Will, Edwin, C. F., Karl, and Flo Menninger made contributions of national significance in the field of mental health. The programs they started continued to expand under the umbrella of the Menninger Foundation.
A sense of isolation as a general practitioner and a visit to the Mayo Clinic inspired a 46-year old Kansas doctor to start a clinic in his hometown. Returning from that 1908 visit, he shared his idea with his wife and his sons, Karl age 14, Edwin who was 11, and Bill age 8. During breakfast he told them, "It will take some time, but these boys will be doctors, and we will have our clinic here." That doctor was C. F. Menninger and that discussion at the family breakfast table was the inspiration for what became an internationally known psychiatric treatment and training facility.
In 1920, Dr. C. F. Menninger's oldest son Karl joined his father at the clinic. Karl had obtained a medical degree from Harvard and became interested in mental illness while completing psychiatric training under Dr. Ernest Southard of Boston. William, the youngest son, returned after completing his medical training at Cornell and additional training at New York's Bellevue Hospital. To distinguish between the various Menninger doctors patients started referring to them as "Dr. C.F.," "Dr. Karl," and "Dr. Will."
In 1925, the same year that Dr. Will joined the practice, Dr. C.F. and Dr. Karl established a psychiatric hospital to aid in the work at the clinic. The next year, they opened the Southard School for mentally ill children. The facility was approved for residency training by the American Medical Association in 1933.
Their approach to treating the mentally ill reflected a concern for the total environment of the patient. The Menninger approach to mental illness was characterized as "a mixture of Freud and friendliness." This interest in psychiatry developed in an era when the mentally ill were viewed with suspicion but the Topeka community soon provided support.
Drs. Karl and Will became nationally recognized leaders in the field of psychiatry. The programs they started continued to expand under the "umbrella" of the Menninger Foundation, a non-profit center, which supported a variety of treatment, prevention, training, research, and publication efforts. The Menninger Foundation partnered with the Baylor College of Medicine and relocated to Houston in 2003. The Menninger archives collection, from its many years in Topeka, is now housed at the Kansas Historical Society's State Archives. All of this is the result of a breakfast table conversation in 1908.
Dr. C. F. Menninger, a Topeka general practitioner, became interested in mental illness in 1920 after his eldest son Karl completed a medical degree at Harvard. Dr. C. F. and Dr. Karl received psychiatric training and in 1925, when Dr. Will joined the family practice, the Menningers added a psychiatric hospital to their Topeka clinic. Within a few years, they had built an internationally known treatment and training center. And for many years, Doctors Will and Karl Menninger made contributions of national significance in the field of mental health.
Entry: Menninger Clinic
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: March 2013
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