Monday, April 1, 2013

Orr, Douglass Winnett M.D. (1905-1990), Father of Seattle Psychoanalysis

by Esther Altshul Helfgott, Ph.D.

This essay first appeared at, The Free Onlne Encyclopedia of Washington State History

Douglass Winnett Orr helped found Seattle's Northwest Clinic of Psychiatry and Neurology and the Blakeley Psychiatric Group in the 1940s. He was the founder, with Edith Buxbaum (1902-1982), of the Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and served as its first director. In 1948 he helped establish Seattle's Pinel Psychiatric Hospital, which was in operation from 1950 to 1960. While in Seattle, he became a charter member of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and Society; after leaving Seattle in 1965, he helped found the San Diego Psychoanalytic Institute and Society and helped to build the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute. Orr was a member of the King County Medical Society from 1941 to 1967. He died from cancer in 1990 while he and his wife were living in a retirement village near Santa Rosa, California.

Early Life

Douglass Winnett Orr was born on August, 29, 1905, in Lincoln, Nebraska, one of five children of Hiram Winnett Orr (1877-1956), an orthopedic surgeon, and Grace Douglass (1882-1962), a physical-training teacher. His domestic environment included music, books, religion, and a renowned book-collecting father who wrote medical texts and invented an orthopedic procedure called the "Orr treatment." The son had much to live up to. His mother was active in the Congregational church and the Camp Fire Girls. She wrote A Layman's Guide to Ecumenicity, which was published in 1956 by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Orr grew up with four siblings: Ridlon Willard Orr (1908-1967); Martha Josephine Orr Danielson (1910-1996); Dorothy Grace Orr Klein (1913-1991); and Gwenith Greene Orr Sheldon (1919- 2009).

Douglass Orr graduated from Lincoln High School in Nebraska on June 1, 1923, and was awarded the Senior Prize for achievement. According to Orr's daughter, Nancy Orr Adams (b. 1941), her father's family attended church every Sunday, and the children went to weekly Sunday school. When Douglass became an adult he wanted nothing to do with religion; he and his wife would raise their children in a secular environment. He would also rebel against his father's pressure for him to study orthopedic medicine.

Higher Education

Orr attended the University of Nebraska from 1923 to 1926, where he studied the Greek classics and English. He transferred to Swarthmore College, from which he received his undergraduate degree in 1928. There, he was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity and Phi Beta Kappa. Upon graduation, he taught English and philosophy at the short-lived (1927-1932) Experimental College in Madison, Wisconsin, established by progressive educator Alexander Meiklejohn (1872-1964). Orr would retain his lifelong fondness for the humanities. One summer while in England he developed an interest in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group. Although he gave up on the idea of getting a Ph.D. in English, his work on Woolf was rewarded in 2004 when two of his texts on the subject were published posthumously.

In 1931 Orr married social worker Jean Walker (1907-1998), whom he met in Madison. He enrolled in medical school at Northwestern University's school of medicine and earned his medical degree in 1935. Soon after, he went to England on a Barnett Fellowship, where he and his wife wrote Health Insurance with Medical Care: The British Experience. The couple had two children, Stephen Winnett Orr (b. 1940) and Nancy Orr Adams (b. 1941).

According to Nancy Orr Adams, Orr was determined not to follow in his father's footsteps by specializing in orthopedic medicine; despite his father's disappointment, Orr became a psychiatrist. He went to Chicago to train as a psychoanalyst and to enter into analysis with N. Lionel Blitzsten (1893-1952), the first training analyst in Chicago and the first president of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society, formed in 1931.

At the Menninger
read the rest of this essay at, where photos are also included.