Tag Archives: Dr. John Gray

Alienists Gain Prominence

Print of Assassination Attempt, which appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 16, 1881, courtesy Library of Congress

Charles Julius Guiteau shot President James Garfield at the Pennsylvania railroad station in Washington, DC on July 2, 1881. He did not try to escape and was apprehended on the spot; when the president died twelve weeks later, Guiteau went on trial for his murder. The public was fascinated and the trial became something of a media circus, with Guiteau’s behavior as avidly reported as the points made by the attorneys for the prosecution and defense. Continue reading


Stable Jobs

Dr. John Gray, Superintendent of the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica

Every insane asylum superintendent faced challenges that made the job more difficult. Lack of funds and overcrowding were two perennial problems, along with shallow labor pools and constant administrative tasks. Most superintendents had to take an active role in overseeing new construction, as well as drumming up support for it in the first place. Still, for many alienists, superintendent was still the plum job.

After taking time out for the Civil War, Dr. Patrick Livingston Murphy graduated as a physician from the University of Maryland at the age of 23. He settled in his home state of North Carolina, in Wilmington, and began his practice. He found “the routine of practice irksome” for some reason–he may have been bored by the types of cases he treated, or his practice may have been too small to support him. When he heard that there would be a new asylum in Broughton (the Western North Carolina Insane Asylum), Murphy immediately applied for a position at the Western Virginia Asylum to obtain experience. As soon as the Western North Carolina asylum opened, he applied for the superintendent’s position. He got it, and remained the asylum’s superintendent for the next 25 years.

Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, circa 1886, courtesy Burke County Public Library