Jelliffe, Smith Ely (1866-1945)

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Smith Jelliffe, an American psychiatrist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 27, 1866, and died in Lake George, New York on September 25, 1945. His father was a school principal. He studied at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and graduated in 1888. He went on to study medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and obtained his doctorate in 1889. After working at St. Mary's Hospital in Brooklyn for a while, he traveled on several occasions to Switzerland and Italy. In 1894 he married Helena Dewey Lemming; they had three daughters and two sons. After becoming a widower he remarried Bee Dobson in 1920.

Jelliffe had always been interested in the literature of the natural sciences and psychology. In the summer of 1896 he met William Alanson White at Binghamton State Hospital, and the two men became close friends. Jelliffe had a brilliant career in neurology and psychiatry, becoming Clinical Professor of Mental Diseases at Fordham University (1907-1912), president of the New York Psychiatric Society, the New York Neurological Society, and the American Psychopathological Association, co-editor, then editor-in-chief of the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases in 1912, and corresponding member of the French and Brazilian neurological societies. He was the author of more than four hundred articles. His The Modern Treatment of Nervous and Mental Diseases, which he co-authored with William Alanson White, appeared in 1913 and has been a classic in the field, with many reprintings.

He met Carl Gustav Jung during the tumultuous Amsterdam congress of 1907 and became interested in Freudian theories, primarily as a way to understand the relationship between body and mind. Not incidentally, this led to his becoming one of the pioneers of psychosomatic medicine. In 1912 he invited Jung to give a series of eight lectures at Fordham University in New York. In 1913, together with William Alanson White, he founded Psychoanalytic Review, the first English-language publication devoted to psychoanalysis and one that was strongly opposed by Ernest Jones. Jelliffe wrote a number of articles on psychoanalytic technique, daydreams, and transference. During one of his many trips abroad, he presided over the July 21, 1928, session of the third Conférence des Psychanalystes de Langue Française (Conference of French-Language Psychoanalysts) in Paris. According to Paul Roazen, it was during this period that he was analyzed by Paul Federn (Roazen, 1976).

His most important contributions were made in the field of psychosomatic medicine. These were collected in his Sketches in Psychosomatic Medicine. His attachment to Charles Darwin's theories led him to promote the field of "paleopsychology" to study the psychological determinants of somatic illnesses. "An organ is a structured piece of experience and a tissue of memories," he wrote in 1923.

According to Abraham Arden Brill, "Jelliffe was the father of American psychosomatic medicine, and it is pleasing to learn that Freud always credited him with this." Freud wrote to Jelliffe on October 2, 1933, concerning an offprint he had just received: "This is an additional element of the medicine of the future you are in the process of preparing." And in February 1939 he wrote: "I know that you have been one of my most sincere and loyal adherents over the years" (in Lewis, 1966).

Alain de Mijolla

See also: United States.


Jelliffe, Smith Ely. (1922). Psychopathology and organic disease, Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 8, 639-651.

. (1939). Sketches in psychosomatic medicine. Washington and New York: Nervous and Mental Disease.

Lewis, Nolan. (1966). Smith Ely Jelliffe 1866-1945: Psychosomatic medicine in America. In Franz Alexander, S. Eisenstein, Martin Grotjahn (Eds.), Psychoanalytic pioneers (pp. 224-234). New York and London: Basic Books,

Oberndorf, Carl P. (1945). Smith Ely Jelliffe. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 26, 186-188.

Roazen, Paul. (1976). Freud and his followers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.