Oral Histories

Wortis, Joseph

Biographical Sketch:

A disciple of the English psychologist and writer Havelock Ellis, Dr. Wortis held a fellowship in psychiatry under the guidance of Ellis and Dr. Adolf Meyer from 1934 to 1941.

On Ellis's advice, Dr. Wortis undertook a didactic analysis -- for educational purposes -- with Freud in Vienna for nearly four months in 1934, when Freud was 78.

Dr. Wortis's account was published by Simon & Schuster in 1954 under the title "Fragments of an Analysis With Freud." Freud was unaware that against the rules of analysis, the skeptical Dr. Wortis followed each session by writing down what had occurred and forwarding reports to Ellis and Dr. Meyer.

Dr. Wortis quoted Freud as saying of him: "He learned nothing from me and I disclaim all reponsibility."

Another of Dr. Wortis's books, "Soviet Psychiatry" (Williams & Wilkins, 1950), for which he taught himself Russian and visited the Soviet Union, brought him under the scrutiny of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1953, when it was investigating purported Communist infiltration of education.

Dr. Wortis told the subcommittee that the book had received an enthusiastic review in The Journal of the American Medical Association and when asked about possible Communist affiliations, he said: "I must say that my mother always brought me up to feel that it was extremely impolite to ask people what their political views were."

He denied he was a Communist but refused to say whether he was one when the book was published. He also criticized the subcommittee for "inquisitions of this medieval character."

In the course of his career, Dr. Wortis was associated with Bellevue Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medical School, the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, New York University Medical College, Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, Maimonides Medical Center and the State University at Stony Brook, L.I.,where he was a professor.

Dr. Wortis, who was born in 1906, served in World War II as chief psychiatrist of the New York Port Office of the War Shipping Administration and as a neuropsychiatrist with the United States Public Health Service. He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant commander.

Active in the fields of mental retardation and biological psychiatry, he was the author of more than 130 scientific articles.

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Dates: Dec-94



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