Bayard Holmes (1852-1924) and Henry Cotton (1869-1933): Surgeon-psychiatrists and their tragic quest to cure schizophrenia.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats


Citation Stats

Attention Stats


Early 20th-century medicine was dominated by the infectious theory of disease. Some leading physicians believed that infection or the accumulation of toxic substances from bacterial stasis caused a wide range of diseases, including schizophrenia. In the case of schizophrenia, one theory held that intestinal stasis lead to the bacterial production of toxins that affected brain function, resulting in psychotic illness. This theory predicted that clearing the stasis by drainage or by removal of the offending organ would be curative. Bayard Holmes and Henry Cotton, surgeon-psychiatrists, achieved notoriety for their efforts to cure schizophrenia surgically. Their endeavours were not only a failure but resulted in tragedy to their families and to a wider population. Treatment of their own sons also represented a violation of the ethics of their time. This account describes the life and career of Holmes and Cotton and reappraises their work in the light of recent developments.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Davidson, Jonathan (2016). Bayard Holmes (1852-1924) and Henry Cotton (1869-1933): Surgeon-psychiatrists and their tragic quest to cure schizophrenia. Journal of medical biography, 24(4). pp. 550–559. 10.1177/0967772014552746 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.


Jonathan R.T. Davidson

Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Currently, my research focuses upon the theoretical aspects of homeopathy and its clinical utilization, as well as the broader field of alternative (complementary) medicine. this is a field which has traditionally been overlooked as a legitimate scientific discipline. Other areas of activity are as in the past, i.e., clinical treatment, epidemiology, risk factors, pathogenesis of posttraumatic stress, social phobia, other anxiety status, and depression. These are illustrated by recent publications on treatment, epidemiology, health service utilization and quality of life in social phobia and PTSD, drug treatment of panic disorder. Magnetic resonance studies of social phobia have been completed and further studies are planned.

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.