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On January 17, 1946 a psychiatrist named Walter J. Freeman launched a radical new era in the treatment of mental illness in this country. On that day he performed the first-ever transorbital or “ice pick” lobotomy in his Washington, D.C. office. His patient was a severely depressed housewife named Sallie Ellen Ionesco.
After rendering her unconscious through electroshock, Freeman inserted an ice pick above her eyeball, banged it through her eye socket into her brain, and then made cuts in her frontal lobes. When he was done, he sent her home in a taxi cab.
Freeman was convinced he’d found the answer to Sallie Ellen Ionesco’s depression. He believed that mental illness was related to overactive emotions, and that by cutting the brain he could cut away those feelings.
Next Page | The Transorbital Lobotomy »
Producers: Dave Isay and Piya Kochhar / With help from: Larry Blood, Eliza Bettinger, Brett Myers, Jessica Tickten, Anna Goldman, Maisie Tivnan, Colin Murphy & Jonah Engle / Narrator: Howard Dully / Editor: Gary Covino / Project Advisor: Jack El-Hai / Executive Producer for All Things Considered: Chris Turpin / Graphic Designer: Andrew McCarthy / Special thanks to: Barbara Dully, Andrew Goldberg, Christine Johnson, Lyle Slovick & David Anderson at the GWU Gelman Library archives / Funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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Learn about Howard Dully's memoir, published in 2007 by Random House
Howard's memoir on Amazon.com
An interactive lobotomy timeline
FAQ about lobotomies
A childhood photo of Howard Dully
A photo of Howard's step-mother, Lou
More information about the "ice pick" lobotomy
Audio extras from "My Lobotomy"
Oral histories from patients and witnesses
Photographs from Howard's journey
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