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Carlos Frederick MacDonald

Carlos Frederick MacDonald
Macdonald-Carlos 4058473064 f6a0c0424e o.jpg
MacDonald circa 1915
President of the American Psychiatric Association
In office
Preceded byJames C. Searcy
Succeeded bySamuel E. Smith
Personal details
Born(1845-08-29)August 29, 1845
Niles, Ohio
DiedMay 29, 1926(1926-05-29) (aged 80)
Central Valley, New York

Carlos Frederick MacDonald, M.D. (August 29, 1845 – May 29, 1926) was a psychiatrist, and the chairman of the New York State Commission in Lunacy from 1880 to 1896.[1] He was involved in the design of the first electric chair and examined Leon F. Czolgosz, pronouncing him sane enough to be executed in the electric chair after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.[2] He was President of the American Psychiatric Association from 1913 to 1914. He was an expert witness at the trials of Harry Thaw and Harrison W. Noel.[3]


MacDonald was born in Niles, Ohio, and attended the local schools. At age 16, he enlisted in the Sixth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry during the American Civil War participating in several battles including Antietam and Gettysburg. After the war, he spent a year in high school and then entered the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. He earned his M.D. in 1869. He interned at both the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City and at a smallpox hospital during an epidemic for fifteen months.

In 1873 he became superintendent of Flatbush Insane Asylum.

In 1876, he was appointed superintendent of the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Auburn, New York. He then managed the New York State Inebriate Asylum in Binghamton, New York. He remained in both Auburn and Binghamton until 1880.

In 1880, the New York State Legislature passed the State Care Act which provided for the removal of all insane persons from almshouses, county asylums, and workhouses to state mental hospitals. The act established a commission which included a psychiatrist president and two lay members and was charged to be responsible for the state mental hospitals. MacDonald was appointed as the president and held the position until 1896 when he resigned in protest of the commission to carry out its responsibilities which were seen by the state hospital superintendents as a threat to their autonomy.

The execution of William Kemmler.

MacDonald, as a member of the New York Medico-Legal Society, worked on the development of the first electric chair, specifically working with other Society members on the composition and placement of electrode on the condemned prisoner.[4][5] He was also an attending physician at the execution of William Kemmler in New York's Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890, the first execution using the electric chair.

He was a professor of mental diseases at the Bellevue Hospital Medical College from 1888 to 1896 and a lecturer at the Albany Medical College from 1892 to 1894. In 1906, MacDonald purchased a private mental hospital, Falkirk Sanatorium, in Central Valley, New York which he operated for many years. In 1906, MacDonald was asked to examine Leon Czolgosz who had assassinated President McKinley. MacDonald found the prisoner sane and attended Czolgosz’s execution in the electric chair. He attended the autopsy and published his findings in a report.

He was president of the American Medico-Psychological Association now the American Psychiatric Association from 1913 to 1914.

MacDonald died on May 29, 1926 in Central Valley, New York.[3]


He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. He was a consulting physician at the Manhattan State Hospital. He was a member of the New York County Medical Society and the New York Medico-Legal Society.


  1. ^ "Lunacy Board's Powers. Managers Can Make No Expenditures Without Its Consent. President MacDonald of the State Commission Ridicules the Idea, that the Patronage of the Hospitals for the Insane Will Go to Politicians" (PDF). The New York Times. May 15, 1896. Retrieved 2015-04-22. Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, President of the State Commission in Lunacy, yesterday ridiculed the notion that the patronage of the State hospitals for the insane would be transferred to politicians through the operation of the Horton act, which was signed by Gov. Morton on Wednesday. ...
  2. ^ "Dr. Carlos F. Macdonald Employed by Bar Association". The New York Times. September 22, 1901. Retrieved 2009-10-31. Leon F. Czolgosz, whose trial for the assassination of President McKinley will begin next Monday, was examined as to his sanity for one hour this afternoon by Dr. Carlos F. Macdonald of New York, the eminent alienist, who was for years the Chairman of the State Board of Lunacy Commissioners.
  3. ^ a b "Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, Alienist, is Dead. Appeared as an Expert in the Thaw, Czolgosz and Noel Homicide Cases. Was Active at Age of 80. Death Comes at His Central Valley Home. Formerly Had a Sanitarium". The New York Times. June 2, 1926. Retrieved 2015-04-22.
  4. ^ Terry S. Reynolds, Theodore Bernstein, Edison and "The Chair", Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE (Volume:8 , Issue: 1) March 1989, pages 19 - 28
  5. ^ Mark Essig, Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death, Bloomsbury Publishing USA - 2009, pages 225

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