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B MS c97

Benda, Clemens E. (Clemens Ernst), b. 1898. Papers, 1895-1975: Finding Aid

Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)


Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: B MS c97
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Title: Clemens E. Benda papers,
Date(s): 1895-1975 (inclusive)
Quantity: 26 boxes
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Contains early records of the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded, patient records from Benda's private psychiatric practice in Arlington, Mass. and Boston, Mass., correspondence and records from his time as Director of Research at the Fernald School, papers documenting his early studies and clinical work in Berlin before immigrating to the U.S., as well as records produced by research, lecturing, consulting, and other professional activities.

Processing Information:

This finding aid has been posted as a product of converting a heritage finding aid to an electronic format for the purpose of facilitating collection access. Researchers should be aware that this finding aid has not been revised to meet current Center for the History of Medicine descriptive practices, nor nationally promulgated content standards. Please report any difficulties using this guide to Public Services.
Throughout the collection, all thermofax paper was copied. Newspaper clippings were either copied or isolated with acid-neutral paper. Photographs were also isolated with acid-neutral paper with the exception of the "brain photographs" (box 18).
The collection contains a large amount of highly acidic paper most of which Benda used for making carbon copies of outgoing correspondence. This paper, which is scattered throughout the collection, is rapidly deteriorating and should be copied as soon as possible.
The cloth and paper charts from the Walter E. Fernald State School are stored folded as they were found. Ideally, they should be stored flat or rolled, or they should be photographed to prevent loss of information.

Conditions Governing Access:

Access requires advance notice. Access to personal and patient information is restricted to 80 years from the date of creation. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult the Reference Librarian for further information.
The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use:

The Boston Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to Public Services. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from Public Services are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright.

Preferred Citation:

Clemens E. Benda papers, 1895-1975. B MS c97. Boston Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Biographical Note

Clemens Ernst Benda, M.D., was born in Berlin, Germany on 30 May 1898. His father was pathologist, Carl Benda, M.D., and his mother's family had a number of prominent Protestant theologians.
Benda studied philosophy and medicine at the Universities of Berlin, Jena, and Heidelberg. In 1922 he received the Doctor of Medicine degree. He began his medical career in Berlin and later became an Assistant at the Psychiatric Clinic in Heidelberg. He studied existential philosophy with Karl Jaspers and psychiatry with Karl Bonhoeffer and Eugene Bleuer. He developed a close relationship with several European psychologists and existentialists of the 1920s and 1930s. From 1924-1925 he worked from time to time with Ludwig Binswanger in Switzerland. In the early 1930's he became editor of "Die Medizinische Welt" (The Medical World), a journal with a socio-philosophic slant.
In 1935, Benda was forced to leave Germany because of the growing political tensions. Because there was "Jewish blood" in his father's family, he felt compelled to immigrate to the United States, settling in Boston with his wife, Elizabeth, who was also a physician, and their two young sons.
Benda began his career in the United States working with Stanley Cobb, M.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1936, Benda became Director of the Wallace Research Laboratory for the Study of Mental Deficiency at the Wrentham State School in Wrentham, Mass. where he remained until 1947. During this time period, he was also Director of the Children's Unit at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Mass. In 1947, he became Director of Research and Clinical Psychiatry at the Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham, Mass. until he retired in 1962 or 1963 (sources differ). Following his retirement, he continued his private psychiatric and counseling practice until his death in 1975.
During his 40-year career in the United States he held academic appointments at a number of universities and medical schools. These appointments included instructor of neuro-pathology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (through his affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital's Department of Psychiatry); associate professor of abnormal psychology at Clark University; lecturer at the Institute of Pastoral Care at Massachusetts General Hospital; lecturer at Tufts Medical School; and assistant professor of psychology at Boston University School of Theology.
Benda was affiliated with several professional associations, holding the presidency of both the American Association of Neuropathologists and the American Academy of Mental Retardation. He was a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association and a member of the American Association for Mental Retardation.
Benda's research interests included Down's syndrome (mongolism) and cretinism, mental retardation, neuropathology, and existential psychology and psychiatry.

