(Katherine Streeter for NPR)
Sometime around 1907, well before the modern randomized clinical trial was routine, American psychiatrist Henry Cotton began removing decaying teeth from his patients in hopes of curing their mental disorders. If that didn’t work, he moved on to more invasive excisions: tonsils, testicles, ovaries and, in some cases, colons.
Cotton was the newly appointed director of the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane and was acting on a theory proposed by influential Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, under whom Cotton had studied, that psychiatric illness is the result of chronic infection. Meyer’s idea was based on observations that patients with high fevers sometimes experience delusions and hallucinations.