Compassionate Doctors

Dr. William A. White, Superintendent at St. Elizabeths, courtesy National Institutes of Health

Dr. William A. White, Superintendent at St. Elizabeths

Though many abuses toward patients  were either condoned or ignored by senior staff, some doctors cared very much about patient abuse.

When Dr. William A. White took over as superintendent of St. Elizabeths (the federal government’s hospital for insane soldiers, sailors, and citizens of Washington, D.C.), he immediately issued a terse letter absolutely revoking use of the saddle (a harness fashioned around a patient in bed and tied so that he/she could not raise up) as a restraining device.

Utica Crib, an Early

Utica Crib, an Early

Anna Agnew (see last post) witnessed an amazing scene when a new superintendent (Dr. Fletcher) arrived at the asylum where she stayed. Fletcher banned all restraints and then went a step further. He gathered up the various devices in the asylum and made a bonfire of them in front of the patients. Fletcher’s action to abolish restraints was generally applauded, except for the spectacular way he did it. Newspapers reporting on the incident suggested that the matter might have been handled with a little less sensation, though they agreed that restraints were usually a bad idea.


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