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Lawrence Z. Freedman papers

Call Number: MS 1917

Scope and Contents

The collection comprises the papers of forensic psychiatrist and former Yale professor, Lawrence Z. Freedman, and dates from 1938 to 1997. The papers are notable for documenting Freedman’s contributions to the field of forensic psychiatry, as well as his studies of aggression, violence, crime, terrorism, and the interactions between psychiatry and the law. The bulk of the papers document Freedman’s numerous research studies. While the most significant of Freedman’s studies concerned the topics of deviancy, delinquency, criminality, and violence, he also conducted studies on other topics such as sleep and dreams, human sexual behavior, the effects of recreational drugs on communication, creativity, and obstetrics, among others. The most extensively documented study in the papers is the Sexuality, Violence, and Avarice Study (SVA), conducted by the Yale Unit in Psychiatry and the Law under Freedman’s leadership between 1953 and 1957. The study, which used 1262 inmates from the Wethersfield State Prison as research subjects, sought to delineate the characteristics of different types of criminal offenders, gain further understanding of criminal behavior, and develop specific therapeutic treatments for offenders. Materials documenting this study include individual files on the inmates who participated; audio recordings and notes from therapy and interview sessions; project manuals; writings; and subject files. The papers also include significant documentation of Freedman’s research into the psychology of terrorism, assassination, and political violence in the form of research materials and writings.

In addition to his research, the papers document Freedman’s private psychiatric practice, as well as his work as a consultant. Materials documenting Freedman’s psychiatric practice, which include patient files and audio recordings of therapy sessions, demonstrate the degree to which his research and clinical practice intersected and likely influenced each other. In particular, the patient files show that Freedman primarily treated individuals who had histories of violent or criminal behavior. As a consultant, Freedman often worked as an expert witness in criminal trials involving murder or other violent offenses. Materials documenting this work primarily consist of audio recordings and transcripts of forensic interviews conducted by Freedman, as well as notes, copies of medical records, and correspondence. Freedman also consulted on the drafting of the model penal code during the early 1960s. Materials related to this work include drafts of different sections of the code, correspondence, and meeting notes.

Lastly, the papers include a general assortment of Freedman’s writings and correspondence, as well as materials related to conference presentations, lectures he delivered, and classes he taught. The papers provide virtually no insight into Freedman’s personal life, and very little documentation of his life before his psychiatric and academic careers. The general writings, which include student papers dating from his freshman year at Tufts University, provide the only documentation of Freedman’s early life.


  • 1938 - 1997
  • 1938 - 1997


Conditions Governing Access

While this collection as a whole is open for research, parts of it are restricted due to the presence of human subject research data or confidential patient information. Researchers who wish to access such materials must obtain approval by Yale's Institutional Review Board (IRB). Information on the IRB approval process can be found here. Any restricted material will be noted as such.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Lawrence Z. Freedman was transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

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 Johanna J. Freedman, Bart Freedman, Joshua Freedman, Matthew Freedman, and Thomas Learned Freedman, 2013.


The papers are arranged in six series: I. Research files, 1946–1988; II. Private psychiatric practice, 1948–1993; III. Conferences, lectures, seminars, and classes, 1948-1992; IV. Correspondence, general, 1946–1997; V. Subject files, 1938–1992; VI. Writings, 1938–1990.


426 Linear Feet (1043 boxes)

426 Linear Feet (1043 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The collection comprises the papers of forensic psychiatrist and former Yale professor, Lawrence Z. Freedman, and dates from 1938 to 1997. The papers are notable for documenting Freedman’s contributions to the field of forensic psychiatry, as well as his studies of aggression, violence, crime, terrorism, and the interactions between psychiatry and the law. The bulk of the papers document Freedman’s numerous research studies, as well as his private psychiatric practice and consulting work.

Biographical / Historical

Lawrence Zelic Freedman was a forensic psychiatrist whose work focused on the psychiatry of aggression, violence, crime, terrorism, and the interactions between psychiatry and the law. He was born on September 4, 1919 in Gardner, Massachusetts, the youngest of six brothers. He studied at Tufts University, where he earned a B.S. in 1940 and an M.D. in 1944. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the United States Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. During this time he also completed his residency training in psychiatry at Yale Medical School. While in the Navy during World War II, Freedman was assigned to care for American servicemen imprisoned in military prisons, as well as German prisoners of war. These experiences stimulated his interest in the psychiatry of violence.

Freedman joined the Yale faculty in 1949 as an instructor in psychiatry and mental hygiene. He rose to the rank of assistant professor in 1951 and associate professor in 1954. He spent 1958 as a research associate at Cambridge University, and was a research fellow in the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University from 1959 to 1960. In 1961, Freedman was appointed the Foundations Fund Research Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Freedman’s research interests were tied together by the common theme of applying psychiatric and psychoanalytic approaches to emerging social, legal, political, and behavioral topics. Throughout his career he conducted research studies on a variety of topics, including natural childbirth, human sexual behavior, criminal behavior, juvenile delinquency, terrorism, and political assassination, among others. He was also interested in using the tools of psychology and psychiatry to serve the common good. Freedman helped draft the Model Penal Code, which was adopted by the American Law Institute in 1962 to help state legislatures update their criminal codes. He also served on President Lyndon Johnson’s National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, and developed a profile of potential presidential assassins at the request of the U.S. Secret Service. In the mid-1960s, Freedman became interested in the study of serial and mass murder. He conducted interviews with serial murderers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as mass murderer Simon Peter Nelson, and testified at each of their criminal trials.

Freedman was the author of over 100 publications and served as a consultant to many local, national, and international organizations concerned with violence, crime, and psychiatry. Following his retirement from the University of Chicago, he maintained a private practice in psychoanalysis. Lawrence Z. Freedman died of a stroke at his home in Chicago on October 6, 2004.

Processing Information

The groupings of files into series and subseries in the papers generally reflects Freedman's original filing system, though in some cases files within these groupings were arranged alphabetically or chronologically by the archivists. Similarly, the majority of folder titles in the papers are the original titles that Freedman assigned to his files.

Guide to the Lawrence Z. Freedman Papers
compiled by Matthew Gorham, Christine Connolly, and Sheilah Robinson
September 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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