He had previously been chair of Yale’s Department of Psychology. His own research has been part of the Child Study Center under the aegis of the Child Conduct Clinic, an outpatient service devoted to the evaluation and treatment of children referred for aggressive and antisocial behavior.

Throughout the history of the Child Study Center there has been a stellar group of faculty whose contributions in understanding child development and neuropsychiatric disorders are internationally recognized. The challenges are to continue the deep traditions and commitments of the Center. The traditions and commitments include excellence in clinical services, science, and training and efforts to enhance child mental health world-wide.