Silas Weir Mitchell
He studied at the University of Pennsylvania in that city, and received the degree of M.D. at Jefferson Medical College in 1850. During the Civil War he had charge of nervous injuries and maladies at Turners Lane Hospital, Philadelphia, and at the close of the war became a specialist in neurology. In this field Weir Mitchell's name became prominently associated with his introduction of the rest cure, subsequently taken up by the medical world, for nervous diseases, particularly neurasthenia and hysteria. The treatment consisted primarily in isolation, confinement to bed, dieting, electrotherapy and massage; and was popularly know as 'Dr Diet and Dr Quiet'. His medical texts include Injuries of Nerves and Their Consequences (1872) and Fat and Blood (1877). Mitchell's disease (erythromelalgia) is named after him. He also coined the term Phantom Limb during his study of an amputee.
In 1863 he wrote a clever short story, combining physiological and psychological problems, entitled "The Case of George Dedlow", in the Atlantic Monthly. Thenceforward, Mitchell, as a writer, divided his attention between professional and literary pursuits. In the former field, he produced monographs on rattlesnake venom, on intellectual hygiene, on injuries to the nerves, on neurasthenia, on nervous diseases of women, on the effects of gunshot wounds upon the nervous system, and on the relations between nurse, physician, and patient; while in the latter, he wrote juvenile stories, several volumes of respectable verse, and prose fiction of varying merit, which, however, gave him a leading place among the American authors of the close of the 19th century. His historical novels, Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker (1897), The Adventures of François (1898) and The Red City (1909), take high rank in this branch of fiction.
His treatment was also used on Virginia Woolf, who wrote a savage satire of it: "you invoke proportion; order rest in bed; rest in solitude; silence and rest; rest without friends, without books, without messages; six months rest; until a man who went in weighing seven stone six comes out weighing twelve".
Influence on Freud
Freud also adopted Mitchell's use of physical relaxation as an adjunct to therapy, which arguably resulted eventually in the employment of the psychoanalytic couch.
Honors and recognition
Dr. Mitchell's eminence in science and letters was recognized by honorary degrees conferred upon him by several universities at home and abroad and by membership, honorary or active, in many American and foreign learned societies. In 1887 he was president of the Association of American Physicians and in 1908–09 president of the American Neurological Association.
The American Academy of Neurology award for young researchers is named for Dr. Mitchell.
- Weir Mitchell skin — a red, glossy, perspiring skin seen in cases of incomplete irritative lesion of a nerve.
- Weir Mitchell treatment — a method of treating neurasthenia, hysteria, etc., by absolute rest in bed, frequent and abundant feeding, and the systematic use of massage and electricity.
- Mitchell's disease — erythromelalgia.
- Dorland's Medical Dictionary (1938)
- Mitchell, S. Weir and Edward T. Reichert. 1886. Researches upon the Venoms of Poisonous Serpents. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Number 647. The Smithsonian Institution. Washington, District of Columbia. 179 pp.
- 'Circumstance' By S. Weir Mitchell, MD. LL.D. Harvard and Edinburgh. Copyright, 1901, By The Century Co. Published, 1902, By The Century Co.
- "Rest in the Treatment of Nervous Disease" by S. Weir Mitchell
He was a friend and patron of the artist Thomas Eakins, and owned the painting Whistling for Plover. The Philadelphia Chippendale chairs seen in several Eakins paintings – such as William Rush Carving his Allegorical Figure of Schuylkill River (1877) and the bas-relief Knitting (1883) – were borrowed from Mitchell. Following Eakins's 1886 forced resignation from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Mitchell may have recommended the artist's trip to the Badlands of South Dakota.
The artist John Singer Sargent painted two portraits of Mitchell; one is in the collection of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the other, commissioned by the Mutual Assurance Company of Philadelphia in 1902, was recently sold (see External Links, below).
The sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens modeled an 1884 bronze portrait plaque of Mitchell. Mitchell commissioned Saint-Gaudens to create a monument to his deceased daughter Maria: The Angel of Purity, a white marble version of the sculptor's Amor Caritas. Originally installed in Saint Stephen's Church, Philadelphia, it is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Whistling for Plover (1874) by Thomas Eakins.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Angel of Purity (1902) by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
- Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) p. 244
- Ellenberger, p. 244
- Neurology .2006: 66(8):1241-1244 Silas Weir Mitchell discovered and treated causalgia (today known as CRPS/RSD), a condition most often encountered by hand surgeons. He is considered the father of neurology as well as an early pioneer in scientific medicine. He was also a psychiatrist, toxicologist, author, poet, and a celebrity in America and Europe. His many skills and interests led his contemporaries to consider him a genius on par with Benjamin Franklin. His contributions to medicine and particularly hand surgery continue to resonate today.
- Quoted in Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (1996) p. 194
- Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1964) p. 210
- Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Time (1988) p. 62
- Ellenberger, p. 518
- American Academy of Neurology: S. Weir Mitchell award
- Akela Reason, Thomas Eakins and the Uses of History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), p. 200.
- Silas Weir Mitchell by Saint-Gaudens from Smithsonian Institution.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Silas Weir Mitchell|
- Nancy Cervetti, S. Weir Mitchell, 1829-1914: Philadelphia's Literary Physician. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Parss, 2012.
- E. P. Oberholtzer, "Personal Memories of Weir Mitchell," in the Bookman, vol. 39 (1914).
- A. Proust and G. Ballet, The Treatment of Neurasthenia. 1902.
- B. R. Tucker, S. Weir Mitchell. Boston, 1914.
- Talcott Williams, " Dr. S. Weir Mitchell'" in the Century Magazine, vol. 57 (1898).
- Talcott Williams, in several articles in the Book News Monthly, vol. 26 (1907).
- A Catalogue of the Scientific and Literary Work of S. Weir Mitchell. Philadelphia, 1894.
- Silas Weir Mitchell. Biography at WhoNamedIt
- Works by Silas Weir Mitchell at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions color illustrated)
- Works by Silas Weir Mitchell at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)
- Works by Silas Weir Mitchell in the Ball State University Digital Media Repository
- Portrait of Silas Weir Mitchell by John Singer Sargent
- S. Weir Mitchell Award of the American Academy of Neurology
- Silas Weir Mitchell at Find a Grave
- Silas Weir Mitchell — Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences