Noted Rutgers Historian of Mental Illness and Medicine, Gerald N. Grob, dies at 84

Gerald N. Grob Credits: Rutgers Today

Taught at Rutgers for more than 30 years

Gerald N. Grob, Henry E. Sigerist Professor of the History of Medicine (Emeritus) at Rutgers University and its Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, died today in Evergreen, Colorado. The cause was liver failure and complications from cancer, his son Seth Grob said. He was 84.

Grob, a historian of medicine, was well known for his books on the history of treatment of the mentally ill. His first such book, The State and the Mentally Ill: A History of Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, 1830-1920 (University of North Carolina Press, 1966), became a classic in its field. Between 1973 and 1991, Grob published a definitive history of mental health treatment and policy in America from 1875 to approximately 1990, Mental Institutions in America: Social Policy to 1875 (Collier-Macmillan,1973). Mental Illness and American Society, 1875-1940 (Princeton University Press, 1983), and From Asylum to Community: Mental Health Policy in Modern America (Princeton University Press, 1991). The Mad Among Us (Free Press, 1994) was a more accessible review of this history.

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Gerald N. Grob was born April 25, 1931, in New York City. He received his B.S. from City College of New York, served in the U.S. Army, and then received a master’s degree from Columbia University and, in 1958, his Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. He began his teaching career at Clark University, where he taught until coming to Rutgers in 1969. In addition to his teaching and research in the Department of History and at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, Grob served three times as the chair of his department.

“Lots of historians write about mental health, but many of them write polemically about it, applying current standards to the actions of people in the past,” said David Mechanic, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research. “Gerry was always meticulously fair in analyzing the actions of people in the past in the context of their times.”

Grob was the recipient of many academic and professional honors.  In 1991 he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, now the National Academy of Medicine.  He received the William H. Welch Medal and the Fielding H. Garrison Lecturer from the American Association of the History of Medicine (both in 1986) and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.  He held many offices in the American Association for the History of Medicine over the years, and was its president from 1996 to 1998. Rutgers gave its first Gorenstein Award, which honors a professor who combines distinguished scholarship with important service to the university, to Grob in 1994. Clark University, where Grob began his teaching career, honored him with an honorary doctorate of letters. 

Grob continued to work after his retirement and broadened his research to new areas of medical history. This later research led to The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America (Harvard University Press, 2002) and Aging Bones: A Short History of Osteoporosis (Johns Hopkins Press, 2013).

“Gerry cared not just about his students’ academic accomplishments but also about the kind of lives they would lead as professionals,” said Margaret Marsh, University  Professor of History, who was a graduate student under Grob and became a friend. “He was a wonderful mentor. He taught me how to teach and helped me find my voice as a historian. He also led by example. I learned so much from him during graduate school, and once I became a professor myself, he was available whenever I asked for advice or assistance.”

Grob is survived by his wife, Lila; his sister, Gloria Oresky; three sons, Evan, Seth and Brad, and eight grandchildren. 

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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