Damerow, Heinrich Philipp August
First name:
Heinrich Philipp August
Field of expertise:
Anthropological psychiatry
Place of birth:
Stettin (DEU)
* 28.12.1798
† 22.09.1866
Biography print

German physician of the 19th century; director of the asylum in Halle-Nietleben.


Heinrich Damerow (1798–1866) was born on 28 December 1798 in Stettin, Prussia (today Szczecin, Poland), as the youngest son of a pastor. His father died early, so he grew up with his mother Henriette (née Willett) in the parish’s “Predigerwitwenhaus” (preacher’s widow’s house). He was first taught at home and then attended higher secondary education at a Stettin gymnasium. Already as a child, Damerow came in contact with mentally disturbed patients who were cared for at the neighbouring Johanniskloster, a facility run by the church (Marneros & Pillmann 2005; Haack & Kumbier 2003; Kirchhoff 1921: 165).


Education and career

Damerow interrupted his school education in 1815 to fight as a volunteer in the Prussian Colberg Regiment in the Coalition Wars against Napoleon. After seven months of military service, the seventeen-year-old boy returned back home and resumed school. From 1817, he studied medicine in Berlin but also attended lectures in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, dialectics, history and psychiatry (Marneros & Pillmann 2005: 75). He obtained his doctorate in May 1821 with a thesis titled Quomodo et quando medicinae theoria vera, which was intended to contribute to the development of “psychic medicine”. Between June 1821 and October 1822, Damerow travelled throughout Germany and to Paris for his professional orientation. Back in Berlin, he returned to studying the history of medicine and philosophy, passed the licensing examination as a physician in 1826 and obtained the formal qualification for a professorship in August 1827 (Kreuter 1996: 242). Between 1828 and 1830, he was among the first teachers to hold lectures in psychiatry at Berlin University, during which he also addressed “mental illnesses” (Jaeger 1995: 268).


Activities as a physician and administrator

Damerow published his first book in 1827 (Die Elemente der nächsten Zukunft der Medicin. Entwickelt aus der Vergangenheit und Gegenwart [Elements of the Near Future of Medicine. Developed from the Past and Present]). Drawing on Schelling and Hegel, he explored the theoretical connections between medicine, psychology and physiology from the angle of “Naturphilosophie” (philosophy of nature). The Prussian Minister of Education Karl von Altenstein took notice of Damerow and appointed him associate professor at Greifswald University. Now in a secure professional position, Damerow married. However, he did not stay in Greifswald but went to Siegburg near Bonn to study the reformed asylum set up there by Maximilian Jacobi (1775–1858) also with the support of Minister von Altenstein. Two years later, in 1832, Damerow returned to Berlin. After having worked as a doctor at Charité Berlin for three years, he was appointed director of the Royal Provisional Insane Asylum in Halle in 1835 (Kreuter 1996: 242). He returned to Berlin again in 1839 to join the medical department of the Ministry of Education as a mental health commissioner but then went back to Halle after another three years. On 1 November 1844, Damerow opened the newly established asylum in Halle-Nietleben, the director of which he remained for the rest of his life. Two of his better-known assistants there were Heinrich Laehr (1820–1905) and Rudolf Lebuscher (1822–1861).


In February 1851, Max Sefeloge (1821–1859), a non-commissioned officer in the Prussian army who had fired a pistol on King Frederick William IV of Prussia in May 1850, was committed to Halle-Nietleben without a court hearing. In his capacity as Sefeloge’s attending physician, Damerow published an extensive study of the case, which borrowed on the French concept of “monomania”; he diagnosed a “mental disease”, declared the patient a “danger to the public” and “partially legally sane” (Damerow 1853: 167 ff.) and recommended institutionalisation for life. Sefeloge died at the asylum in 1859. The case had a lasting impact on debates about the forensic expertise of psychiatrists (cf. Haack 2011).


Asylum reform and journal Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie

Damerow advocated what we might call a “holistic” approach in the sense that he sought to integrate cure and care by avoiding the traditional spatial separation between these units. He explained his concept in a programmatic treatise, stating that he also aimed at the “moral condition of alienists, asylums and the state in general” and that his “own observations and experiences attest to the truth – still unrecognised even by the majority of educated people – that most of the mentally ill are human beings also in moral terms and feel and see themselves in that way, thereby seeking to enforce the moral basis for an adequate treatment of the insane, especially of those considered incurable, who have long enough been grossly neglected in the institutions in comparison with the curable” (Damerow 1840: V f.; translated from German).


