"A fine new child": The Lafargue mental hygiene clinic and Harlem's African American Communities, 1946-1958

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Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences


In 1946, the Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic, a small outpatient facility run by volunteers, opened in Central Harlem. Lafargue lasted for almost thirteen years, providing the underserved black Harlemites with what might be later termed community mental health care. This article explores what the clinic meant to the African Americans who created, supported, and made use of its community-based services. While white humanitarianism often played a large role in creating such institutions, this clinic would not have existed without the help and support of both Harlem's black left and the increasingly activist African American church of the "long civil rights era." Not only did St. Philip's Church provide a physical home for the clinic, it also helped to integrate it into black Harlem, creating a patient community. The article concludes with a lengthy examination of these patients' clinical experiences. Relying upon patient case files, the article provides a unique snapshot of the psychologization of postwar American culture. Not only does the author detail the ways in which the largely working class patient community used this facility clinic, he also explores how the patients engaged with modern psychodynamic concepts in forming their own complex understandings of selfhood and mental health.

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