- A dictionary of medical eponyms

James Jackson Putnam

Born  1846
Died  1918

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American neurologist, born October 3, 1846, Boston, Massachusetts; died November 4, 1918, Boston.

Biography of James Jackson Putnam

James Jackson Putnam was the son of a physician. He studied at Harvard Medical College, where he graduated in 1866 and obtained his doctorate in 1870. After working for some time at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Jackson went to Europe to continue his education at Leipzig, Vienna, Paris, and London, working with Karl von Rokitansky (1804-1878), Theodor Meynert (1833-1892) and John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911).

Putnam returned to the U.S.A., where neurology was still inn its infancy, and to Massachusetts General Hospital. Here he founded the first neurological clinic in the U.S.A., which later became the neurological department at Harvard Medical School. Here he was first lecturer in electrotherapy, became clinical instructor in 1875, and in 1893 was appointed professor of neurology, holding this tenure until his retirement in 1912.

Putnam was one of the seven founders of the American Neurology Association and was its president in 1888.

Putnam was one of those instrumental in bringing Freud to the United States, in 1907, and he became more and more interested in the treatment of psychoneurosis and the use of psychoanalysis. Apart from his many contributions to neuropathology and neurology he was one of the first to draw attention to the fact that hyperthyroidism may finish with myxoedema. He was one of the earliest workers to study disorders of the basal ganglia. Greatly concerned with social and ethical questions he published the book Human Motives in 1915.

"We cannot really know the man whom we are called upon to treat without going far beyond his outward relations and penetrating in imagination deep into his mental life. “The man” is, above all else, the mind of the man, and not only the mind as an organ of conscious thought but the mind as an organ of bodily nutrition, and the mind as a vast theatre for the interplay of contending forces that do not always recognize the personal consciousness as their ruler. This is the man that the doctor should learn about and treat."
Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 1899, 141: 53.

"No argument is needed to show what transforming power the mind can exert. The energy set free by the magic agencies of hope, courage, desperation, fanaticism, or by the enthusiasm for a great cause, may reveal the possession of a force undreamed of, or so husband the resources of the body as to keep the flame of life burning for a time when the oil seems exhausted."
Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 1899, 141: 53.


  • Addresses on psycho-analysis.
    London and New York, 1921.

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