Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Science, Technology and Society

Reader 1

Vivien Hamilton

Reader 2

Andre Wakefield

Reader 3

Nancy Williams

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Rights Information

© 2104 Antonietta Iannaccone


We think of the lobotomy as utterly primitive and brutal; we shudder at the idea of it. The archetypal image of creepiness, violence, and unnecessary brutality was expressed in the book and movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This procedure weighs heavy on America’s conscience but in 1945 the procedure was characterized as being as gentle as ‘cutting through butter’ and the therapeutic effect was described as ‘cutting out worry’. How did the lobotomy gain such widespread acceptance? One part of the answer is that Walter Freeman advocated for it not just among his colleagues, but through the popular media outlets of his day as well. In this thesis I will claim that, starting in 1936, Walter Freeman influenced the positive portrayal of lobotomies in the American press. He participated in visual culture that promoted a convergence between medical culture and the popular press by cultivating a representation of the procedure that could appeal to both. His tools included narrative accounts, images, and a public dramatization of himself that was hard to resist. I will show how these efforts were quite successful in the beginning, but that by 1947 he started to lose control of the perceptions and narrative he had worked so hard to construct.