Together with Carl Friedrich Flemming (1799–1880) and Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Roller (1802–1878), Damerow founded the journal Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medizin, which followed the model of the French Annales Médico-Psychologiques. The first issue appeared in 1844. Damerow thus became one of the leading institutional psychiatrists of mid-nineteenth-century Germany, who advocated philosophical, psychological and anthropological approaches instead of materialistic-somaticist concepts. After thirteen years as the journal’s editor-in-chief, he handed over the post to Heinrich Laehr. When the European cholera epidemic of 1866 also reached the asylum in Halle in September, Heinrich Damerow died from the disease at the age of 68.



Berghof, W. (1990): Heinrich Damerow (1798–1866). Ein bedeutender Vertreter der deutschen Psychiatrie des 19. Jahrhunderts. Dissertation, Medical Faculty. Leipzig: Karl-Max-Universität Leipzig.

Braun, S. (2009): Heilung mit Defekt. Psychiatrische Praxis an den Anstalten Hofheim und Siegburg 1820–1878. Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht.

Damerow, H. (1829): Die Elemente der nächsten Zukunft der Medicin. Entwickelt aus der Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Berlin: Reimer.

Damerow, H. (1833): Über Irrepflegeanstalten. In: Medizinische Zeitung Berlin 2, pp. 217–220.

Damerow, H. (1834): Über den Cretinismus in anthropologischer Hinsicht. In: Medizinische Zeitung Berlin 3, pp. 39 & 43.

Damerow, H. (1834a): Paracelsus über psychische Krankheiten. Berlin: Enslin.

Damerow, H. (1839): Die Irrenanstalten als Bildungsmittel für junge Ärzte in der praktischen Psychiatrie. In: Medizinische Zeitung Berlin 8, pp. 47, 53 & 61.

Damerow, H. (1840): Ueber die relative Verbindung der Irren- Heil- und Pflegeanstalten. In historisch-kritischer so wie in moralischer, wissenschaftlicher und administrativer Beziehung. Eine staatsarzneiwissenschaftliche Abhandlung. Leipzig: Wigand.

Damerow, H. (1850): Zur Kritik des politischen und religiösen Wahnsinns aus dem Irrenhause bei Halle. In: Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medicin 7 (3), pp.1–56.

Damerow, H. (1853): Sefeloge. Eine Wahnsinns-Studie. Halle: Pfeffer.

Damerow, H. (1854): Zur Monomanie-Frage bei den Franzosen. In: Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medicin 11 (2), pp. 268–297.

Damerow, H. (1858): Zur Cretinen- und Idioten-Frage. In: Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medicin 15 (4/5), pp. 499–545.

Damerow, H. (1863): Irren-Gesetze und Verordnungen in Preussen. (supplement to Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medicin, Vol. 20). Berlin: Hirschwald.

Euler, H. H., W. Glatzel (1958): Die Psychiatrie an der Universität Halle. In: Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg 7 (2), pp.197–218.

Haack, K. (2011): Der Fall Sefeloge – Zur Geschichte, Entstehung und Etablierung der forensischen Psychiatrie. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

Haack, K., E. Kumbier (2003): Heinrich Damerow (1798–1866). In: Der Nervenarzt 74 (9), pp. 809–811.

Harms, E. (1959): Heinrich Damerows Interpretation der psychiatrischen Ideen des Theophrastus Paracelsus. In: Schweizerische Zeitschrift der Psychologie 18, pp. 92–103.

Jaeger, S. (1995): Psychologierelevante Lehrende an der Berliner Universität im 19. Jahrhundert. In: Psychologie und Geschichte 6 (3/4), pp. 258–289.

Kirchhoff, T. (1921): Deutsche Irrenärzte. Vol.1. Berlin: Springer.

Kreuter, A. (1996): Deutschsprachige Neurologen und Psychiater. Ein biographisches Lexikon von den Vorläufern bis zur Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Vol. 1. Munich: K. G. Saur.

Laehr, H. (1898): Kurzer Gedenkartikel anlässlich des 100. Geburtstages. In: Allgemeine Zeitung Psychiatrie 55, pp. 850–851.

Laehr, H. (1921): Heinrich Philipp August Damerow. 1798–1866. In: T. Kirchhoff: Deutsche Irrenärzte. Einzelbilder ihres Lebens und Wirkens. Vol. 1. Berlin: Springer, pp. 165–175.

Marneros, A., F. Pillmann (2005): Das Wort Psychiatrie… wurde in Halle geboren. Von den Anfängen der deutschen Psychiatrie. Stuttgart: Schattauer.

Weidner, T. (2012): Die unpolitische Profession. Deutsche Mediziner im langen 19. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt/Main: Campus.


Jessica Thönnissen, Ansgar Fabri, Burkhart Brückner


Picture from: Kirchhoff (1921), p. 167, public domain.


Referencing format
Ansgar Fabri, Burkhart Brückner (2015): Damerow, Heinrich Philipp August.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
URL: www.biapsy.de/index.php/en/9-biographien-a-z/301-e-damerow-heinrich-philipp-august
(retrieved on:17.04.2024)