New Ideas About the Insane, 1903

Dr. G. Alder Blumer, courtesy Stanford Medical History Center

The last post discussed the confidence which characterized the field of psychiatry in its early years, specifically 1903. During the American Medico-Psychological Association meeting for that year, members could congratulate each other on the 750 pages of journal material which had been submitted and printed in the American Journal of Insanity. Though some topics or hypotheses might seem off-target to modern readers, they represented an attempt to understand and help patients in asylums recover their reason and return to society.

On a darker, note, however, was the Association’s discussion of insanity in general. The group’s president, Dr. G. Alder Blumer, had addressed the problem of “curtailing the evil of insanity” in one of the sessions. Curtailing insanity did not lie in bettering the treatment of the insane, according to Blumer. That merely perpetuated the problem. Dr. A. B. Richardson followed up these sentiments with this: “The general result [of charity toward the insane] is that the survival of the unfit is extended . . . they are nursed, protected, and housed, brought to a procreative age, and then turned loose on the community.” These prominent psychiatrists feared that the population of the insane would swell, since “they show a greater tendency to rear a proportionally larger family than the normal classes.”

This meeting was held the same year that the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians began its first full year of operation.

Crowded New York Lunatic Asylum

Waupaca County Asylum for the Chronic Insane, circa 1902

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