It perhaps isn’t quite fair to compare a federal insane asylum like the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians with a private institution catering to the wealthy. (See last post about McLean Asylum for the Insane.) However, the government did have another insane asylum, and it was also quite different from the one at Canton. St. Elizabeths had a training school for nurses, quarantine rooms, and a full hospital where operations ranging from appendectomies to hysterectomies were performed. It was one of the first asylums in the country to appoint a pathologist to its staff, and one of the first to institute therapeutic hydrotherapy.
At about the time that the Canton asylum opened, Dr. William A. White arrived at St. Elizabeths. He created a clinical director position, and organized a scientific department which eventually included a pathologist, psychologist, histopathologist, and a number of assistants. The department published their research in the form of an annual bulletin. St. Elizabeths also trained surgeons from the Public Health Service and Marine Hospital Service to work on Ellis Island (helping discover insane immigrants). The hospital shared its research with the U.S. Army and Navy to help bring military psychiatry into their respective branches. The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was much smaller than St. Elizabeths and perhaps couldn’t be expected to do the same things. However, its staff could have done much more research on mental health issues in a unique population than it did, and been much more involved with its peer organizations that it was. Instead, the asylum’s most significant staff member, Dr. Harry Hummer, allowed the facility to stagnate into a backwater institution that helped its patients very little.