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William Richards collection on Walter Pahnke

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSP 68

Scope and Contents

The William Richards Collection on Walter Pahnke (1952-1972; 0.2 cubic feet) contains materials collected and donated by William Richards that document the life and work of his close colleague, Walter Pahnke. It includes some of Pahnke's important academic writings, copies of personal manuscripts, some biographical information, writings by his wife (Eva Sontum Pahnke), and materials memorializing his untimely passing.


  • 1950 - 2009
  • Majority of material found within 1964 - 1971


Access Information

This collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Copyright restrictions may apply. Consult a reference archivist for details.

Biographical Information

Walter Norman Pahnke (1931-1971) earned his Artium Baccalaureus (magna cum laude) from Carleton College in 1952, his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1956, his BD (cum laude) from Harvard Divinity School in 1960, and his PhD from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1964. He designed and conducted the widely known “Good Friday Experiment” in April 1962 as part of his PhD research under advisors Timothy Leary ad Richard Alpert. During his PhD work, he received a Sheldon Travelling Fellowship from Harvard, which allowed him to travel to Europe to train with Hanscarl Leuner at the University of Göttingen in Germany. In 1964, he undertook his psychiatric residency at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston, where he continued his research with psilocybin. In 1966, he joined the team at the Spring Grove State Hospital as a research psychiatrist in psychedelic therapy, where he oversaw the treatment of terminal cancer patients. In 1969, he was promoted to director of clinical sciences research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, where he conducted sessions with LSD and DPT on terminal cancer patients, alcoholics, and those diagnosed with severe neurosis. His primary research interests included psychopharmacology (especially psychedelic drugs in regard to psychotherapeutic usefulness, sociological abuse, and religious implications), psychiatric and ethical issues in the care of the dying patient, and the psychology of religion. Pahnke wrote extensively on the therapeutic use of LSD including his seminal 1969 article “The Psychedelic Mystical Experience in the Human Encounter with Death.” He was a Phi Beta Kappa member, a Kent Fellow, and an Ingersoll Lecturer at Harvard University. Pahnke passed away at the age of forty in a scuba diving accident in the Atlantic off the coast of Maine on July 10, 1971 leaving behind his wife, Eva, and three children. Pahnke was “admired by his friends for his boundless energy and enthusiasm and for the diversity of his interests.”


0.226 Cubic Feet (One half-width legal-sized manuscript box)

Language of Materials


Acquisition Information

Donated by William Richards on April 17, 2009.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital reproductions of materials are available for research use. See our digital collections database e-Archives: William Richards collection on Walter Pahnke

Processing Information

Materials have been placed in archival housing.



William Richards collection on Walter Pahnke
Kristin Leaman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Fourth edition. First edition completed on September 2, 2012.

Revision Statements

  • 2020-03-31: Updated subject headings and slight wording adjustments SS
  • 2020-03-05: Renamed collection title and reordered and renamed folders
  • 2021-03-09: Added item level descriptions. Revised data to align with ASC data entry standards. KW/SS

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States