The Word as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology

By Samuel W. Bloom | Go to book overview

7
Postwar Medical Sociology
The Founders at
Major Universities, 1945–1960

Virtually none of those who became the first generation of medical sociologists were trained in any formal way to study problems of health, illness, or the medical profession. This should not suggest that they changed direction when they became medical sociologists. Quite the contrary; there are strong continuities between their early and later work. The career of August B. (Sandy) Hollingshead is typical of this pattern. His first major research was a study of “Elmtown, ” a midwestern town. 1 The central theme was the influence of social class on the lives of its adolescents. When in the early postwar years Hollingshead turned his attention toward studies of medical problems, the design and methodology remained consistent with his Elmtown research but the focus became the influences of social class on mental illness. 2 Leo Srole was also the author of a community study, conducted before the war. 3 In his case, the central variables included race, ethnicity, and social class. Following the war, he joined hands with a communityoriented psychiatrist and led an interdisciplinary team in a study of mental illness. 4 For Srole, like Hollingshead, the perspective and methodologies that had been fashioned on a small town were later applied to a city. The change was in the dependent variable but not in the overall character of the sociology.

Hollingshead and Srole are one type of the first cadre of medical sociologists. There was also a second, somewhat younger, and less experienced group. Typically they too did not train in any conscious way to be medical sociologists. There were no specialized training programs established until 1955 at Yale, 5 so that only in the doctoral dissertation could any specific training occur, and very few were devoted to medical problems. This group was either totally untrained at the time of the war or were just starting. They, like the older group, clustered mainly at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Chicago. Among the outstanding examples are Robert Straus and Jerome Myers at Yale, Mark Field and Renee Fox at Harvard, Patricial Kendall and Mary Goss at Columbia, and Eliot Freidson, Blanche Geer, Howard Becker, and Rue Bucher at Chicago. An exception to this pattern was Jack Elinson, who was trained more than anything “on the job” as a civil servant

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