Fascinating Mad Men-Era Advertisements

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

This is part of an intermittent series of blogs featuring advertisements found in our collection. You can find the entire series here.

In American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 83, no. 3 (1962).

In American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 83, no. 3 (1962).

Nobody conjures the ’60s better than Matthew Weiner and the writers, designers, and stylists of AMC’s Mad Men. We’ll miss the quotidian details: the trash left behind at the Draper family picnic, that unbelievable maternity dress of Trudy’s, the choking smoke of Mohawk’s planes, Metro-North’s trains, and Don’s automobiles. When Sally Draper puts a plastic dry-cleaning bag over her head and her mother scolds her—not out of fear for her safety and only for dumping her dry-cleaning on the floor—we’re gob-smacked. These moments crystallize the seismic shifts that have occurred in cultural expectations over the last fifty years.

The Academy Library has strong holdings in the major journals of the 19th and 20th centuries. Journals were then, as they are now, the primary place of publication for innovations and discoveries. In addition, the advertisements aimed at the professional readers of these journals offer insights into changing cultural beliefs. Most libraries excised the advertisements, especially if they were gathered in a separate section of the journal. The Academy tradition was to keep the advertising, and these ads are now heavily used by historians.

The images and texts in these advertisements provide artists, writers, and historians with richly-textured cultural context. There is much to be learned, for example, from looking at the way antidepressants were marketed to women in the twentieth century, at the early advertisements for the birth control pill, and at tobacco advertising aimed directly at physicians as consumers.  Here, a look at a Flavorwire piece we wrote using ads entirely from our collections and relating them to Mad Men.

Treating Mad Men: Harry Levinson’s Men, Management, and Mental Health

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Image courtesy of AMC.

April 5 saw the return of Mad Men for the conclusion of its television run. The show, of course, evokes the work world of 50 years ago: its style and flair, as well as its misogyny and racism, its messiness and dysfunction. To address that dysfunction, psychologist Harry Levinson would apply a strong dose of medicine.

In an era of paternalist corporate life and long-term employment, managers increasingly saw the workplace as a nexus for in human health, with corporate consequences. Industrial psychologists began championing the idea of organizational health. The result of good management, organizational health led directly to individual health, both physical and mental; healthy workers built successful companies.

Title page of Men, Management, and Mental Health, 1962.

Title page of Men, Management, and Mental Health, 1962. Click to enlarge.

One of the first of these psychologists was Harry Levinson (1922–2012). His Men, Management, and Mental Health (1962)1 portrayed the workplace as anything but a neutral space. A native of New York and trained at Emporia State University (B.S., 1943; M.S., 1947) and the University of Kansas (Ph.D., 1952), he became associated with the Menninger Foundation of Topeka. There, with a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, he founded the Division of Industrial Mental Health.2 For Men, Management, and Mental Health, he conducted almost 1,000 interviews and made site visits to more than 40 work locations at a Kansas power company over the course of 2 years. Levinson and his team delved deeply into the workings of the company, considering specific examples of tension and conflict, using case studies to flesh out his theories, and, as he put it, “specifying more fully our conception of mental health.”3

In his work, Levinson brought to bear the full panoply of psychoanalytic theory. He saw in the workplace the playing out of dependency needs and transference mechanisms; he traced the clash of rivalries, and viewed conflicts as arising out of deep psychological wells. Yet all this was comprehensible in terms of the psychoanalytical view of human nature. Chief among Levinson’s insights was that workers wanted, or even needed a psychological contract in addition to a labor contract, not based on specific rewards for services, but rather on such intangibles as security, job growth, mutual respect, and fairness. He called the bundle of these concerns “reciprocation” and held they were crucial for organizational success—and for the mental health and physical safety of employees.4

Chart on page 159 of Men, Management, and Mental Health, , showing the key concepts of the psychological contract and reciprocation.

Chart on page 159 of Men, Management, and Mental Health, showing the key concepts of the psychological contract and reciprocation. Click to enlarge.

True to his psychoanalytical training, he saw executives and managers as having crucial roles, which he put into medical terms. When working well, the executive was “diagnostic, remedial, and preventive.” When failing, he was “iatrogenic”: illness-causing! Finally, he maintained that mental health was not a humanitarian add-on in American business, but an integral part of “getting the job done.” American management needed to move beyond psychological manipulation: “psychological understanding cannot fail.”5

In the late 1960s, Levinson joined Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School, and founded The Levinson Institute, a consulting firm and his base until the early 1990s. He wrote numerous books and introduced workplace concepts familiar to this day, among them the employee assistance program, performance feedback, and coping with loss in workplace change.6

How would Harry Levinson deal with Don Draper? For Levinson, the most important goal is alleviating workplace stress, which Don does through alcohol—as well as other outlets. Levinson’s means were solidarity and leadership, with the aim of re-establishing a creative balance. How well Draper would have responded to this message is up for grabs: my guess is that he’d be out the door!


1. Harry Levinson, Charlton, R. Price, Kenneth J. Munden, Harold J. Mandl, and Charles M. Solley, Men, Management, and Mental Health (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962).

2. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, p. viii.

3. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, Appendix 1, “Research Team Operations,” pp. 173–82, quotation from page 179.

4. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, passim, but for those terms, see pp. 21 and 122.

5. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, chapter 10, pp. 157–72.

6. See also Diana Gordick, “Leader Speak: A Conversation with Harry Levinson,” The Consulting Psychologist: Spotlight on Consulting Issues, http://www.apa.org/divisions/div13/Update/2003Fall/Spotlight2Fall2003.htm. Accessed April 2, 2015.