Theodore & Ruth Wilmanns Lidz Endowment Fund

A Gift to the Yale Peabody Museum

In the spirit of a lifelong interest in the cultural sources of personality and a desire to spur comparative cultural studies, in 1999 Dr. Theodore Lidz, Sterling Professor of Psychiatry, Emeritus, made a generous gift to the Yale Peabody Museum. The Theodore and Ruth Wilmanns Lidz Endowment Fund for Excellence in Scholarly Publications is dedicated to the dissemination of scholarly research and the study of world cultures. The fund will secure the future of the Yale University Publications in Anthropology series, and also enable the Peabody Museum to publish other scholarly work in anthropology and the natural sciences. In recognition of the Lidz’s pioneering research and clinical work in schizophrenia and other areas of psychiatry, particular emphasis will be given to publications addressing mental disorders and cross-cultural studies.

My wife and I came to feel that the cultural dimension of “well-ness” lay at the core of our work as psychiatrists. We collected artifacts from other societies because they are beautiful, but also because they contain clues to the workings of the human heart, the eternal mystery.

— Dr. Theodore Lidz

Dr. Ruth Wilmanns Lidz and Dr. Theodore Lidz

Ruth & Theodore Lidz
Ruth & Theodore Lidz; courtesy of the Lidz family

The Peabody’s 1997–1998 exhibition Spirit Images: The Lidz Collection of Southwest Pacific Art was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Ruth Wilmanns Lidz, herself a distinguished professor of clinical psychiatry at Yale, widely known for her treatment of schizophrenic and other profoundly disturbed patients.The couple collected from a variety of cultures and, in 1986, gave one collection of 120 artifacts from Melanesia, assembled in the early 1970s, to the Peabody.

The collection documents the culture of Fiji, Vanuatu and remote parts of Papua New Guinea just as those areas were beginning to experience extensive contact with other cultures. Many of the artifacts they acquired had been used in male initiation rituals and it was the Lidz’s study of this aspect of Melanesian culture that led them to write Oedipus in the Stone Age: A Psychoanalytic Study of Masculinization in Papua New Guinea, their 1989 book that revised Freudian interpretations of masculinity and femininity. The genesis of both the book and the collection date to Theodore Lidz’s service in the South Pacific during World War II, when he treated psychiatric casualties from the Solomon Island campaign. Ruth Wilmanns Lidz, who died in October 1995, shared her husband’s fascination with the region; an accomplished sculptor, she early became interested in primitive art.

Both Dr. Theodore Lidz and his wife were innovative and nondoctrinaire in their approach to profound mental illness. Central to their work was the concept of “the person.” They sought to treat their patients in the larger context of the family and societal backgrounds and believed that the concepts and beliefs embedded in a culture are part of the reality into which members of that society are socialized.

Ted Lidz once wrote:

The peoples of Papua New Guinea fascinate us because their societies often depend on ways and belief, centuries, perhaps millennia old, that are antipodal to ours. Central to many, for example, is the belief that illness, death, and bad luck are brought about by sorcery. A number of observers have been struck by the apparent paradox that sorcery, which seems disintegrative, can be a major integrative force in these societies; as a tribesman put it, “you have police and guns, we have sorcery.”

It is toward the promotion of greater understanding of such differences and what they reveal about the human condition that the Yale Peabody Museum dedicates the Theodore and Ruth Wilmanns Lidz Endowment Fund.

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