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George Miller Beard.

George Miller Beard (May 8, 1839 – January 23, 1883) was a U.S. neurologist who popularized the term neurasthenia, starting around 1869.


Dr. Beard was born in Montville, Connecticut on May 8, 1839, to Rev. Spencer F. Beard, a Congregational minister, and Lucy A. Leonard. He graduated from Yale College during 1862, and received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York during 1866. While still in medical school during the American Civil War, he served as an assistant surgeon in the West Gulf squadron of the United States Navy. After the war and graduation from medical school, he married Elizabeth Ann Alden, of Westville, Connecticut, on December 25, 1866.[1]

He is remembered best for having defined neurasthenia as a medical condition with symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, headache, impotence, neuralgia and depression, as a result of exhaustion of the central nervous system's energy reserves, which Beard attributed to civilization. Physicians who agreed with Beard associated neurasthenia with the stresses of urbanization and the increasingly competitive business environment. Stated simply, people were attempting to achieve more than their constitution could cope with. Typically this followed a short illness from which the patient was thought to have recovered.[2]

One of the more unusual disorders he studied from 1878 onwards was the exaggerated startle reflex among French-Canadian lumbermen from the Moosehead Lake region of Maine, that came to be known as the 'Jumpers of Maine'. If they were startled by a short verbal command, they would carry out the instruction without hesitation, irrespective of the consequences. The studies stimulated further research by the military and Georges Gilles de la Tourette.[3]

Beard was also involved extensively with electricity as a medical treatment, and published extensively on the subject. He was a champion of many reforms of psychiatry, and was a founder of the National Association for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity. He also had an unpopular opinion against the death penalty for persons with mental illness, going so far as to campaign for leniency for Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield on the basis that the man was not guilty because of insanity.[1]

He died on January 23, 1883 in New York City.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936.
  2. A Handbook of Practical Treatment, John H. Musser, M.D. and O. A. Kelly, M.D., 1912.
  3. Beard, George (1878). "Remarks upon 'jumpers or jumping Frenchmen'". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 5: 526. 
  4. Almanac of Famous People, 8th ed. Gale Group, 2003.

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