The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Skull with Evidence of Transorbital Lobotomy

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Skull with Evidence of Transorbital Lobotomy




This specimen shows the characteristic marks of transorbital lobotomy, also called, in its time, icepick lobotomy. The small, symmetrical holes in the eye sockets are where a surgical tool perforated the skull.

The first modern lobotomy was performed in 1935 but used a different and more invasive technique. American physician Walter Freeman, MD, developed the transorbital technique in 1946, seeking a simpler, less traumatic intervention. He went on to popularize his technique and performed thousands of lobotomies himself.

Physicians who performed lobotomies hoped to alter the harmful or aggressive behaviors of people with schizophrenia and to treat severe depression. They thought that they were disrupting the part of the brain where harmful behaviors and emotions originated. In reality, their approaches were imprecise and not based on evidence.

Freeman had some successes and many failures; about 3 in 100 patients died from the lobotomy. Many others suffered permanent brain damage. Freeman supervised an earlier type of lobotomy on John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary in 1941. She was developmentally disabled and may have been mentally ill. The procedure left her severely impaired. Afterwards, she lived in a near incapacitated state until she died at age 86 in 2005.

Lobotomy fell out of favor as pharmaceutical treatments for mental illnesses became available.


Digitized by the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia






20th Century

Original Format

Human skull


“Skull with Evidence of Transorbital Lobotomy,” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library, accessed July 2, 2022,