The papers of Harold Lief, M.D. (1917-2007)

 The papers of Harold Lief, M.D. (1917-2007) are now available. The guide to the collection is available online here. Lief was an influential professor of psychiatry as well as a distinguished practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He made significant contributions to the field of human sexuality by advocating for the incorporation of sexuality education in medical schools and conducting scientific research regarding sex education and sex therapy.

Dr. Lief received his M.D. from New York University in 1942 and completed his psychoanalytic training at Columbia University in 1950. While at Columbia University, he studied with Sandor Rado, an associate of Sigmund Freud.

He became a professor of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University in 1951. While a professor at Tulane University, Dr. Lief worked with Dr. Alan Mayers and Dr. David Reed on the Sex Knowledge and Attitude Test (SKAT). The SKAT was originally created to gather, evaluate and measure information on medical student’s knowledge, attitudes and experience with sex. The data collected from the SKAT helped measure the change in attitudes and information that resulted from teaching sex education over a period of time. The SKAT was used in numerous universities and medical schools to assess training for health professionals. In the 1980’s Dr. Lief worked with Dr. William Fullard to develop the Sex Knowledge and Attitude Test for Adolescents (SKAT-A), an instrument to evaluate the effectiveness of sex education in school and create a data base of knowledge and attitudes held by various sub populations of adolescents.

While in New Orleans, Dr. Lief joined the Louisiana State Advisory Committee to the Commission on Civil Rights and reported on the effects of the desegregation of the New Orleans public schools.

Dr. Lief moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1967 to direct the Marriage Council of Philadelphia and the Division of Family Study at the University of Pennsylvania. While in Philadelphia, Dr. Lief worked in the Center for Study of Sexuality Education in Medicine, developed sex education and sex therapy training for health professionals, and published the second edition of the Sex Knowledge and Attitude Test, 1972. In 1982, Dr. Lief was appointed Professor Emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and continued to practice psychiatry as Psychiatrist Emeritus of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

Lief participated in numerous professional psychiatric organizations. He helped create the Center for Sexuality and Religion, an organization aimed to improve sex education in theological schools. He was an advisory board member for the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and studied the formation of psuedomemories relating to the influence of therapists. He was an editorial board member for Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, and Contemporary Sexuality and a consulting editor for Sexuality and Disability and Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. Dr. Lief was president of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS, 1968), vice president of the World Association of Sexology, and fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (SSSS) and received an SSSS award for distinguished scientific achievement.

The bulk of the collection relates to Dr. Lief’s research and writing. The collection contains publications, drafts, research material, correspondence, teaching material, questionnaires, awards, grant applications, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, slides, lecture notes, articles, conference material, and interview transcripts.

The Lief papers were processed by archival technician Althea Topek.

Preserving the medical heritage of Louisiana is a special mission of the Louisiana Research Collection. A partial guide to LaRC's extensive medical holdings is available online here.


  1. Thanks to Althea Topek, to Lee Miller, and to all the staff at the LA Collections. It's a wonderful place manned by truly dedicated people.

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