Because Topeka, Kansas, was home to the Menninger Clinic, then Hospital, founded by Karl Menninger and his brothers in 1925, the state has also seen its share of literature that portrays mental illness and institutions. Karl Menninger’s father, C.F., was an early Topeka physician. His wife, Flo Menninger (1863-1945), was not only important in the raising of their sons, but a writer, too. Her Days of My Life (1939) recounts life in the state in the latter part of the 19th Century.
Karl Menninger (1893-1990) was a brilliant psychiatrist and a prolific writer. His The Human Mind (1930) was followed by four more books about human psychology that spoke to a popular audience.
Howard Faulkner (b. 1945) and Virginia Pruitt (b. 1943) of Washburn University have done the most scholarly work on Karl Menninger, including The Selected Correspondence of Karl A. Menninger 1919-1945 (1988). The second volume, 1946-1965, was published in 1995. Dear Dr. Menninger (1997) consists of letters written to and answered by Dr. Karl during the eighteen months he had a column, “Mental Hygiene in the Home,” in the Ladies’ Home Journal.
William Gibson (1914-2008) came to Topeka with his psychiatrist wife and got his start as a playwright working with the new Topeka Civic Theatre. His novel, The Cobweb (1954), is set in a Midwestern mental hospital modeled after Topeka State Hospital, with its spacious campus and castle-like central building.
Carol Ascher, daughter of a Viennese psychiatrist fleeing the holocaust, wrote of her experiences in the early 1950s. (See The Flood, in Ethnic and Immigrant).
Harriet Lerner (b. 1944) came to Topeka to work at Menninger and wrote best-selling books that explained Bowen Family Systems therapy to a wide audience. The Dance of Anger (1985) was followed by 5 more “dance” books, as well as a collection of her advice columns, Life Preservers (1997).
Topeka’s Washburn University was the birthplace of art therapy, with early pioneer Mary Huntoon studying the effect of doing art in a psychiatric environment. Art literally saved Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton (1910-1993), who began self-portrait contour drawing at age 67, after struggling for years with chronic depression. Her life and art are chronicled in Through the Looking Glass: Drawings by Elizabeth Layton (1984) and The Life & Art of Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton (1995) by Don Lambert.