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Who Remembers Jellinek?

[This is the editorial of the Jellinek Special Anniversary issue of the CAS Information Services Newsletter, co-authored by Judit H. Ward and William Bejarano.]

In 1982, Mark Keller, editor of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, wrote an article with the title “I remember Jellinek.” In 2015, 125 years after Elvin Morton Jellinek was born, a better question to ask would be if and how the world remembers Jellinek, or “Bunky,” as he preferred to be called. It is quite probable that not too many are still with us who met him in person, however, his legacy prevails, despite fading memories.

In remembrance of Jellinek, the first questions should be, as suggested by Thelma Pierce Anderson, Jellinek’s ex-wife,

Which Jellinek are we talking about? Bunky, the man? Bunky, the scientist? Bunky, the humanitarian? Bunky, the screwball? Bunky, the kind? the ruthless? the genius?
(Anderson to Keller, August 22, 1984)

This special issue of the Center of Alcohol Studies Information Services Newsletter aims to present Jellinek’s colorful personality through his own words, deeds, and scholarship, coupled with thoughts and opinions from some leaders of the field. Our goal is to show that Jellinek was everything but the average researcher. Letters, memories, and articles (by him and about him) outline a controversial scholar. He might have been scorned by many and idolized by others, but no one could just ignore him and what he did, whether as a charming gambler in Hungary or an alcohol scientist in the United States.

E. M. Jellinek more than others, saw “the big picture” regarding what was necessary to establish a beachhead for mainstream science’s cultural “ownership” of the nation’s alcohol-related concerns in the post-Repeal period.
(Roizen, 2014, p. 78)

Perhaps Jellinek’s most enduring contribution to the field of alcohol studies is his idea of “phases” of the alcohol addict, exemplified by his famous doodle, later tweaked by Dr. Max Glatt to include a recovery element, but still popularly referred to as the “Jellinek Curve.” This curve has been modified and applied to all sorts of addiction disorders over the years, and is still highly cited to this day.

His wide-ranging appeal to audiences of all sorts was also remarkable. For the scholars, he was one of the first editors of the pioneering Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (QJSA), still being published at the Center under the title Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (JSAD). He also appealed to the layperson, highlighted below by the short animated feature “To Your Health” (starring his cartoon likeness), and the publication “Alcohol, Cats and People,” describing experiments with alcohol on cats and featuring amusing illustrations. And finally, spanning both popular and scholarly audiences is perhaps his most comprehensive work, the book The Disease Concept of Alcoholism, published in 1960, which, combined with his other work, has left an impact exemplified by the fact that alcoholism is occasionally referred to as “Jellinek’s Disease.”

book covers

Highlighting Jellinek’s work at the 2014th SALIS conference

As its first director, he developed the idea and curriculum for the Summer School of Alcohol Studies, which still holds annual sessions at Rutgers University. His appeal to librarians and information specialists may be best represented by his work on the Classified Abstract Archive of the Alcohol Literature (CAAAL) collection, an organizational system for all of the alcohol literature available at the time. And finally, his legend lives on via the periodically-granted “Jellinek Memorial Award”, in which the Canadian-based Jellinek Memorial Fund recognizes scholarly contributions to the alcohol field.

posterWe at the CAS library like to think of Jellinek as a 21st-century sort of scholar. The original multidisciplinary nature of the Center reflects Jellinek’s global thinking and big-picture approach, which includes research, therapy, publication, education, and special services as listed on this hand-crafted poster above from our library collection and popularized in print. The Center was the first to depoliticize the alcohol question, and Jellinek was instrumental in approaching it from a scientific perspective. In addition, by establishing the prototype of modern-day alcohol education and training institutions, the Summer School of Alcohol Studies, Jellinek managed to bring all interested parties under one umbrella, including temperance workers, the clergy, military and health professionals, educational and research-oriented participants, and representatives of the alcohol industry. Jellinek launched the first Yale Plan Clinic as a treatment facility oriented towards addicts. Documenting and disseminating alcohol information were also in the focus of the Center’s early activities. The Center’s model was so effective that new institutions followed the model established at Yale. The Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies still operates under the same principles.

Recent research at the CAS library focused on his pre-alcohol studies years to understand Jellinek the scholar. Jellinek was born of a Hungarian father and American mother in 1890 in New York City. He moved to Hungary along with his family when he was only five years old and lived there until he was 30, mysteriously disappearing in the period labeled as “Time Abroad” between 1920 and 1930. Previously, the highlighted pre-alcohol studies years were difficult to research due to a scarcity of information as well as language barriers.

chart with datesWe seized a unique opportunity, with a native Hungarian librarian, who could do much of the research in both countries. The pre-alcohol years also include almost a decade in a mental health facility in which Jellinek worked as a biostatistician. During our research process, we discovered that we were also sitting on a historical collection of Jellinek’s contributions to alcohol science, much of which had not been touched or documented since 1967.

The research included the startling discovery that E. M. Jellinek had two bibliographies, one compiled in 1966 by former CAS librarians and presented as a souvenir at a Jellinek memorial conference in Santiago, Chile (Bibliography…, 1966). A modified version was published in 1970 and edited by Robert Popham, a colleague of Jellinek’s, in the conference proceedings of the event (Popham, 1970). Both lists started in 1940, when Jellinek was already 50 years old, and are thus inadequate, not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of accuracy.

The two bibliographies were incomplete and the records themselves were also incomplete. We found inconsistencies between the two and within each. As we checked each record against the corresponding full–text items, we discovered mistakes and other inaccuracies. The end result is a new, more complete Jellinek bibliography; our modest contribution to the Jellinek literature, intended to provide scholars with a more accurate account of his scholarship (A comprehensive…, 2015).

As part of our research, we reached out to several substance abuse librarians in North America, Europe, and Australia from the Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists (SALIS). In tracking down Jellinek’s pre-alcohol publications, we faced the challenge of investigating the first 50 years from a biographical point of view, more than anyone else had done before. We have the enormous benefit of working with alcohol historian Ron Roizen by inviting him to be our resident expert. We shared the preliminary findings at the 36th annual conference of the Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists a year ago, and published our panel, comprising seven articles, in the inaugural issue of the open access journal Substance Abuse Library and Information Studies.

With all the myths and legends related to his life, Jellinek belongs to the list of the most controversial figures in the history of science, and “The Disease Concept of Alcoholism remains one of the most frequently cited and least read books in the alcoholism field” (White, 1998, p. 215). The following collection aims to illustrate Jellinek’s unique personality and  character through his own texts and what others said about him, with the latter just as important as the former.

When one discovers a new angle, it should be borne in mind that “[…] His own writings were often more cautious in tone than the absolute interpretations put upon them by those who read him carelessly, or who wanted to make him the high priest of the disease definition of what counts as the problem with alcohol” (Edwards, 2000, p. 98).


  • A comprehensive bibliography of E. M. Jellinek (2015). Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway.
  • Bibliography compiled from Classified Abstract Archive of the Alcohol Literature: E. M. Jellinek. (1966). Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Archives.
  • Edwards, G. (2000). Alcohol: The ambiguous molecule. Penguin Group USA.
  • Popham, R. E. (Ed.) (1970). Alcohol and alcoholism: papers presented at the International Symposium in memory of E.M. Jellinek, Santiago, Chile. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • White, W. L. (1998). Slaying the dragon: The history of addiction treatment and recovery in America. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems

Written by Judit Ward and William Bejarano. Published in the Jellinek Special Anniversary issue of the CAS Information Services Newsletter in 2015.