Remarks by the Honorable Robert Gordon Sproul, President of the University of California, at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Langley Porter Clinic of the California State Department of Institutions - April 5, 1941

The dedication of cornerstones, of all social observances one of the most ancient and honorable, is a unique ceremony. It neither signalizes the beginning of construction, nor marks the completion, and has barely more reference to midpoint than to beginning or end. Nor does it represent, like the raising of the middle span of a bridge or the setting of the keystone in an arch, the successful solution of an intricate engineering problem. A cornerstone is merely hoisted and dropped into a spot in the structure which seemed to be doing quite well without it. Why, then, the persistent vitality of this ancient practice? Why are we here today? What do we hope to accomplish?

Traditional and semi-apocryphal tales of the genesis of the cornerstone ceremony are easy to find and as lightly to be valued. Superstition and fear, of course, played a part, as they did in all other practices of early man. The builders of long ago, uneasily aware of the presumption of human undertakings, sought to propitiate the powers of the supernatural world and to strengthen their luck before the increasing height of the walls should serve the angry deities as instruments of wrath against the hapless workers. Later, a sophisticated society has been glad to avail itself of the opportunity afforded by the "tin box which is immured in all cornerstones to get rid of old newspapers, photographs, and other junk for which a suitable place is difficult to find in modern houses, devoid of attics. Some have even been unkind enough to say that the chief purpose of a cornerstone laying is to give a group of dignitaries a chance to make a speech. Knowing the contractors who have undertaken to construct this building, I have a confidence of safety that no magical protection could possibly provide. Knowing myself and the others involved in this particular ceremony, I cannot conceive of it as an outlet either for poor housekeeping or frustrated public speaking. There is attested here, in the purposes for which the material form is to be in part the instrument, a better, truer conception of the meaning of a cornerstone. Today men commemorate in the dedication of each new cornerstone, the triumph of ideas and ideals to which their devotion has finally brought effective expression.

Porter Olson and Sproul lay the corner stone

(L to R) UC School of Medicine Dean Emeritus Langley Porter, MD; Governor Culbert L. Olson; and UC President Robert G. Sproul lay the cornerstone for the Langley Porter Clinic. (click here to view larger)   Photo: UCSF Psychiatry archives

Not every building has a cornerstone. Some rather large structures are without them. The more a building embodies the spirit of a group or of a social enterprise the greater is the likelihood that it will have a cornerstone, and that there will be a ceremony when the stone is laid. The ceremony signifies the existence of a civilized society that is concerned with greater problems than those of day to day and hand to mouth. It signifies that the society of which the builders are a part is not only concerned with problems that transcend the life of the individual, but that it is also ingenious enough to devise solutions, and strong enough to implement those solutions that they may be effective. More specifically we may say that the laying of a cornerstone represents a public rejoicing that another idea has survived the knife of criticism and the flame of public argument, and that the evolution of dream to reality has so far progressed that turning back is quite unlikely.

Such reflections as these contribute to the satisfaction that I, at least, derive from participating in this ceremony of laying the cornerstone for a hospital which is designed for public service in that special fold known technically as acute neuropsychiatry. This building is the tangible fruition of an idea and an ideal, the realization of a cherished dream. No longer than a century ago it was common practice to set apart diseases of the mind, and to consider them as in an entirely different category from diseases of other parts of the body. The superstitious belief still lingered on that insanity was the product of supernatural, rather than of natural, agencies, and the victims of mental diseases were treated with no more consideration than would have been vouchsafed to the devils that were supposed to possess them. Fortunately this superstition has been in large part overcome. Under the leadership of such people as Dr. Philippe Pinel, of France, and our own Dorothea Lynde Dix and Thomas Beers, the treatment accorded to victims of neural ailments has been revolutionized within the memory of those gathered here today. But we are still struggling to free ourselves of the notion that, because institutions must be maintained for the confinement of chronic mental cases, all mental therapy should center around such institutions instead of hospitals. We are still struggling to establish intelligent relationships between psychiatry and medicine—between the physiological and the psychological — in the treatment of patients, in the training of practitioners, and in the planning and administration of the pertinent research.

The construction of this neuropsychiatric hospital at the University of California Medical Center is a long step in the right direction. Not only will it place the observation and early treatment of mental cases in the best psychological environment for both patients and doctors; but it will also bring together men in medicine and psychiatry, and provide for their purposes the State's best facilities. Most important and heartening of all, there will be here further provided the means the the stimulus for the training of future medical psychiatrists who will represent the combined knowledge in the many fields which are concerned with the cause, treatment, and prevention of mental diseases.

There is yet another achievement, a public achievement, unique and valuable, which this particular cornerstone ceremony commemorates. All too frequently governmental agencies, local, state, and national, become so habituated to discharging their responsibilities each in its own groove that when new: ways are suggested, the obstacles to be overcome, psychological, political, and legal, are almost insurmountable. This is particularly true if the new ways suggested require the cooperation of two or more government agencies. The laying of this cornerstone symbolizes the overcoming of such obstacles in the State of California, It marks the reaching of an agreement between the State Department of Institutions and the University of California, whereby the future development of neuropsychiatry will be carried on jointly, without aggrandizement of either agency and for the best interests of the public welfare. That this achievement has been possible is a compliment to the present State administration. Dr. Aaron J. Rosanoff, Director of Institutions, and Governor Culbert L, Olson, in particular, and to them I express our gratitude and offer our congratulations.

I am more than justified, for all these reasons, I am sure you will heartily agree, in holding this to be truly an historic occasion, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to be present as a representative of the University of California.