Obituary: Frederick C. Thorne (1909–1978)

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Abstract

Thorne was born May 30, 1909, in New York City, of English-Scotch background on his mother's side and of French Huguenot and English stock, dating back to pre-Revolutionary times, on his father's side. His upbringing was in an ultraconservative family environment. Fred started to rebel against authority as early as age four, when he refused to go to church. This rebellious proclivity extended to his career in psychology and manifested itself in his never being in agreement with the psychological establishment. He was an eclectic and would not accept any official or restricted narrow concepts as they were taught at Columbia. Ironically, it was by being a student at Columbia, where Alfred Adler was his most influential teacher, where Poffenberger invited him to a summer picnic to meet James McKeen Cattell and listen to him reminisce about his editing work, that this crucial personal experience led Fred into psychological publication: Thorne was fascinated with the idea of studying people, so he entered psychology to learn about people and behavior. Instead he was confronted with rats and objective psychology, which at best was a pale carbon copy of behavior in actual life. After receiving a PhD in psychophysics in 1934 he accepted an instructorship at Long Island University. He also entered Cornell Medical School, where he found the eclectic method to have a level of internal consistency. He received his MD in 1938. At Cornell he learned about human life under all conditions, but even with a better understanding of human life he did not find any conclusive answers. After receiving his medical degree he accepted the directorship of the psychological clinics of the State of Vermont and the directorship of the Brandon State School for- mental defectives. In performing his duties, he was pushed by a strong desire to discover a system of psychology that was truly valid, relevant, and comprehensive. The manuscripts of his views were not acceptable in the usual journals, so he founded his own Journal of Clinical Psychology. This interest in clinical psychology began early in life, when he observed in himself and in the family constellation the diverse interpersonal problems in everyday life and living. In September 1977, while we were eating an excellent dinner at home, Frederick Thorne turned to me and said, “Phil, you know me better than anyone else I want you to write my obituary.” Needless to say, I never expected that on February 22, 1978, Fred would die and that I would now be carrying out his wish. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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