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Benson Rowell Snyder, former psychiatrist-in-chief at MIT, dies at 89

Benson Rowell Snyder, a former professor and psychiatrist-in-chief at MIT.
Benson Rowell Snyder, a former professor and psychiatrist-in-chief at MIT.

Benson Rowell Snyder, a former professor and psychiatrist-in-chief at MIT, died on Sept. 4 in Cambridge, Mass. He was 89.

Snyder was born March 29, 1923, in Glen Ridge, N.J. He was one of four children of Harold Blake Snyder and Mary Helen Rowell. He attended Bard College, Columbia University, but was interrupted by enlisting in the Army. He received his M.D. from New York University in 1948.

Snyder was a professor of psychiatry and psychiatrist-in-chief at MIT from 1959 to 1969; dean of Institute relations from 1969 to 1972; and director for the Division of Study and Research in Education from 1973 to 1986.

Before coming to MIT, Snyder was consulting psychiatrist at Wellesley College from 1953 to 1959. He was a special consultant for the National Institute of Mental Health, chairing the special grants review committee, and was on the faculty in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School from 1959 to 2010, with appointments at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. During the Korean War he was chief of psychiatric service while a captain in the U.S. Air Force.

After his retirement from MIT in 1986, Snyder attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and devoted himself to painting, drawing and printmaking. He was an avid sailor and spent many summers with family and friends on his Concordia yawl, sailing in Maine, Massachusetts and in the Mediterranean on a friend’s sailboat.

Snyder wrote about students and mental health; his book “The Hidden Curriculum,” published by MIT Press in 1972, was on the culture of MIT and how students cope with overload through selective neglect. The book went through various editions.

He was a member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Snyder is survived by his wife and partner of 40 years, Judith Glatzer Wechsler; his children, Andrew, Greg, Ellen, Gretchen, Robin and Dierdre; stepdaughter Johanna Wechsler; a sister, Elizabeth Thomas; a grandson, Eli Gould; nephews Robin and Jay Thomas; and grandniece Anne Thomas.

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