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George Miller Beard (May 8, 1839 – January 23, 1883) was a U.S. neurologist who coined the term neurasthenia in 1869.


Dr. Beard was born in Montville, Connecticut on May 8, 1839, to Rev. Spencer F. Beard, a Congregational minister, and Lucy A. Leonard. He graduated from Yale College in 1862, and received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York in 1866. While still in medical school during the American Civil War, he served as an assistant surgeon in the West Gulf squadron of the United States Navy. After the war and graduation from medical school, he married Elizabeth Ann Alden, of Westville, Connecticut, on Dec. 25, 1866.[1]

He is best remembered for having defined neurasthenia as a medical condition with symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, headache, impotence, neuralgia and depression, as a result of exhaustion of the central nervous system's energy reserves, which Beard attributed to civilization. Physicians of the Beard way of thinking associated neurasthenia with the stresses of urbanization and the pressures placed on the people by the increasingly competitive business environment. Simply put, people were attempting to achieve more than their constitution could cope with. Typically this followed a short illness from which the patient was thought to have recovered.[2]

One of the more unusual disorders he studied from 1878 onwards, was the exaggerated startle reflex among French-Canadian lumbermen from the Moosehead Lake region of Maine, that came to be known as the 'Jumpers of Maine'. If they were startled by a short verbal command, they would carry out the instruction without hesitation, irrespective of the consequences. The studies stimulated further research by the military and Georges Gilles de la Tourette.[3]

Beard was also extensively involved in research work with electricity as a medical treatment, and published extensively on the subject. He was a champion of many reforms in the field of psychiatry, and was a founder of the National Association for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity. He also took an unpopular stance against the death penalty for persons with mental illness, going so far as to campaign for leniency for Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield on the grounds that the man was not guilty because of insanity. [1]

He died on January 23, 1883 in New York City. [4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936.
  2. A Handbook of Practical Treatment, John H. Musser, M.D. and O. A. Kelly, M.D., 1912.
  3. Beard, George (1878). Remarks upon 'jumpers or jumping Frenchmen'. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 5: 526.
  4. Almanac of Famous People, 8th ed. Gale Group, 2003.