Clemens E. Benda papers
- 1895-1975 (inclusive)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.
Conditions Governing Use
Records are in English and German. All pre-1936 material in Series I is in German. Bibliographies of Benda's monographs and articles in German and English are found in Box 1, Folders 16-17.
1. D’Antonio, Michael. The State Boys Rebellion. (Simon & Schuster, 2004: New York). Chapter Eleven.
Clemens Ernst Benda was born in Berlin, Germany, on May 30, 1898. He was identified as white in the 1940 U.S. Census. His father, Carl Benda, was a pathologist, and his mother, Louise Rhode Benda, was from a family of Protestant theologians. Benda studied philosophy and medicine at the Universities of Berlin, Jena, and Heidelberg, all in Germany, earning his medical degree in 1922 from the University of Berlin. He began his medical career in Berlin and later became an assistant at the Psychiatric Clinic in Heidelberg. He studied existential philosophy with Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) and psychiatry with Karl Bonhoeffer (1868-1948) and Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939). He became a psychiatrist at the Binswanger Sanitarium in Switzerland. In the early 1930s Benda became editor of Die Medizinische Welt (The Medical World), a journal with a socio-philosophic slant. Benda, whose father was Jewish, left Nazi-controlled Germany in 1935, after being dismissed from his position amidst a rash of dismissals of Jewish physicians in Berlin (2). He immigrated to the United States with his family.
Benda became a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston where he worked with Stanley Cobb (1887-1968), and at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Benda directed the Wallace Research Laboratory for the Study of Mental Deficiency at the Wrentham State School, Massachusetts, from 1936 to 1947. He also directed the Children’s Unit of the Metropolitan State Hospital in Boston during this time. From 1936 to 1967 he was Director of Research and Psychiatry for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. From 1947 until 1962, he was Director of Research and Clinical Psychiatry at the Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham, Massachusetts. At the time, state schools like the Fernald School were residential institutions for people with intellectual disabilities as well as non-disabled students who were in state custody for other reasons (1). In addition to seeing patients at the Fernald School, Benda had an office on 21 Bay State Road, Boston, Massachusetts during his early years in the United States. He also saw patients in other places, such as at hotels in other cities, at a colleague’s office (Eric Siegel) in New York, New York, or at Ann’s Nursery School, Norfolk, Connecticut. In 1956, Benda moved his private psychiatric and counseling practice to 111 Pleasant Street, Arlington, Massachusetts. In 1973, he moved most of his practice to his second home in Hancock, New Hampshire. For short periods of time, he also had offices in Arlington, Boston, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Fernald School was a very active site of medical experimentation during the time that Benda was Clinical Director, with a staff of 24 researchers (3). Among the studies he led were two that were later criticized on ethical grounds. In one study, with collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge scientists and the Quaker Oats Company, Benda recruited non-disabled students to the “Science Club.” These students were fed oatmeal containing radioactive tracers to help the researchers study the nutritional qualities of the food, part of a larger pattern of radiation research on human subjects during the Cold War (4). For participating, club members were offered baseball game outings, extra milk, and other rewards, but the club existed to subject the participants to medical research about which they and their parents were not fully informed (5). No negative health effects were reported. In another Benda-led study, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts researchers studied the thyroid, also by using radioactive tracers (6).In the early 1990s, former “Science Club” participant Fred Boyce learned about the radiation studies and worked with fellow students to take legal action and to publicize the abuses that occurred at Fernald (8). (In 1998, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Quaker Oats Company settled with thirty plaintiffs for $1.85 million). Benda also studied hormone treatments for students with Down syndrome (he believed that “feeble-mindedness" was caused by problems in the glands), and he collaborated with Max Rinkel (1894-1966) on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) studies that involved inducing psychosis in participants (9).
Benda's academic appointments included positions at the following institutions: Harvard Medical School (Instructor of Neuropathology and Psychiatry); Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts (Associate Professor of Abnormal Psychology); the Institute of Pastoral Care at Massachusetts General Hospital (Lecturer); Tufts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (Lecturer); Boston University School of Theology (Assistant Professor of Psychology); and the University of Munich, Germany (Guest Professor of Psychiatry). Benda was affiliated with several professional associations, holding the presidency of both the American Association of Neuropathologists and the American Academy of Mental Retardation. He was a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association and a member of the American Association for Mental Retardation.
Benda married Elisabeth Knaack, and they had two children, George Benda and Christian Benda. Benda died in Munich, Germany, in April 1975.
1. D’Antonio, Michael. The State Boys Rebellion: The Inspiring True Story of American Eugenics and the Men Who Overcame It. New York: Simon Schuster, 2004.
2. Zeidman, Lawrence A. Brain Science Under the Swastika: Ethical Violations, Resistance, and Victimization of Neuroscientists in Nazi Europe. Oxford University Press, 2020.
For more information, see: Hornblum, Allen M; Newman, Judith L.; and Dober, Gregory J. Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America Macmillan, 2013.
Hornblum, Newman, and Dober.
6. Wright, Andrew. “Cold War Radiation Tests on Children Haunt Harvard.” Harvard Crimson, June 9, 1994.
D’Antonio, p. 244-245.
7. D’Antonio, Chapters Eleven and Twelve.
8. D’Antonio, p. 53-54, p. 123, p. 251.
Series in the Collection
- I. Subject Files, 1895-1975, undated
- II. Patient Files, 1923-1975, undated
- III. Wrentham State School Files, 1937-1956, 1961, undated
- IV. Walter E. Fernald School State School Files, 1904-1948, 1953-1963, undated
- V. Duplicate Materials, undated
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was processed in April 1994.
Throughout the collection, all thermofax paper was copied. Newspaper clippings were either copied or isolated with acid-neutral paper. Photographs were also isolated with acid-neutral paper with the exception of the "brain photographs" (box 18).
The collection contains a large amount of highly acidic paper most of which Benda used for making carbon copies of outgoing correspondence. This paper, which is scattered throughout the collection, is rapidly deteriorating and should be copied as soon as possible.
The cloth and paper charts from the Walter E. Fernald State School are stored folded as they were found. Ideally, they should be stored flat or rolled, or they should be photographed to prevent loss of information.
Charlotte Lellman revised the Biographical Note and the Scope and Content notes in this finding aid in September 2020 to bring them into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020). In particular, Lellman included more information about the radiation studies Benda led at the Fernald School. The previous version of the finding aid is being maintained for transparency around the descriptive process.
Recognizing that historical medical terms do not always completely or directly map to contemporary terms, that historical terms can be offensive or inaccurately characterize a condition, and that the presence of both historical and contemporary terms may be useful for researcher discovery, the archivist has attempted to employ historical terms as they appear in the context of the collection in the description, along with contemporary terms in parentheses.
- Benda, Clemens E. (Clemens Ernst), b. 1898. Papers, 1895-1975: Finding Aid
- Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.Center for the History of Medicine.
- EAD ID