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The Mike Gorman Papers

Biographical Information

[Portrait of Mike Gorman]. [ca. 1930].
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. . . we venerate these words of slavery's greatest foe, William Lloyd Garrison: "I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . Urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard."
--Mike Gorman, 1956

Thomas Francis Xavier (Mike) Gorman was born December 7, 1913 in New York City to an Irish immigrant family. He attended high school in Queens, then earned a B.A. and M.A. in American History at New York University in 1934 and 1936, respectively. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1934. After college he worked as a copy writer and free-lance writer from 1936 to 1941. Enlisting in the U.S. Army right after the Pearl Harbor attack, Gorman spent most of the war (1942-1945) in the Air Technical Services Command. There, he wrote feature articles on technical developments, copy for news services, camp newspapers, and Air Force Radio shows. His last posting was at Tinker Field, Oklahoma, and he chose to settle in Oklahoma City when the war ended.

Gorman joined the staff of the Daily Oklahoman, the state's largest newspaper, in late 1945. For a short time, he covered police and city hall beats, then began reporting on medical problems in the state. In July 1946 his editor gave him an assignment that would change Gorman's life: he was to follow up on a complaint about conditions at Central State Hospital, a state psychiatric institution. Gorman's investigation there revealed filthy, overcrowded wards, overburdened staff, and neglected patients, due mainly to lack of adequate funding from the state. Appalled, Gorman visited all the other Oklahoma state psychiatric institutions, and wrote a series of articles exposing the unhealthy and inhumane conditions he discovered. The resulting public outrage generated a successful grassroots campaign to reform Oklahoma's mental health care system, and gave Gorman his first experience as an activist.

Gorman extended his research to state and private psychiatric hospitals in other states for several years, and began to establish a reputation as a reformer. He later chronicled his first campaign in a book, Oklahoma Attacks Its Snake Pits, which appeared as a Reader's Digest condensation in 1948. Several of his newspaper series were reprinted as booklets, and distributed by the Oklahoma Mental Hygiene Association, which Gorman helped establish. In 1948 he received a Lasker Award for Public Service for his work in Oklahoma.

Gorman's dedication to mental health reform and his growing prominence as a crusader led to his appointment as Executive Director of President Truman's Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation from 1951 to 1953. He later became Executive Director of the National Committee Against Mental Illness, a lobbying and advocacy group founded by philanthropist Mary Lasker and her friend Florence Mahoney. Gorman ran the organization until his retirement in 1988. He also served on the Joint Commission on Mental Health, 1955 to 1961, which surveyed the status and needs of psychiatric care in the U.S. The commission's report--Action for Mental Health--became the blueprint for the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963. This legislation provided, for the first time, direct federal support for mental health facilities and services outside of the Veterans Administration.

During the Johnson administration, Gorman helped push for the inclusion of mental health coverage in the new Medicare legislation. On all these initiatives, Gorman worked closely with allies in Congress, notably Senator Lister Hill and Congressman John Fogarty, who chaired appropriations subcommittees in the Senate and House, respectively. In the fall of 1967, Gorman was a member of the U.S. Mission on Mental Health to U.S.S.R., and wrote several articles about his findings on Soviet mental health services, which he thought exemplary. Through the 1960s and early 1970s, he and his colleagues continued to keep the problems of mental illness before the public, including those related to alcohol and drug abuse, and those of children. They campaigned for increased federal and state funding, assessed the progress of the new mental health initiatives, and, during the Nixon administration, defended such programs against budget cuts or termination. From 1969 to 1977 Gorman also directed the Public Policy Office of the National Council on Alcoholism.

In the 1970s, Gorman gradually turned his energies to different public health crusades. He helped establish (again with Mary Lasker) Citizens for the Treatment of High Blood Pressure in 1973 and served as Executive Director until 1988. He also served as Executive Director for the National Initiative for Glaucoma Control, from 1983 to 1989. Both groups were instrumental in raising public awareness of these silent but serious diseases and in making screening for high blood pressure and glaucoma a routine part of public health practice.

Gorman received many awards and honors for his advocacy work. In 1948, he became the third journalist to receive the Lasker Award for Public Service. The next year he was selected as one of the nation's ten outstanding young men by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1962 he was awarded the Edward A. Strecker Memorial medal from Horizon House in Philadephia for his achievements in the field of psychiatric after-care and related rehabilitation work. He was elected a fellow of England's Royal Society of Health and of the American Public Health Association in 1963, and in 1964 was made an Honorary Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. In 1969, he was elected a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. In 1972 he received an Outstanding Achievement Award in Medical Journalism from the National Press Club. In 1976 he received the first Benjamin Rush Award from Taylor Manor Hospital; in 1978, the National Council on Alcoholism Humanitarian Award, and in 1983 the Nathan Kline Medal of Merit from the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, Orangeburg, NY.

Mike Gorman's success as a publicist and crusader derived partly from his direct, irascible presentation style. He was well known for his sometimes blistering critiques of social injustices and the political or professional inertia that sustained them. He argued repeatedly that there was absolutely no excuse for a country as great and as prosperous as the United States to neglect the health and well-being of so many of its citizens. In his many speeches, addresses, newspaper and magazine articles, books, and committee reports, Gorman aimed both to inform and outrage his audiences, and to shame them when necessary, in order to generate support for his causes. Just as importantly, Gorman deftly cultivated allies not only in Congress but within professional groups, civic and trade organizations, and industry. He and the organizations he headed became resources for sympathetic legislators, providing them with facts, figures, and expert witnesses for hearings, writing their speeches for them, and sometimes helping to draft the bills they would introduce to the Congress.

In addition to hundreds of newspaper articles, Gorman also published many articles in both popular magazines and professional journals. He wrote two books: Oklahoma Attacks Its Snake Pits (1948) which was published only in condensed form in Reader's Digest; and Every Other Bed (1956) which examined and critiqued the state of mental health research and treatment in post-war America.

Mike Gorman married Ernestine Brown, a fellow journalist, in 1946, and they had two children. He was widowed in 1958, and remarried in 1960. Gorman died on April 1, 1989.

Brief Chronology