Futility Closet book ad

The Monster Study

In 1939, University of Iowa graduate student Mary Tudor began an experiment with local orphans, warning them that they were showing signs of stuttering and lecturing them whenever they repeated a word. The children became acutely self-conscious, and many began to stutter, fulfilling the theory that “the affliction is caused by the diagnosis.”

Sixty years later, when Tudor was 84, she received a letter from one of the orphans. It was addressed to “Mary Tudor Jacobs The Monster.”

“You destroyed my life,” it ran. “I could have been a scientist, archaeologist or even president. Instead I became a pitiful stutterer. The kids made fun of me, my grades fell off, I felt stupid. Clear into my adulthood, I still want to avoid people to this day.”

“I didn’t like what I was doing to those children,” Tudor told the San Jose Mercury News in 2001. “It was a hard, terrible thing. Today, I probably would have challenged it. Back then you did what you were told. It was an assignment. And I did it.”