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STUDY IN PERSONALITY

HARRIET F. COFFIN, M.D.

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The subject of this report-a boy of 14 years—was first seen in a public school. As he entered the room and came toward the examiner he made a rather unusual impression: tall, well developed, though with a certain peculiar effeminate roundness of build, a decidedly blond type, with clear skin and rosy cheeks. He wore a well-cut black and white checked suit, with a 4-inch black silk band around his left arm. His somewhat swaying stride gave one the immediate impression that the boy was well pleased with himself. When asked his age and school grade (3A) he hastened with the following defense, “You see I think I was born a little nervous, and I've had many sicknesses, and now I have the fainting spells.” He elaborated somewhat at length regarding the “fainting spells”; said he was always afraid of falling when crossing the street, declared that he had dropped twice-just escaped being run over by passing automobiles. He expressed the feeling that God is guarding his life. “I've been so near death and always pulled out that I'm thankful to God in that way, and when I feel dizzy in the street I hear a whisper calling my name, and then fall back, and then I fall on a safe spot, for I've never been hit by an automobile.” He said that two weeks previous he fell in the street and his mother brought him home in a taxicab. Stated that his father has had “falling sickness for the past two years, is unable to work, that his mother now runs an elevator in an office building, and that she and his 21-year-old brother support the household. The psychological test revealed a mental age of 8 years, 9 months.

As other children were waiting to be examined I reluctantly hurried on, but with a feeling that the boy presented many interesting features of study, and that I had absolutely failed in obtaining any grasp into his real inner life. The main findings were reported at the office, and as he neither looked nor acted like an epileptic I asked that a day be set apart that I might attempt a more thorough study of the case. The following day, being a holiday, seemed a good time to find the mother at home, and as I neared the house I asked two boys, about 10 years of age, if they could tell me where Edward White (not his real name) lived. They did not recognize the name and I tried the more boyish name of Eddie, with the response—“Eddie White? Eddie White?-Do you mean Sissy White?" And I knew I did!

The entire family was at home; they were in a most coöperative mood. The mother was especially appreciative that a school interest was being taken in the boy. The following history was obtained. Edward was born in New York City 14 years ago of Austrian parentage; the father is of peculiar physique —"dwarf-like," a quiet seclusive man with rather unusual talent as a wood carver of religious subjects-works in his home

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on the East Side, making carved figures of Christ on the Cross, miniature lacy cathedrals, and carved frames for holding religious pictures. The family displayed a sample of this work, a wooden carving, of some 4 feet in height, of Christ crucified, and it seemed of unusually gifted execution, and the brown tones used in coloring the crown of thorns and the red of the wounds showed richness of color sense. The mother was known to have been a very frail woman, suffered for two years with lung tuberculosis, and died of this sickness two months after the birth of Edward. When Edward was a few days old, owing to poverty in the family and to the mother's critical condition, he was placed in a Catholic Guild. The family with whom Edward now lives, adopted him the following day-with willing consent from his parents.

The foster mother explained that her own boy was 7 years old, that she was especially fond of caring for babies, that they were financially able to adopt a child, and that Edward was the first one they showed her. He was the last born of four boys. The oldest brother inherited the father's artistic ability, and the foster parents showed a very creditable oil painting of a marsh scene with the sunset beyond, which this boy did when 14 years old. He is said to have painted a very realistic portrait of a member of the

a family, at about this same age. He was always delicate in physique, and died when 17 years of age of ulcer of the stomach. The next boy, now about 18 years of age, is said to be of a rather dreamy seclusive make-up and has proven a failure, as far as succeeding in the work-a-day world is concerned. He has shown no interest in positions which have been obtained for him. He is now attending some business college, keeps by himself, and shows no interest in associating with either boys or girls.

