Stanley Cobb

Stanley Cobb

Stanley Cobb
Born (1887-12-10)December 10, 1887
Brookline, Massachusetts
Died February 25, 1968(1968-02-25) (aged 80)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Harvard Medical School (M.D.)
Years active 1925-1954
Known for Biological psychiatry

Medical career

Profession Neurologist
Institutions Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston City Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Research Neuroanatomy
Convulsive disorders
Somatic disorders
Notable prizes Kober medal

Stanley Cobb (December 10, 1887 – February 25, 1968) was a neurologist and could be considered "the founder of biological psychiatry in the United States".[1]

Early life

Cobb was born on December 10, 1887 in Brookline, Massachusetts to John Candler Cobb.[2] His great grandmother, Augusta Adams Cobb, abandoned her husband and married Mormon prophet Brigham Young as his third wife (out of some 56 wives) in 1843. Cobb's childhood and education were affected by his stammer, which it is suggested led him to study the neurosciences in an attempt to understand its cause. He married Elizabeth Mason Almy in 1915.[3]

Cobb studied at and later went on to work for the Harvard Medical School. In 1922, Cobb was asked to discover why patients with epilepsy had improved when they were starved. He recruited William Lennox as an assistant to investigate the ketogenic diet that had been proposed as being as effective as starvation in the treatment of epilepsy.[4] In 1925 he was named Harvard's Bullard Professor of Neuropathology.


In 1930, he was appointed director of the newly opened Harvard Neurological Unit at Boston City Hospital. When Cobb moved to the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1934, he was succeeded by Tracey Putnam. Cobb built the department of psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He championed psychoanalysis, giving it respectability when others in that conservative hospital disapproved. He published an annual review of neuropsychiatry in the Archive of Internal Medicine from 1935 to 1959.

When Carl Jung was invited in 1936 to receive an honorary degree by Harvard, he stayed with Cobb. Jung "put his shoes outside his bedroom door to have them shined. Cobb polished them".[5]


"It is enough immortality for me if I may become even a very small part of advancing wisdom, hoping that I have done my bit to make the world a better place."

Stanley Cobb[2]

When he retired in 1954, Cobb directed his interest towards the study of avian neurology. He was passionately opposed to the widespread spraying of DDT. After his favourite pond was sprayed, he was angered to write "Death of a Salt Pond," a difficult task, since he was virtually blind by then. This was first published in a local paper but interest gathered and it achieved widespread circulation after being republished in the Audubon Magazine in May, 1963.

Cobb died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on February 25, 1968 at the age of 80.[6]

Mind-body problem

Throughout his professional career, Cobb was troubled by the attempts of medical scientists to draw hard-and-fast distinctions between mental and physical symptoms, between psychic and somatic causes, between functional and organic diseases, and even between psychology and physiology. Cobb addressed the mind-body problem in Borderlands of Psychiatry (1943):

I solve the mind-body problem by stating that there is no such problem. There are, of course, plenty of problems concerning the "mind", and the "body", and all intermediate levels of integration of the nervous system. What I wish to emphasize is that there is no problem of "mind" versus "body", because biologically no such dichotomy can be made. The dichotomy is an artefact; there is no truth in it, and the discussion has no place in science in 1943... The difference between psychology and physiology is merely one of complexity. The simpler bodily processes are studied in physiological departments; the more complex ones that entail the highest levels of neural integration are studied in psychological departments. There is no biological significance to this division; it is simply an administrative affair, so that the university president will know what salary goes to which professor.[7]

Awards and recognition

Stanley Cobb in his office at Harvard Medical School, 1922.

In 1956, Cobb received the George M. Kober Medal for his contributions to medicine.[8] In 1960, Harvard Medical School established the Stanley Cobb Chair in his honor. In 1967, Cobb received a Distinguished Service Award from the New York Academy of Medicine.[9]

Selected works


  1. Shorter, Edward (March 1998). A History of Psychiatry : From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac. Wiley. p. 263. ISBN 0-471-24531-3.
  2. 1 2 Kubie LS (1969). "Stanley Cobb, M.D. 1887-1968". Psychosom Med. 31 (2): 97–106. PMID 4891206.
  3. Benjamin V. White. "Stanley Cobb: Neurologist and Psychiatrist". Notable American Unitarians. Retrieved 2006-02-23.
  4. S. D. Shorvon (ed); David R. Fish (ed), Emilio Perucca (ed), W. Edwin Dodson (ed) (March 2004). The Treatment of Epilepsy. Blackwell. p. xx–xxii. ISBN 0-632-06046-8. Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  5. Kaufmann, Walter Arnold (June 1992). Freud, Adler, and Jung (Discovering the Mind, Volume 3). Transaction Publishers. p. 427. ISBN 0-88738-395-5.
  6. "Obituary 3 - No Title". Chicago Tribune. 1968-02-27. p. A8. Dr. Stanley Cobb, 80, pioneer investigator of mental illness and diseases of the nervous system, professor emeritus at Harvard university; in Cambridge, Mass.
  7. Cobb, Stanley (January 1943). Borderlands of psychiatry. Harvard University Press. pp. 19–21.
  8. "Harvard Psychiatrist Honored". The New York Times, p. 21. 1956-03-16. Stanley Cobb, "Acceptance of the Kober Medal," Trans. Assoc. Am. Phys. 69 (1956)
  9. Cobb, Stanley, 1887-1968. Papers, 1898-1982 (inclusive), 1901-1968 (bulk): Finding Aid. (H MS c53) [Persistent ID:]. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.

Further reading

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