Karl Augustus Menninger was born on July 22, 1893, in Topeka, to Charles Frederick and Florence Vesta (Kinsley) Menninger. As a young man Menninger was inspired by his dentist who mentioned that anyone would be honored to work with Dr. C. F. Menninger, a highly respected doctor. The younger Menninger imagined the possibilities of working with his father to improve medicine. He attended Washburn University, Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Harvard Medical School, where he became fascinated with the realm of psychology. It was a time when some considered psychology pseudo medicine. Menninger completed a medical internship at Boston Psychopathic Hospital.
Menninger married Grace Gaines in 1916. They had three children. In 1919 Menninger and his father opened the Menninger Diagnostic Clinic. Here they planned to build a community of doctors that would cooperate to heal patients; where a patient’s mental health would be as important as his or her physical health. They established the Southard School for the mentally retarded, named for Menninger’s professor, E. E. Southard, chief of psychiatry at Harvard. They also began a training program specifically for nurses working in psychiatry. In 1925 Will Menninger joined his father and brother in the practice, which they renamed the Menninger Sanitarium, and relocated to a 20-acre site. The Menninger Foundation was established in 1941. Menninger married Jeanetta Lyle in 1941. They had one child. Following World War II Menninger helped to establish the Winter Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka, the largest psychiatric training center in the world.
While Menninger specialized in neurology and psychiatry, he built an international reputation through his writing. His books included The Human Mind, The Crime of Punishment, The Vital Balance, Man Against Himself, and Love Against Hate. In The Human Mind, published in 1930, Menninger explained in common terms that psychiatry was a science. The book was quite successful; upon publication it immediately became a Literary Guild selection and sold 200,000 copies. Menninger was said to have made more of an impact on American psychiatry than any other person. He was an advocate for social justice and nuclear disarmament. He supported the rights of neglected and abused children, American Indians, and those in prison. He received numerous awards during his lifetime. He was named the Native Sons and Daughters' Kansan of the Year in 1956. He was inducted into Washburn University’s Sagamore Honor Society in 1960. In 1981 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Menninger worked until the end of his life. He died July 18, 1990, in Topeka.
Hope is an adventure, a going forward, a confident search for a rewarding life.—Dr. Karl Menninger
- Primary sources related to Karl Menninger in Kansas Memory.
- Menninger Foundation Archives database to find information about papers and the records of the Menninger Foundation.
- Karl Menninger trading card
Entry: Menninger, Karl
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2011
Date Modified: January 2016
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