The third brother is about 17 years old, said to have always been willful and wayward, under the influence of gang leaders, made false statements about his age and is now in the army service in France. Edward was a full-term baby, but is said to have weighed only four pounds when born. He seemed to have developed normally, was soon a robust baby, talked and walked at the usual age, but when 6 years old had a severe attack of scarlet fever, with mastoid operation following. The next year he had a severe convulsion which ushered in an attack of meningitis, and the foster parents think his arrested development dates from this sickness—“he seemed kinder dull for a while, and wasn't the same after that.” When 8 years old had choreiform movements, some slight residual of which still remains, being especially noticeable when under any emotional stress. He knows the truth regarding his adoption, and has been taken on frequent visits to see his father and two brothers, but never shows any interest or affection for them.

He has always liked to play with children much younger than himselfespecially with little girls and has always enjoyed fussing over doll's clothes, sewing and draping bits of cloth about them, but never accomplishing anything of real worth in the creative line. The mother found him one

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day in the midst of a sewing circle of four younger girls, and seeking to break up this unusual attraction on his part she hurried him home, scolded and whipped him, only to find that a few minutes later he had stolen 10 cents from her pocketbook, had bought candy with it, given it to the four girls and was again playing in their midst. Since 10 years of age most of his play time has been spent in the house, undoubtedly for the reason that he has never had anything akin to an adult nature to contribute, for he stated, 'seems as if nobody ever wants to play with me.” He enjoys helping with the housework, makes the beds, assists with the cooking and spends much time knitting and unravels most that he does, though he has succeeded in completing a scarf and two knitted wash cloths. He has seemed to exist in a little world of his own make believe-always enjoyed decorating himself in a most puerile way, as tieing ribbons about his neck, draping a red tablecloth about his hips in the form of a skirt, and with his mother's hat on would prance through the rooms, spend much time grimacing before the mirrors and the like. For the past two years has occasionally visited the movies and on coming home the family has observed more of this rather senseless imitating, as after draping himself in any available loose material he would pretend himself an actor, come out at the side of a curtain, chant and indulge in senseless noises and yells till the family would have to stop him.

A year ago a relative with an infant visited the household for two days, and Edward spent all possible time in dressing up his dog (of whom he is very fond) in the baby's clothes; then he would carry the dog around in this regalia, rock him to sleep and the like. A year ago the family was quite perturbed because they discovered that Edward was taking, first, a dollar bill, then a two-dollar bill from his brother's pocketbook and with this money he bought candy, collected the younger children in the neighborhood about him, and dispensed it in the boy-bountiful-attitude. Suspecting him of having taken the money the mother left her purse on the table and on leaving the room he helped himself to part of its contents. When found with the money in his pocket he denied having stolen it, saying that a man in the cemetery gave it to him for carrying water. The family threatened to put him in an institution if he ever stole again, and they think this threat has influenced him in the right direction, for he childishly admitted that he never thought the money would be missed, and apparently had no sensing of his delinquent acts.

He has never shown any interest in any form of school work. As the father said, “He's a good boy, so willing, but you can't drum things into his head; he ain't got the spunk of a sparrow.'

a sparrow.” If he sees a funeral he'd stand around for an hour looking at it, he'd sooner see it than a wedding and if he sees a crape he's really petrified on the spot-it creates an awful lot of interest in him and if we're with him walking along he always throws his eye back at it. He goes into a strange house where there is a funeral and comes back and says how grand the room looked, fixed so and

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so and described how the corpse looked, how beautiful it was and so on. If he passes an undertaker's window he always stops and comments saying, ain't that a nice little casket?” Frequently he walks through cemeteries Sundays. Mother relates having found a candy box in his dresser drawer, lined with silk, and within was a tiny doll draped in the same material, and when asked to explain he said the doll was “dead and in its coffin.” Around Christmas time he had some twenty or thirty frames for floral wreaths in the back yard (family never knew how he obtained them) and is said to have played with them almost constantly for two weeks; he decorated the Christmas tree with them and finally his father threw them away. During the early part of the year his teacher was away a few days, sick with influenza, and he made the rather startling announcement to the family that the teacher had died,-following which statement she soon appeared back in the class room. A year ago a neighbor woman, in an upstairs apartment, frequently related conversations with the boy, in which he talked much of a simple wish to die—but he apparently never formulated any plans toward this end. It is interesting to recall that when reprimanded for having stolen the money he so quickly invented the story that "a man in the cemetery” had given it to him.

