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Menninger Clinic

Menninger family, 1935

The Menninger Foundation of Topeka, Kansas, began as an outpatient clinic in the 1920s serving the local Shawnee County populace for a variety of ills. Karl Menninger began persuading his father Charles Frederick, or C.F., to focus the clinic's area of expertise on psychiatric and mental health cases. The Menningers opened the first clinic in 1919. In 1925 they purchased a farmhouse on the outskirts of town to for a sanitarium to provide long-term in-patient care. William Claire Menninger, Karl's youngest brother, joined Karl and their father in this practice that same year, fulfilling C.F.’s dream of a group practice with his sons.

The sanitarium began expanding almost immediately. The Menninger family opened other operations, including Southard School for children, one of the first such institutions for children with mental health disabilities. The family also began training psychiatric professionals and performing research, as well as publishing in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. During the 1930s Will and other Menninger staff formulated and refined their milieu therapy, a treatment program focusing on the whole individual and every staff member’s interaction with a patient.

Karl became a popularly respected and well-known figure in psychiatry after the publication of his first book in 1930 and writing a regular advice column in the Ladies’ Home Journal. Will, like many other Menninger staff, joined the armed forces during World War II; by the end of the war he was a brigadier general and extremely influential in the treatment and care of soldiers with psychiatric problems.

As grant monies became more important for funding various efforts, the Menninger family created a non-profit foundation through which such monies could be funneled more easily. Within a few years this foundation became the central organizational entity for all its efforts, and by 1946 all branches of Menninger's efforts were under the foundation. This included Southard School, which became the children's division of the clinic.

Other efforts were formalized after World War II, including the research department and the education department of Menninger School of Psychiatry. Later renamed the Karl Menninger School of Psychiatry and Mental Health Services, the school established itself post-World War II when Karl persuaded the federal government to convert the Winter army hospital, used during the war as a psychiatric hospital for soldiers, into a veterans administration hospital, giving the Menninger organization an excellent opportunity to graduate large numbers of needed psychiatrists.

The Menninger Clinic, after substantial remodeling and expansion, became the C.F. Menninger Memorial Hospital in 1954, named in the founder’s honor after his death the year before. The Department of Social Applications, renamed the Department of Preventive Psychiatry and later becoming the Will Menninger Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences (CABS), was a later addition to the foundation, focusing on preventive psychiatry and the use of psychiatry in other areas such as law enforcement.

The Menninger Foundation grew, to the point that for a time it existed on two campuses on west 6th Avenue in Topeka, and to the point that it employed more than a thousand people with a budget in the millions. Throughout its existence, treatment, education, research, and public outreach remained paramount for the organization. By the late 1990s, the Menninger Foundation was foundering. Clinical patients, the source of much of the foundation's income, were spending less time in in-house treatment, and health insurance companies were not covering fees the way they once had. By 2003 the foundation dissolved, and the clinic moved south to Houston, Texas, in order to affiliate itself with Baylor Medical College. The Menninger Clinic continues to operate in Texas.

Entry: Menninger Clinic

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: July 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.