Skip to Main Content


The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2005 - Autumn


by Jack El-Hai (Wiley Publishers) In the early 1940s, lobotomy was the last resort in an attempt to relieve intractable psychiatric symptoms. This type of surgery was first performed in the United States in 1936 by neurologist Walter J. Freeman, M.D., who received his undergraduate degree from Yale in 1916, and neurosurgeon James W. Watts, M.D.—who helped pave the way for psychosurgery by conducting research on chimps at the Laboratory of Primate Physiology at Yale. The practice, now discredited, continued for more than 40 years.