- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Robert Foster Kennedy

Born  1884
Died  1952

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British-American neurologist, 1884-1952.

Biography of Robert Foster Kennedy

Robert Foster Kennedy is a name you will probably come across if you look up biographical articles about great neurologists. Many references to these articles are found in "The Founders of Neurology" by Webb Haymaker and Francis Schiller.

Foster Kennedy studied medicine at the Royal University of Ireland, Dublin. After graduating in 1906 he worked at the National Hospital, Queen’s Square where he was influenced by luminaries such as Sir William Gowers (1845-1915), John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911), Sir Victor Horsley (1857-1916) and Sir Henry Head (1861-1940).

In 1910 Foster Kennedy was invited to come to the recently established New York Neurological Institute. The outbreak of World War I brought him back to Europe where he served in a French Military Hospital and subsequently with a British unit. Working close to the front line he had several narrow escapes, and subsequently was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur by France.

After the war he worked in the Bellevue Hospital, New York, where one of his colleagues was the legendary Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878-1937). One day when they were making rounds, Kinnier Wilson spent an inordinate time examining a patient with lateral medullary syndrome but with signs that were inconsistent with the anatomy. To Kennedy's embarrassment Kinnier Wilson turned suddenly to the patient and asked "Will you see to it that I get your brain when you die?".

Foster Kennedy became professor of neurology at Cornell University and in 1940 was elected president of the American Neurological Association.

He was one of the first to use electroconvulsive treatment in the management of psychosis, and was the first to point out that shell shock was hysteria. He believed that this rose from an insoluble conflict between the soldier’s instinct for self-preservation and his herd instinct.


  • R. Foster Kennedy:
    Epilepsy and the convulsive state. 1923. Recommended reading on the history of neurology:
  • Webb Haymaker and Francis Schiller
    The Founders of Neurology. One Hundred and Forty-Six Biographical Sketches By Eight-Eight Authors.
    2nd edition. Springfiled, Illinois, Charles Thomas, 1970.

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