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George Miller Beard papers

Call Number: MS 584

Scope and Contents

The George Miller Beard Papers provide limited but valuable information on the life and work of Beard from 1865 to 1883. Though incomplete, they do provide a sampling of his work on nervous diseases, electrotherapeutics, insanity, and spiritualism. Newspaper clippings, photographs, and printed biographical articles shed additional light upon Beard's career. There are also legal briefs, testimony, and newsclippings relating to Beard's views on criminal insanity, as well as material on some of the spectacular cases of the day, such as the Guiteau murder trial, the Henry Prouse Cooper case, and the Cadet Whittaker case. Of special interest is an essay by Beard's daughter, Grace A. Beard, on the upbringing of a child in the nineteenth century.

Correspondence forms a small part of the papers and gives little information upon such intriguing subjects as Beard's collaboration with Thomas Edison or his experiments in London on spiritualism. There, are, however, a few letters from such notable men as Wendell Phillips, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Rev. Joseph Cooke, Thomas Edison, William Crookes, D. B. St. John Roosa, and Lester Ward. In addition, there are important letters in the correspondence of his daughter, Grace. Orphaned at the age of seven, when both of her parents died within one week of each other, she attempted to satisfy her curiosity about her father's life and works, especially his work in spiritualism, by corresponding with many of his colleagues and contemporaries. The most notable of these are: Simon E. Baldwin, Professor William Henry Brewer, Charles L. Dana, Timothy Dwight, Thomas Edison, and Alfred R. Wallace.

The George Miller Beard Papers were donated to Yale University by Mr. and Mrs. George Beard Walker in 1970. Mr. Walker is the grandson of George M. Beard and the son of Grace Alden Beard. The originals of the photo-copies were returned to Mr. and Mrs. Walker after the copies were made.


  • 1853-1923


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Beard Walker in 1970.


Arranged in three series: I. Correspondence. II. Writings. III. Subject File.


1.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, writings, biographical material and other papers of George M. Beard, physician and specialist in the treatment of mental and nervous disorders. Included are materials relating to his work on the medical uses of electricity and his pioneering work in the definition of criminal insanity, as well as papers relating to his interest in spiritualism. Also included are a number of letters received by his daughter, Grace Alden Beard, related to a biographical study of her father.

Biographical / Historical

George Miller Beard, 1839-1883, was a distinguished physician and specialist in the treatment of mental and nervous disorders. He was born in Montville, Connecticut, the son of the Reverend Spencer F. Beard, a Congregational clergyman, and Lucy A. Leonard. He entered Yale College in 1858, graduated in Arts in 1862, and spent a year in the Yale Medical Department before studying at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Qualifying in 1866, Beard immediately joined Dr. A. D. Rockwell in practice in New York, and began to specialize in the study of nervous diseases.

With A. D. Rockwell, Beard published many works on the use of electricity in medical treatment. These studies resulted in the isolation of a complaint, nervous exhaustion or neurasthenia, to which, as Beard explained in his book, American Nervousness(1881), Americans seemed particularly susceptible. Beard also attributed hay-fever, sea sickness, and certain sexual problems to nervous disorders.

Beard championed the rights of the insane and was instrumental in the formation of the "National Association for the Protection of the Insane and Prevention of Insanity." He worked to reform the law so that the insane could not be found guilty of crime, and was famous for vigorously defending this opinion in the case of Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President Garfield.

Interested in spiritualism, Beard carried out many experiments in order to prove his theory that mind reading, trances and other manifestations of spiritualism had physiological explanations. His demonstrations at medical association conferences seem to have excited considerable controversy.

Beard died at the age of 44, but during his short life he was a prolific writer and an active campaigner for medical and social causes. His works range from those with a popular appeal, such as Our Home Physician, to scholarly treatises, like the Medical Use of Electricity. Beard's attention to original and frequently unusual research opened up a field of medicine which had been generally neglected until that time. His works were written with vigor and sometimes with unpleasant bluntness, but he was praised after his death in 1883 by a colleague, William Crookes, as "one of that rare class of thinkers who dare to utter their thoughts, and who discuss matters to which the world is glad to close its eyes."

Biographical material may be found in SERIES I, folder 20; and SERIES III, folder 2.

Guide to the George Miller Beard Papers
Under Revision
Compiled by Rosalind Haworth
November 1970
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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