Important Players

30 Physicians of Lunatic Asylums, circa 1858, courtesy Library of Congress

30 Physicians of Lunatic Asylums, circa 1858, courtesy Library of Congress

Both physicians and the public became increasingly interested in the treatment of insanity as the 19th century progressed. Several people became prominent for their work and contributions to the field, and I will profile a few of them in coming blogs.

Dr. Sylvester D. Willard, born in 1825, was the son of a physician and followed in his father’s footsteps. He began an apprenticeship with his father, and graduated from Albany Medical College in 1848, after attending three semesters of lectures there.

In 1864, the secretary of the state medical society in New York was tasked with looking into the condition of the insane in state poorhouses and asylums. The secretary asked Dr. Willard to make that investigation, which he did with conscientious detail. His report on the misery within these places caught the public’s attention. Willard’s report also impressed the state’s legislature, and it passed a bill to found an asylum for the insane poor.

Dr. Willard became ill with a fever and died April 2, 1865. The asylum, which was going to be named “The Beck Asylum for the Insane” after Dr. T. Romeyn Beck (a prominent physician who studied insanity), was named “The Willard Asylum for the Insane,” instead.

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