Karl Augustus

Karl Augustus

Menninger, Karl Augustus, 1893-1990, and William Claire Menninger, 1899-1966, American psychiatrists, brothers, b. Topeka, Kans. The Menninger Clinic, conceived with the idea of collecting many specialists in one center, was founded in Topeka in 1919 by Karl and his father, Charles Frederick (1862-1953); in 1925 they were joined by William. The Menninger Foundation, established for research, training, and public education in psychiatry, came into existence in 1941 and soon became a U.S. psychiatric and psychoanalytic center. At the close of World War II, Karl Menninger was instrumental in founding the Winter Veterans Administration Hospital, Topeka, which functioned as a mental hospital and as the center of the largest psychiatric training program in the world. In 2003 the clinic, much smaller than in its heyday, moved to the Houston area, where it continues in association with the Baylor College of Medicine and the Methodist Hospital.

See K. Menninger's The Vital Balance (1963) and Whatever Became of Sin? (1973, repr. 1988) and H. J. Faulkner and V. Pruitt, ed., The Selected Correspondence of Karl A. Menninger, 1919-1945 (1989) and The Selected Correspondence of Karl A. Menninger, 1946-1965 (1995); W. Menninger's Psychiatry in a Troubled World (1948) and A Psychiatrist for a Troubled World (1967).

Karl Augustus Menninger (July 22, 1893 - July 18, 1990), born in Topeka, Kansas, was an American psychiatrist and a member of the famous Menninger family of psychiatrists who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.


Karl Menninger attended Washburn University, Indiana University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was accepted to Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude in 1917.

Beginning with an internship in Kansas City, he worked at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital and taught at Harvard Medical School. In 1919 Menninger returned to Topeka and together with his father, Charles Frederick Menninger, he founded the Menninger Clinic. By 1925, he had attracted enough investors to build the Menninger Sanitarium. His book, The Human Mind appeared in 1930. In 1952 Karl Targownik, who would become one of his closest friends, joined the Clinic. His brother, William C. Menninger, who played a leading role in the US Army's psychiatric work, also later joined them.

The Menninger Foundation was established In 1941. After World War II, Karl Menninger was instrumental in founding the Winter Veterans Administration Hospital, in Topeka. It became the largest psychiatric training center in the world.

In 1967 Chaim Potok quotes Menninger in the dedication page of The Chosen. In 1981 He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Jimmy Carter.


During his career, Menninger wrote a number of influential books. In his first book, The Human Mind, Menninger argued that psychiatry was a science and that the mentally ill were only slightly different than healthy individuals. In The Crime of Punishment, Menninger argued that crime was preventable through psychiatric treatment; punishment was a brutal and inefficient relic of the past. He advocated treating offenders like the mentally ill.

His subsequent books include The Vital Balance, Man Against Himself and Love Against Hate.

Position on insanity

In his publications, Menninger offered demonic oppression and/or possession as a possible answer to many of the unknowns that could not be explained through science, especially in the area of schizophrenia. He correlated this finding biblically and collaborated with the late Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen of New York.

Letter to Thomas Szasz

On October 6, 1988, less than two years before his death, Karl Menninger wrote a letter to Thomas Szasz, author of The Myth of Mental Illness.

In the letter Menninger says that he has just read Szasz's book Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences. Menninger wrote that neither of them liked the situation in which insanity separates men from men and free will is forgotten. After recounting the lack of scientific method in psychology over the years, Menninger expressed his regret that he did not come over to a dialogue with Szasz. Menninger writes the terms diagnosis, patients and treatment in quotes, suggesting that he had agreed to some extent with Szasz's arguments that psychiatric diagnosis is a medical fraud, psychiatric patients are prisoners and psychiatric treatments are tortures. Menninger's letter suggests he had been much closer to Szasz on issues in psychiatry than one might have suspected from reading Szasz's criticisms of Menninger.

Menninger's letter to Szasz and Szasz's reply were released into the public domain and can be read in their entirety at Szasz.com

See also


Menninger has written several books and articles. A selection:

  • 1930. The Human Mind. Garden City, NY: Garden City Pub. Co.
  • 1931. From Sin to Psychiatry, an Interview on the Way to Mental Health with Dr. Karl A. Menninger [by] L. M. Birkhead. Little Blue Books Series #1585. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Press.
  • 1938. Man Against Himself. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
  • 1950. Guide to Psychiatric Books; with a Suggested Basic Reading List. New York: Grune & Stratton.
  • 1952. Manual for Psychiatric Case Study. New York: Grune & Stratton.
  • 1958. Theory of Psychoanalytic Technique. New York: Basic Books.
  • 1959. A Psychiatrist’s World: Selected Papers. New York: Viking Press.
  • 1968. Das Leben als Balance; seelische Gesundheit und Krankheit im Lebensprozess. München: R. Piper.
  • 1972. A Guide to Psychiatric Books in English [by] Karl Menninger. New York: Grune & Stratton.
  • 1978. The Crime of Punishment. New York: Penguin Books.
  • 1978. The Human Mind Revisited: Essays in Honor of Karl A. Menninger. Edited by Sydney Smith. New York: International Universities Press.
  • 1985. Conversations with Dr. Karl Menninger (sound recording)


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