Series in the Collection

Scope And Content Note

The collection spans 1910 to 1975 and has been arranged in four series: Subject Files, Patient Files, Wrentham State School Files, and Walter E. Fernald State School Files (including materials from its predecessor, the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded). All of the material in the first series that predates 1936 is written in German. Later correspondence and material may be written in either German or English. Bibliographies of Benda's monographs and articles in German and English are found in box 1, folders 16-17 of this collection.
The Subject Files (boxes 1-8) consist for the most part of materials Benda accumulated in the course of his research. Although separate series exist for files related to the Wrentham State School and the Walter E. Fernald State School, materials related to these institutions will also be found in this series. Most of this material was organized by Benda according to particular research topics, but researchers should be aware that material relating to mongolism, for example, will also be found throughout the subject files and in the other series.
Of special interest are the records relating to his research interests: blindness (retrolental fibroplasia or retinopathy of prematurity as it is now known) (box 1, folders 24-32); mongolism (or Down's syndrome as it is now known) (boxes 5-6, folders 188-256); and mental deficiency and mental retardation (boxes 4-5, folders 140-186). Records of the "radiation studies" conducted at the Fernald School in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are found under the headings, calcium isotopes (box 1, folders 34-40) and myotonia dystrophia (box 5, folders 257-262).
The correspondence (box 2, folders 57-73) is both personal and professional. The 1935 correspondence related to Benda's attempt to find employment in the United States is located in folders 57-58). Correspondence will also be found in other folders throughout the collection.
The Patient Files, organized by Benda into nine groups, fall into two major categories: records of patients seen in Germany and records of patients seen in the United states. The time span of most of the groups overlaps. The German records date from 1923 through 1936 and consist of two subgroups: the records of tumor patients and the records of other patients. The U.S. records cover a period of approximately 30 years, from the mid-1940s until Benda's death in 1975. They fall into nine groups. Group II consists solely of the records of patients with mongolism. In most cases, the records are arranged according to patient name. Occasionally, files that were labeled with something other than a patient name were found in a grouping, and they were placed at the front of the grouping.
The series is arranged according chronologically according to bulk dates:
A large number of his patients in the 1940s and 1950s were children who were seen for diagnosis. Most of them suffered from mongolism (Down's syndrome), but others were diagnosed with conditions including cerebral palsy, autism, brain injuries, aphasia, epilepsy, and less specific problems such as slow development and adjustment problems.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Benda saw an increasing number of students and adults for a variety of reasons, including psychiatric and neuropsychiatric examinations, psychotherapy, and marriage counseling. He also served as an expert witness and medical examiner in legal cases, for retirement and draft boards, and in regard to claims brought against the German government because of symptoms related to injury of mind or body suffered during the national Socialist Regime (Nazi) from 1933-1945 (box 13, folders 1121-1147). In the late 1960s, almost all of Benda's patients were adults who saw him for psychotherapy or marriage counseling.
Benda saw patients in several locations over the years. His earliest patients in the United States generally saw him in a clinic at the Fernald State School or at his office at 21 Bay State Road, Boston. He also held appointments at hotels in other cities at a colleague's office (Eric Siegel, M.D.) in New York City and at Ann's Nursery School in Norfolk, Conn., for example. In late 1956, he moved most of his practice to 111 Pleasant Street in Arlington, Mass. and remained there until 1973 when he moved the major part of his practice to his second home in Hancock, New Hampshire. For short periods of time, he also had offices at other Massachusetts locations in Arlington, Boston, and Cambridge.
The Wrentham State School Files (box 17) span 1937 to 1961. The series includes general (incoming and outgoing) correspondence for the most part with colleagues from 1945 through 1947 (folders -); "Correspondence: Mongolism" (incoming and outgoing) from 1945-1947 includes correspondence with colleagues requesting reprints, with parents requesting appointments for their children, and correspondence related to the publication in 1946 of Mongolism and Cretinism.
The Walter E. Fernald State School Files (boxes 18-20) include material from the school when it was called the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded (MSFM). It appears that these materials belonged to Walter E. Fernald, M.D. The MSFM records include autopsy reports, photographs of brain sections, and muslin and paper charts related to inheriting mental retardation and used in teaching. The series also contains (box 20, folders) incoming and outgoing correspondence of the eugenics field workers, Ethel C. Macomber and Jane Griffiths, 1913-1917, with various hospitals, schools, and psychiatric institutions in the course of tracing the family histories of MSFM patients. In addition, this correspondence includes letters to and from individuals at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Station for Experimental Evolution in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, regarding eugenics and the "pedigree" of individuals with mongolism.
The Fernald School files also contain general correspondence (incoming and outgoing), 1947-1948, with colleagues, relating to Benda's research, to professional activities, and to specific patients; and outpatient correspondence (outgoing only), 1947-1948.

Appraisal Note:

This collection contained many duplicate versions of articles written by Benda and reprints of articles by Benda and others which were discarded. Also discarded were galleys of several of Benda's books, miscellaneous personal bills, federal income tax returns for the late 1960s and early 1970s, and envelopes in which correspondence was sent to Benda if the return address and date were noted on the letter.

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