Morton Prince was an American physician who specialized in neurology and abnormal psychology, and was a leading force in establishing psychology as a clinical and academic discipline. He was part of a handful of men who disseminated European ideas about psychopathology, especially in understanding dissociative phenomenon. He was one of the founders of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1906, which he edited until his death in 1929. He also established the Harvard Psychological Clinic in 1927.
Morton Prince came from a wealthy Boston family and was involved in the social and intellectual life of that city. He went to private schools and then to Harvard College. He obtained his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1879. After Harvard, he took a "Grand Tour" of Europe, a near requirement for upper-class Americans at that time. It was in Paris that he visited Jean Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière. He was quite impressed with Charcot's theories but returned to Boston to set up an otolaryngology practice. However, the spell of the charismatic Charcot was strong and he quickly switch his practice to neurology, and even adopted Charcot’s showmanship for teaching his classes.
He became a devotee and avid proponent in the use of suggestion in treating mental illnesses in the United States and drew around him all the important practitioners in the burgeoning field of abnormal psychology of that time: Boris Sidis, James Jackson Putman, William James, G. Stanley Hall, to name but a few. He became the American expert in dissociative disorders, which he also called multiple personality disorder. (Many of his patients today would probably be diagnosed as borderline personality disorder). He published numerous accounts of cases, both in the academic press and the popular press. His most famous case was that of Sally Beauchamp, detailed in The Dissociation of a Personality (1906), which caused some consternation, due both to the sensational nature of the cases presented and to the convoluted prose style.
Prince maintained an active professional life, not only with his psychopathologic studies but as practicing physician as well. He was a prolific writer, publishing some 14 books and numerous essays. He wrote mostly on dissociation and abnormal psychology but also applied his understanding of the unconscious to the politics of his day. Though his psychological ideas never took hold, he remained an eminent figure, founding the Harvard Psychological Clinic in 1927, only two years before his death. That clinic established a major American strong hold for wide-ranging psychological researches into personality that included a number of the luminaries of that field (Henry Murray, Gordon Allport, and Robert W. White), who all became famous extending the ideas that Prince first taught them.
Prince was like many prominent men of psychological science at the turn of the 20th century who have become obscure. They were captivated by the new science of mental life that attempted to wrestle psychopathology from the clutches of moralism that deemed it a degeneracy or from medicine that saw a heredity degeneracy, but had not yet developed an overarching theory. Prince stressed the importance of the subconscious to hysterical symptoms at the same time as Freud, but he was critical of psychoanalysis and preferred to outline his idiosyncratic position that never became popular. And his groundbreaking work on personality became famous via Henry Murray, who took over as director of the Clinic and worked on elaborating it into a more systematic and approachable manner.