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Ulysses Pernambucano

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Teacher, Doctor, Psychologist, Psychiatrist


Ulysses Pernambucano

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 03/02/2014

By: Maria do Carmo Gomes de Andrade - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Ulysses Pernambucano de Mello Sobrinho was a doctor, psychiatrist, professor and psychologist, even before the regulation of the profession, which only occurred 21 years after his death.

Descendant from a traditional and relatively socially and financially well-placed Pernambuco family, Ulysses received a good education. He was the son of Dr José Antonio Gonçalves de Mello, who was a Law graduate and D. Maria da Conceição de Mello, who was a relative of her husband.

He was born in Recife on 6 February 1892 and taught to read and write by his father at home. He continued his studies at the Ginásio Aires Gama, a private educational facility that was in the street of the Hospice.

At a young age, he decided to dedicate himself to a medical career. At the time, there was no Faculty of Medicine in Recife, and Ulysses, still a teenager, went to study in Rio de Janeiro.

He chose psychiatry as his specialty in the final years of his course, and was an academic intern at the National Hospital of the Alienated in Praia Vermelha. He was supervised by professor Juliano Moreira, the founder of Brazilian Psychiatry, and had the opportunity to witness the true revolution in medical procedures and the humanisation of living conditions for interned patient.

In 1912 he defended the thesis Sobre algumas manifestações nervosos da Heredo-Sífiles (On Some Nervous Manifestations of Hereditary Syphilis), earning his Doctorate in Medicine. Graduated, he returned to Pernambuco and opened a practice in the city of Vitória de Santo Antão, where due to the precarious living conditions and the needs of the population he also acted as a general practitioner.

In 1914 he transferred to the city of Lapa, Paraná, already professionally established. In 1915 he married Dr Albertina Carneiro Leão, his cousin. From this marriage, two sons were born: José Antonio Gonsalves de Mello Neto, who would become a famous historian and professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco and Jarbas Pernambucano de Mello. Jarbas followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating in Medicine and, through a public exam, succeeded his father in the chair of Clinical Neurology, but passed away early, interrupting what was already a brilliant medical and teaching career.

In 1916, professionally established in Paraná, missing his homeland and his people, he returned to Recife, bringing with him his enormous experiences as a country doctor, to open a Psychiatry practice.

In 1918 the chair of Psychology and Pedagogy at the Escola Normal Official of the State of Pernambuco was formally created in Recife, with a public exam then being offered for the position.

Ulysses applied with the presentation of the dissertation: Classificação das crianças anormais. A parada do desenvolvimento intelectual e suas formas; a instabilidade e a astenia mental (Classification of Abnormal Children. The Halting of Intellectual Development and its Forms; Instability and Mental Asthenia). He was classified in first place, but for political reasons the then-State Governor, Manoel Borba, appointed the second-place-getter to the chair.

In the same year, Ulysses enrolled in the public exam for the chair professor of Logic, Psychology and History of Philosophy, once again achieving first place and this time being appointed by the State Governor to the chair of the Ginásio Pernambucano, where later he would be Rector.

In 1923, Ulysses was appointed, by Governor Sérgio Loreto, Diretor of the Escola Normal, a function he kept until 1927. His management was marked by reforms in social character. He introduced the admission exams for the Escola Normal, whereas before entrance into the establishment followed the criteria of friendship or sponsorship. He also instituted the newspaper, the school luncheon, average rating exams, and other measures.

Before creating the Institute of Psychology in 1925, Ulysses trained the future employees and gathered people interested in the area, such as Anita Paes Barreto, who assumed the direction in the 1927-1928 biennial, Sílvio Rabelo, Ana Campos, Anita Costa, Maria das Neves Monteiro, Maria Leopoldina de Oliveira, Alda Campos, Helena Campos, Maria de Lourdes Vasconcelos, Cirene Coutinho, Celina Pessoa, and others.

