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The First Lobotomy in the US Happened at George Washington University

The First Lobotomy in the US Happened at George Washington University
All photographs by Harris A Ewing/Saturday Evening Post. Via Wikimedia.

Rosemary Kennedy and Howard Dully were just two of thousands of US citizens in the last century who underwent a new and innovative procedure that often had disastrous effects: the ice-pick lobotomy.

The lobotomy was first introduced by neurologist Egas Moniz as a last resort means to cure severe mental illness, including depression and anxiety. The neurologist and psychiatrist Walter J. Freeman brought the procedure to the United States.

Freeman—along with his colleague, neurosurgeon James W.  Watts—performed the first prefrontal lobotomy on US soil on 63-year-old Alice Hood Hammatt on September 14, 1936, at George Washington University Hospital. Lobotomies subsequently fell out of favor and are generally considered barbaric today; nevertheless, the Nobel Committee has not acted on calls to rescind Moniz’s 1949 prize. Freeman was banned from performing operations in 1967 after one of his patients died from a brain hemorrhage.

Here are some photos of Dr. Freeman and his colleague James Watts’s lobotomy practices:

Photograph by Harris A Ewing via Saturday Evening Post \via wikimedia
Dr. Walter Freeman (left) & Dr. James Watts (right) look at an X-ray prior to conducting a surgery in 1941.
Photograph by Harris A Ewing via Saturday Evening Post \ via wikimedia
Mirror image of a 1941 lobotomy surgery conducted by neurosurgeon Dr. James Watts (right, under the lamp).
Photograph by Harris A Ewing via Saturday Evening Post \ via wikimedia
Neurosurgeon Dr. James Watts is assisted with his gloves prior to 1941 lobotomy surgery.

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Editorial Fellow

Sydney is an editorial fellow at Washingtonian Magazine, where she writes about history, news, food, and events. A recent graduate of the College of William & Mary, she is interested in writing and videography. You can follow her on Twitter @sydneykmahan