Newspapers (Don’t) Enlighten

Newspaper Article

For all their faults, insane asylum superintendents tried hard to ease the stigma of insanity. They wanted families to bring their loved ones for help, without shame or fear of criticism. Community newspapers often praised the work of the local asylum and its staff, but generally, newspapers and other media did little to help the superintendents in their quest to ease the embarrassment associated with insanity. Here are some typical quotes:

“Another account says that eighteen raving maniacs were burned to death in the insane department at the Blockley alms-house on the west side of the Schuylkill River . . .” from the Rochester, NY Democrat Chronicle, Feb. 13, 1885.

“To allay their fears, and to quiet the excitement which many of them began to exhibit . . . the lunatics were told that there was to be a dance in the Amusement Hall.” New York Times, 1879.

Obituary notice: “Brought to the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum in this city [Lexington] three days ago a raving maniac, Mrs. Jennie Centers, aged 23, died at that institution Thursday night of  exhaustion from acute mania.” The Leader, January 12, 1907.

“Fredrick J. French, an electric light trimmer, received a shock and became a raving maniac this morning while at work on the top of the slender iron tower in front of the city hall building. ” p. 127, Western Electrician, Volume XIV, 1894.

Blockley Almshouse, courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives

Illustration of Railroad Passenger Afraid He is Sitting Beside a Dangerous Lunatic, Mr. Punch's Railway Book, courtesy Project Gutenberg



2 thoughts on “Newspapers (Don’t) Enlighten

  1. Carla Joinson

    In their minds, it often did. The more a patient protested against going to an asylum, the more it “proved” that they were unable to make sound decisions and needed to be in one. It was usually a lose-lose situation.

  2. Mark p.s.2

    “They wanted families to bring their loved ones for help, without shame or fear of criticism.”
    Say, what happens if the “loved ones” don’t want any help? Does that prove they needed help?

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