In the same year, Ulysses managed to get the State Government to create the first school for special children in the country. In 1928, he left the direction of the Escola Normal and took over the direction of the Ginásio Pernambucano, where he made various improvements.

He was named by the then-State Governor Director of the Institute of Selection and Professional Guidance, continuing, however, to head the Ginásio Pernambucano. Ulysses was also professor of Infantile Neuropsychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine. He occupied, after the death of Dr Gouveia de Barros, the chair of the Neurological Clinic.

In 1930, leaving the direction of the Ginásio in the hands of Olívio Montenegro, he was invited by the Intervener Carlos de Lima Cavalcanti, to the direction of the services for the Tamarineira Assistance to Psychopaths. There the equipment was insufficient and the therapeutic methods totally inadequate. Ulysses was considered the reformer of Tamarineira, eliminating the dungeons and the straight-jackets and having an important role in the expansion of scientific studies on psychopaths in Pernambuco. He carried out various studies and research, many of them were published in the Jornal de Medicina de Pernambuco (Pernambuco Journal of Medicine); in the Arquivos de Assistência a Psicopatas de Pernambuco (Archives of the Pernambuco Assistance to Psychopaths) and in the Revista Neurobiologia (Neurobiology Magazine), the latter two created by him in 1931 and 1938, respectively. He also published: Bases fisiopsicológicas da ambidestria (Physio-psychological Bases of Ambidexterity), 1924; As medias de estatura dos escolares em Pernambuco (Average Sizes of School Children in Pernambuco), 1927; As doenças mentais entre os negros de Pernambuco (Mental Illnesses among the Black People of Pernambuco), 1935.

Ulysses Pernambucano de Mello always acted in the defence of society’s marginalised minorities, those such as special children, the mentally ill, black people and followers of African sects.

For taking this position he was often misinterpreted, accused of being a communist, generating conflicts and difficulties in his administrative actions due to the reduction of budgets to maintain the quality of care for patients of the Assistance to Psychopaths. Ulysses, then, reached his limit. On 8 November 1935, he resigned from the role of director of the institute that appointed him.

On 27 November 1935, in some parts of the country appeared the so-called Communist Conspiracy. Ulysses, persona non grata to the regime of force then in power, was denounced by his adversaries as a “communist” and “subversive”, and was detained and imprisoned in the Recife Detention House (jail) for 60 days.

In 1936, tired of persecution and unjust acts, he suffered a heart attack that compromised his heart.

In 1937 a group of faithful collaborators publically sided with the “Master” and published the Estudos Pernambucanos, dedicados a Ulysses Pernambucano (Pernambuco Studies, dedicated to Ulysses Pernambucano). Despite the bitterness he had faced, Ulysses still found strength to fight for his ideals. In this way, on 12 July 1936 he founded the Recife Sanatorium, a model institution for providing services to the mentally ill, at 257 Padre Inglês St. The first private initiative of its kind in the State, it soon became a psychiatric centre of great repute.

Welcomed into the hospital were many of his disciples, such as Arnaldo Di Lascio, René Ribeiro, Luiz Cerqueira, among others, those who would later become leaders in Pernambuco psychiatry. He opened his hospital to all doctors wishing to accompany the treatment of his patients.

He died in Rio de Janeiro on 5 December 1943.

Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.


sources consulted

SOURCES CONSULTEDMEDEIROS, Adailson. Ulisses Pernambucano, psicólogo. In: ROSAS, Paulo. (Org.). Memória da Psicologia em Pernambuco. Recife: UFPE, Ed. Universitária; Conselho Regional de Psicologia, 2001. p. 67-81.

______. Ulisses Pernambucano. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora, 2001.
ULISSES Pernambucano. In: SILVA, Jorge Fernandes da. Vidas que não morrem. Recife: Governo do Estado de Pernambuco, 1982. p. 447-449.

how to quote this text

Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Ulysses Pernambucano. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.