When the history of fainting spells was probed into it uncovered the fact that the father has, during the past two years, had arteriosclerotic fainting spells, has fallen on perhaps four or five occasions when in the street and was at one time brought home in a taxicab. The family think his stories along these lines were merely a simulating of the father's sickness. When Edward was faced with these facts, before his parents, he made no attempt to squarely face his fabrications, but childishly burst into a shallow crying spell, which shut out the disagreeable reality, and, as usual, the family changed the subject. When another attempt was made to make him realize the seriousness of this defect it was again met with a burst of babyish crying. Asked regarding the whispers warning him to "fall back” when crossing the street, he said he was always afraid of being hit by automobiles, and that since he has so far escaped he feels God protects him. He insists that the warning frequently saves him from imminent danger. The family was asked regarding the black silk band Edward wore around his arm, and they said it was his own idea; that he had made it out of a strip of silk and that he wore it for the foster mother's cousin who died in France. Edward said he enjoyed wearing it, that it pleased him. Everybody asked him regarding it; and thus he was able, for the time being, to be of interest to his classmates.

When again seen in the school he anticipated the interview, and in a most effeminate way constantly toyed with a handkerchief between his hands, or talked along with his hands resting on his hips.

Asked regarding his wish to die, he said, “I've had lots of feelings that I wanted to die. Whenever I have a sickness I have a feeling in me that I want to die. I felt people didn't want to play with me, and I didn't want

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to go out much. I always like to be in the house all the time; I thought it would be a relief to diea little easy if I could die,-and I had a feeling I just wanted to die just where I was. I'd like to die a death that wouldn't hurt

I the worst way-like some sickness, not to bleed to death, like falling off some place like jumping off. I like to go to church; I pray so nothing will happen to me in the street. I might be knocked down and hurt very bad by an automobile and when I'm in church I have a feeling my life is being saved. I used to want to be a priest in the worst way.”

Asked regarding his first experience with a funeral he said, “Where I lived in the city I saw so many, seemed as if there was always one across the street or next door. My aunt's funeral (when he was 8 years old) was in such a nice way—the way she was laid out and everything—she was laid out so pretty. She had everything so pretty. She was engaged to be married and I hadn't seen the wedding dress before, and it appealed to me right away and I was saying all the time how nice she looked. And I've been watching funerals since. I always like to see them. I like the way they start off with the coaches, how slow they start, and I always like to stop and see a funeral pass. (Urged on] I always like the way people are laid out; the way they are dressed, the way the box was made, the handles and all on it. I always like to see a crape hanging, like the way it is made with all flowers and ribbon on it, and I'd watch to see the flowers brought out. Little coffins are lined so pretty, the silk on it looks so pretty-I always look how it's fixed on the outside and on the inside. I'd rather have black and white (one recalls his black and white check suit) than any colorit's my

favorite color—it looks so nice and dressy.” He told of being called names by the other boys. “They call me 'dopehead, sissy, biscuits, foolish and baby'—the boys were always too rough foi me; I never cared for rough boys—I don't like wild boys. I like them nice and quiet. I won't play with a boy that curses. I don't like anything wild like football. I like to play tag and hide and go seek; tag is wild, but you can rest every once in a while and I use to love to roll down hills in the summer, but now it makes me dizzy. I love to cook spaghetti, make salads and everything like that. I can't seem to leave my nails alone; every little

. thing upsets me, any noise, hollering or anything like that upsets me.”

One felt that his every day life was unhampered by sex complexes. His brother (with whom he sleeps) was asked regarding this and said, “He sleeps right through to the morning-doesn't seem to know the difference from one sex to another." Feeling that possibly some fantastic infantile distortions might be present, his ideas were asked regarding the birth of babies, and the following output-in a most affectless setting: “They're born of God, God borns them. I was always taught to believe that God made them, by His hands, using stuff like dust, and the stork brings them from heaven to the doctor, and he takes them to people people who want them.” As he seemed very fond of a mother cat that played about the rooms he was asked if he never wondered how the kittens were formed.

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