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Thomas W. Salmon


Centurion, 1921–1927

Full Name Thomas William Salmon

Born 6 January 1876 in Troy (then Lansingburgh), New York

Died 13 August 1927 near Southold, New York

Buried Maple Hill Cemetery, Dorset, Vermont

Proposed by Charles L. Dana and Stephen Pierce Duggan

Elected 4 June 1921 at age forty-five

Century Memorial

The career of Thomas William Salmon is a monument to the progress of civilization in care for mentally-afflicted fellowmen. Few chapters in human history are more strange in themselves than the perversity with which reform of abuses in treatment of such sufferers was resisted by the community at large, when every member of that community knew that he himself might some day be a victim of them, and certainly few illustrate better the tenacity with which even an enlightened age will sometimes stick to the cruel conceptions growing out of old-time ignorance. It is true, Society had slowly been brought before our own time to a humane attitude in treatment of the mentally disordered. A long campaign of resolute men was required before the abolition of the stake, the chain and the dark room which Shakespeare and Bacon accepted as matters of course, or the promiscuous herding of the insane in British or American Bedlams, or the issuing of letters of cachet by suborned practitioners to lock up sane men in convenient private asylums; but that fight was won, so far at least as concerned the will of society at large and the nominal acquiescence of government.

Yet abuses persisted where administration of public asylums was not watched. Up to the last two or three decades, moreover, diagnosis of mental disease was uncertain and its treatment conflicting; the handling of it as a disorder which must be dealt with not only as an individual malady but as a large-scale social problem, had hardly been proposed. Twenty years ago Dr. Salmon grappled with the problem of the army of insane and defective which entered at Ellis Island and distributed itself, with all its dangerous possibilities, throughout our population. He reformed the whole system, not merely by sending back home the mentally afflicted immigrants but by humane provision of the most thorough sort of the hospital treatment which would cure rather than banish.

Dr. Salmon led the way in applying the psychiatric tests to the army drafted for war in 1917. We shall never know how far the physical type and military achievement, which made the Expeditionary Force a distinct tradition in European history, was a consequence of the exclusion of seventy to eighty thousand recruits whom the test showed to be mentally and nervously unfit for service—any more than we know now what part the absence of any such elimination may have had in some of the great defeats of past military history. But to this selected American army the war itself brought another and a novel problem, in the shape of the paralyzing nervous shock which our present-day methods of warfare inflicted on thousands of the physically sound American soldiers. It was Dr. Salmon more than any other man in professional or public life who conceived, initiated and established the country’s present thoroughly-equipped hospital system for the care of mentally disabled ex-service men.

With all this record of public achievement, Dr. Salmon’s personality was modest and unaffected, untouched by ambition for public notoriety. The high place which he had won in the confidence of learned societies and governments never obscured his pleasure in relationship with his own patients and in the contacts of social life. In maintaining the honor and dignity of his own profession, Dr. Salmon’s attitude was consistent and unwavering. Certain very recent events have taught the public what temptations are spread before the alienist in the effort of lawyers to save the worst criminal offenders from the penalty of their act. To Dr. Salmon, the counsel in the notorious Loeb case at Chicago offered the highest inducements if he would testify as psychiatric expert for the defense. His reply was that nothing could command his service.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1928 Century Association Yearbook