Ethics and Orphans: The `Monster Study'

Posted at 8:23 p.m. PDT Thursday, June 7, 2001
Tudor Jacobs' life. She stood in the doorway of her home in Moraga, the East Bay town where she had retired, and struggled to decipher the tiny letters scrawled on the wrapper. The address read:

``Mary Tudor Jacobs The Monster.''

The 84-year-old woman breathed faster. She looked at the name of the sender: ``Mary Korlaske Nixon Case No. 15 Experimental Group.''

``Oh dear,'' she said. She shook her head. Her hands began to tremble.

The package came from Iowa. A lifetime ago, as a graduate student, she had conducted an experiment on children in an orphanage there.

The experiment used psychological pressure to make children stutter. It was designed by her professor, Dr. Wendell Johnson, to test his new theory on the cause of stuttering. Several of the children suffered lasting damage, but the research helped support the theory and Johnson went on to become one of the nation's most prominent speech pathologists.
First of two parts:
In 1939, researchers thought their work with orphans could find a cure for stuttering. But they left some of the children scarred for life.

But he never disclosed the research. The study had ended just before World War II, and as the world learned of Nazi medical experiments on living subjects, the professor's associates warned him to conceal his work on the orphans rather than risk comparisons that could ruin his career.

The orphans were not told what had been done to them.

Mary Tudor spent half a century trying to forget.

Every so often a call would come from a researcher asking about the experiment. Then last year, a reporter called and Tudor began seriously examining that part of her life.

Now there was this package, addressed to her, addressed to The Monster. At the University of Iowa, where she had been a graduate student, the experiment came to be called the ``Monster Study.''

She looked at the sender's name again. Mary Korlaske? She couldn't place it. There had been so many orphans, 22 boys and girls, and most of their names -- Norma, Clarence, Hazel, Elizabeth -- had faded in her mind, just as they had on the hundreds of pages of records from the experiment that she had stored in her home all these years.

What had remained was a deep ambivalence about the experiment.

Photo courtesy of Mary Tudor
As a graduate student in the late 1930s, Mary Tudor, above, was thrilled to work under the respected Dr. Wendell Johnson.

``It was a small price to pay for science,'' she would say many times, talking with the reporter. ``Look at the countless number of children it helped.'' And yet, she couldn't forget how the orphans greeted her each visit, running to her car and helping her carry in the very materials she used in the experiment.

``That was the pitiful part -- that I got them to trust me and then I did this horrible thing to them,'' she said.

She carried the package into her dining room and sat down at the antique oak table.

``I hope it isn't a bomb,'' she said.

Contact Jim Dyer at or at (408) 278-3464

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