Preston Ershell Harrison, psychiatrist, teacher, and hospital administrator, one of two sons of Alonzo Louis and Ola (Henson) Harrison, was born near Bryan's Mill, Texas, on August 26, 1911. After receiving his high school diploma from East Texas State Teachers College (now East Texas State University) in 1929, he earned his B.S. from the same institution, his M.A. from the University of Texas (1936), and his M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine (1941). He also earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1946).
Harrison was assistant principal and teacher at Douglassville, Texas (1932–35), and taught at Baylor College of Medicine (1941–49, 1970–75). He conducted a private practice at Clovis, New Mexico, and Maud, Texas (1949–53), and was clinical director (1953–57) and superintendent (1957–75) at Big Spring State Hospital in Big Spring, Texas. He also taught at Howard County Junior College (1957) and Texas Tech University School of Medicine (1974–75). In addition, he was consultant to three hospitals in Houston-Hermann (1947–48), Methodist (1947–49), and Southern Pacific (1947–49)-and to the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (1970).
Harrison was a pioneer in the field of mental health. He advocated personal contact and love as basic treatments for the mentally ill. Working with the motto "People Helping People," as superintendent he established several new programs at Big Spring State Hospital, including the team approach to treating patients, in-service training for attendants, a work village for patients on hospital grounds, adult-education programs, and hospital volunteer service. He encouraged cooperation between the hospital and the community in dealing with the problems of the mentally ill. To achieve this, he helped to set up community mental-health clinics and later worked with them to screen potential hospital patients. He helped to start the Circuit Rider program, in which elderly people were assisted in volunteering for community service. He established half-way houses in local communities for alcoholics.
Harrison received numerous honors, including the Outstanding Service Award from the Texas Association for Mental Health (1967), the Texas Governor's Award from the Institute on Alcohol Studies (1971), the Physician of the Year Award from the Texas Vocational Rehabilitation Association (1972), and a Certificate of Commendation from the American Psychiatric Association (1974). In addition, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1946) and of the American Psychiatric Association (1964). The Harrison Center, a half-way house in Abilene, and the Administration Building at Big Spring State Hospital are named after him.
Harrison was first married to Milba Kathryn Tipton; they had two children. His second wife was Elizabeth Badgett, with whom he had no children. Harrison was a Presbyterian. He died on August 7, 1975.
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Preston E. Harrison Papers and Reference File, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University. Carol Moore and Jane L. Winer, "Dr. Preston E. Harrison: Pioneer Trailblazer for Mental Health in West Texas," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 55 (1979). Who's Who in America, 1974–75.
Health and Medicine
Founders and Pioneers
Hospital, School, and Association Administrators
Physicians and Surgeons
Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Neuropsychiatrists
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Michael Q. Hooks,
“Harrison, Preston Ershell,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
February 24, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: