W. J. Sidis Archives Boris Sidis Archives Sarah Sidis Menu
Sarah Sidis, M.D.
Fragments of unpublished manuscript, 5 pages, 1951
[Note: Pages 1 - 3 most were likely written by an editor in collaboration with Dr. Sidis.
Every member of the Sidis family has achieved recognition in his own right. Dr. Sarah Sidis, mother of the boy prodigy, William, and widow of one of the fathers of modern psychiatry, can be considered the guiding light.
During her early life, when she first came to this country from her native Russia, Sarah supported herself by working ten hours a day in a sweatshop teaching other girls how to sew. It was during this period that she decided to advance herself in the field of education.
She went to the local high school and asked the principal for permission to attend classes for two years and then take the college entrance examinations, which are usually given in the senior year of high school.
She was told in no uncertain terms that the authorities did not welcome such impertinence. Indignantly, Sarah asked if she could prepare herself without going to classes and then take the exams. Although she was told that she would be a laughing stock, Sarah realized that the principal did not have the right to refuse an examination to anyone.
She spent evenings With a tutor--the man who was later to become her husband, and sandwiched as much studying as possible between a few hours of sleep and a full work day. It was this experience that led her to believe that endless repetition in studying has a negative reaction on mental accomplishments. When the time came, she took the tests and passed them successfully without ever having attended any formal classes. Dr. Sidis later completed her education at Boston University, where she later her M.D.
It was Sarah who first became a doctor, and she encouraged her husband to get his degree. Her plan was to go along with him on cases to aid him in his studies.
One of the incidents which restrained her somewhat in this capacity I was the birth of their son, Billy. His remarkable abilities and their desire to guide his reasoning powers later convinced the Doctors Sidis that they had a method of education which was far superior to anything else that had ever been developed. Besides trying out their system on their own boy, they applied some of the specific principles—mainly the avoidance of fear--in guiding their patients.
The Doctors had the opportunity to practice working with people in a clinic they began near Boston. Called the Sidis Therapeutic Institute, it was devoted to helping people with functional difficulties caused by fears. The "sanitarium" was unusual in that there were no attendants or nurses nor, according to Dr. Sidis, any "sick" people either. Principles of modern psychiatry were used in helping the patients, many of whom were famous educators and businessmen, free themselves of inhibitions caused by insecure feelings which were interfering with their hopes of complete happiness. In this task, Sarah carried on most of the job of spending hours with the patients, talking to them and getting them to unload the problems that had beset them since childhood, causing the complexes that led them to the clinic.
A typical case was a professor, famous as a research worker and also as a lecturer, who complained of seeing an imaginary curtain fall between the audience and himself whenever he gave a talk. The condition was cleared up after determining the cause, and the professor, now prominently established in a different field, is still a good friend of Dr. Sidis.
Sarah also took over the work of educating her son; His accomplishments are now a matter of record. What is not quite so well known is that his talents were encouraged from the first by the Sidis System. Of the methods employed, Eleanor Roosevelt has said editorially, "I am afraid most of us, as parents, do not understand how to accomplish that extraordinary thing that Dr. Sidis was telling me about. But if we can learn it, it is certainly well worth trying. It might mean that a great many of our difficulties with children would be solved. It might mean that a great many of our difficulties with children would be solved. It might also mean that we could come to understand and make life pleasanter for our children at a very much younger age."
Mrs. Roosevelt sees hope in Dr. Sidis’ idea to encourage children "along the lines that are interesting to them and let them find out there is nothing in the world that does not hold interest for them."
Miami, Florida, 1951
Pages 6 - 7
Although William is no longer alive, he is remembered by educators as having first demonstrated his accomplishments at the age of three. He surprised everyone except his father and myself by inventing a perpetual calendar, with movable parts, that could be used indefinitely. The gadget was patented and later sold, mainly by the industrious inventor.
From his invention, it was easy for Billy to advance during the next two years so that at five he had an understanding of mathematics and even discovered a new logarithm table. Before he was 10, he was perusing Einstein's theories--checking for possible errors.
Formal education was a game to William. He finished the entire eight-year course in five months. During this period, he attended classes a maximum of two hours a day. I arranged this schedule with the school authorities because I didn't want to waste his brain capacities with too much cramming;
William was somewhat disappointed at what he considered his "slow" progress in high school. He began to flout convention by entering at the age of eight. Continuing with his standard two hours a day, Billy man aged to complete the four-year curriculum in a record six weeks. He spent another six weeks serving as an aid to the teachers. During this time, he was nick-named "Professor" by the students who used to ask him questions.
College to William was more of a childhood game than a man-sized problem. He entered Harvard at the ripe old age of 11, thus beginning his university days five years earlier in life than sister Helene, who didn't get to college until she was all of 16.
One of Billy’s roommates at the time was playwright S. N. Behrman, author of "Biography," who attributed the idea of one of his plays to a saying by Billy in those early college days. Behrman paid tribute to my son in a recent story in the Boston Post in which he mentioned the incident.
Genius was also the term Mr. Behrman used for Billy, but I can think of a better explanation. My son had merely learned the ability to use his brain to its greatest capacity. In this regard, the science of psychopathology has set forth this fundamental principle which is not only of the utmost importance in medicine but also in the field of education. It is the idea of stored up, dormant, potential, subconscious power-–reserve energy. Billy was able to achieve an understanding easier than most people because he was aware of how to release and harness this reserve energy.
He was not alone in this ability. Although his unleashed power enabled him to gain a workable knowledge of 25 languages, his father, Boris Sidis, was fluent in 50. After a little practice, either could master a new tongue within a week.
W.J. Sidis Menu Boris Sidis Menu Sarah Menu