Tag Archives: Athens Asylum for the Insane

The Mechanical Treatment of Insanity

Kings County Lunatic Asylum in Flatbush, NY

Kings County Lunatic Asylum in Flatbush, NY

Dr. William Hammond (who was not a fan of insane asylums) was appalled at the widespread use of restraints in U.S. facilities, comparing these institutions unfavorably with those in England which had just about abandoned the practice. He wrote: “At present [1883] ignorant and brutal attendants, some of them selected from the very lowest class, can, at their option, from whim, caprice, anger, or any other inadequate cause, order or place a lunatic in the camisole, crib, or other mechanical restraint.”

Hammond did not necessarily argue that all restraints be abolished, but his suggestions followed the course that British alienists used when they began to eliminate restraints. For patients who always took off their clothes, for instance, attendants could use “strong dresses which were secured around the waist with a leathern belt, fastened by a small lock.” Patients who were violent toward themselves or others, could wear “a dress, of which the sleeves terminated in a stuffed glove without divisions for the fingers and thumb.

Athens Female Ward, 1893, courtesy Athens County Historical Society and Museum

Athens Female Ward, 1893, courtesy Athens County Historical Society and Museum

One of Hammond’s suggestions to the state of New York, which asked his advice as it investigated the management of its insane asylums, was to keep the decision to use restraints out of the hands of attendants. Only the medical officer should decide to use mechanical means of control, and Hammond said that even with that safeguard in place, every order for restraint should be documented in a record book. That book, in turn, should be open to inspection.

Postcard of the Athens Lunatic Asylum

Postcard of the Athens Lunatic Asylum

The only two asylums in the U.S. which did not use restraints at all at the time of Hammond’s writing were the Kings County Asylum at Flatbush, Long Island and one in Athens, Ohio (Athens Asylum for the Insane) which he did not specifically name.

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Few Patients Came Voluntarily

Elizabeth Packard Being Kidnapped in Broad Daylight and Taken to an Insane Asylum, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Elizabeth Packard Being Kidnapped in Broad Daylight and Taken to an Insane Asylum, courtesy National Library of Medicine

The case of Peter Thompson Good Boy (see last three posts) shows how easy it was for a Native American to lose his freedom. It would be safe to say that few or no patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians actually wanted to be there. Patient Susan Wishecoby thought she was going to a hospital when she agreed to go; she apparently had epilepsy or something like it that gave her “spells” that were disruptive. Continue reading

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A Look at Asylum Food

Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, early 1890s, courtesy East Tennessee State University Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Superintendents of asylums considered food to be very important, both for patient health and for their morale. Many patients came to facilities somewhat malnourished or with some degree of  sickness, and nourishing food was a primary means of restoring them to physical health. Even healthy patients enjoyed a good meal, and for many patients, meals afforded pleasant breaks in a long day. Superintendents liked to see patients working in asylum gardens: the work gave them exercise and fresh air, occupied their minds, and helped keep expenses down. Some asylum gardens produced surprising amounts of food, though not entirely (or even mostly) through patient labor. The Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, in 1887, produced the following:

— 400 bushels of turnips

— 4,524 ears of green corn

–12,000 heads of cabbage

— 1,102 dozen cucumbers

— 64.5 gallons of peas

These figures do not represent the total harvest from the garden, but do give an idea of its productivity. The superintendent making the report stated that ” . . . the [garden’s] yield is fair under the circumstances . . . . The crops were planted late, and the early part of the season was unfavorable. While the soil of the farm and garden are naturally good, it has been badly cultivated.” At the the end of  fiscal year 1887, the facility had a capacity of 250 but only housed 139 patients.

Animals at the Athens Asylum for the Insane

Patients' Dining Room, West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1912

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