Tag Archives: hydrotherapy

Tub Therapy

Dr. Charles Pilgrim, 1908

Dr. Charles Pilgrim, 1908

Physicians used hydrotherapy (various sorts of baths and showers) extensively in the treatment of the insane. The treatments could sometimes be helpful; a nice, warm bath might relax a patient or help him sleep, or a bracing shower could stimulate a patient who felt sluggish and tired. Dr. Charles Pilgrim, however, took water treatments to an extreme with what he called “Tub Therapy.”

Dr. Pilgrim arrived at the Hudson River State Hospital from the Willard Asylum in1893. He quickly made physical improvements to the institution, installing electric lights to replace the gas lamps, and building new 50-bed cottages for patients, a new mortuary, and a lab. In 1908, Pilgrim introduced Tub Therapy, a form of the continuous bath. Patients entered the tub room and reclined on a canvas hammock in a tub of warm water, a rubber pillow behind their necks for additional comfort. Water temperature was monitored so that it remained at the proper therapeutic level.

Tub Therapy at Pilgrim State Hospital, the Former Hudson River State Hospital

Tub Therapy at Pilgrim State Hospital, the Former Hudson River State Hospital

Most patients would have enjoyed this for an hour or two, but Pilgrim’s treatment was of much longer duration. A September 17, 1908 article in The Beaver Herald (Oklahoma) stated: “You sleep for six hours . . . next morning breakfast is served to you in the tub, then dinner, then supper.” Occasionally the doctor would come in to chat or take a blood sample, and the patient grew calmer, more rested, and more cheerful all the while. After at least several days (the title of the article was “Live for Weeks in the Bathtub”), the patient finally got out of the tub with the help of a nurse and found him or herself well again.

This treatment was primarily for patients who felt madness coming on, either just fearing a breakdown or actually close to one in their own or others’ opinion. The therapy was voluntary, though it is hard to see anyone in good physical health actually enjoying the forced inactivity.

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Water Treatments

Continuous Bath Room, Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, 1918, courtesy Kalamazoo Public Library

Continuous Bath Room, Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, 1918

Patients entering an asylum were frequently given sedatives or tonics, depending upon their physical state, as well as a strong laxative to clean them out. Warm baths were thought to be calming and were frequently prescribed for agitated patients.  Continue reading

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Water Therapy

Taking the Waters at the Columbian Springs

Taking the Waters at the Columbian Springs

Water therapies, known collectively as hydrotherapy, were popular forms of treatment for insanity. Most people today have relaxed under the influence of a warm, soothing soak in a tub, but it is interesting to note that bathing for health or medical reasons was popular long before bathing as a sanitation practice became nearly universal. Continue reading

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How to Help

Occupational Therapy, Toy Making in WWI-Era Psychiatric Hospital, courtesy Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Occupational Therapy, Toy Making in WWI-Era Psychiatric Hospital, courtesy Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, was not inclined to an active, hands-on approach to helping his patients overcome mental illness. In addition to his own weakness in this area, he may have found it nearly impossible to apply his book knowledge to real-life situations at the asylum. Continue reading

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Reports, Reports

Nurse and Patients at Fergus Falls State Hospital, 1900

Nurse and Patients at Fergus Falls State Hospital, 1900

With perhaps a very rare exception, all insane asylums were inspected on a reasonably regular basis, and inspectors visited the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians a number of times. Visits were usually routine, though the asylum received a number of special inspections brought on by complaints or allegations of misconduct that reached the Indian Office. Continue reading

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The First Government Hospital for the Insane

St. Elizabeths

St. Elizabeths

The Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths) had been in operation about a decade when the Civil War began. Wounded soldiers were treated there, and in January, 1863, the surgeon-general of the U.S. army requested that a separate room be set aside “for the convenience of one of the manufacturers of artificial legs.” A soldier who had lost a limb through amputation could then be easily and conveniently fitted for an artificial limb. Soldiers from close-by hospitals could request a transfer to St. Elizabeths when their wounds healed, for an artificial limb-fitting.

The government hospital expanded greatly over the next two decades, and was a leader in the scientific treatment of its patients. Dr. I.W. Blackburn, its first special pathologist, was one of the first in the country assigned to a hospital. St. Elizabeths was also one of the first hospitals to use hydrotherapy to treat the insane. Dr. G.W. Foster began using this therapy around 1893, mainly in the form of cold packs to the head. The hospital purchased a complete hydrotherapeutic outfit in fiscal year 1897-1898.

A school of nursing instruction began in 1894, and became more formalized around 1899, when it was reorganized and expanded. The school began giving certificates after a two-year course, along with a promotion and raise in pay for graduates.

Private Columbus Rush, courtesy National Museum of Health and Medicine

Private Columbus Rush, courtesy National Museum of Health and Medicine

Private Rush with Prosthetic Legs, courtesy National Museum of Health and Medicine

Private Rush with Prosthetic Legs, courtesy National Museum of Health and Medicine

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Hydrotherapy

Continuous Bath, Life Photograph

Continuous Bath, Life Photograph

The plunge bath, douche bath, continuous bath, needle bath, and so on, fell under hydrotherapy treatment. In theory, the treatment should have been effective and fairly humane. Warm, soothing baths would help patients sleep, while a plunge bath, using water at temperatures between 45-70 degrees, might shock a violent patient into settling down. Though uncomfortable, such a treatment was preferable to being wrestled to the ground or restrained.

Hydrotherapy Wrapping, St. Elizabeths, courtesy National Archives

Hydrotherapy Wrapping, St. Elizabeths, courtesy National Archives

Even at the best of times, hydrotherapy tended to be uncomfortable. Many doctors thought cold water treatment was superior to warm, and believed treatments should be administered in the morning just as the patient arose. Many medical people believed that warm baths opened up the pores so that a person could catch cold more easily.

Plunge baths and other cold water hydrotherapy were  believed to be invigorating for patients, though other doctors thought it absurd to think that any person–sick or well–would enjoy emerging from a warm bed in order to plunge into a cold bath. Unfortunately, patients had no say in the matter and had to live with whichever theory their own doctor adhered to.

Hydrotherapy Apparatus

Hydrotherapy Apparatus

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A Superior Institution

St. Elizabeths, circa 1909, courtesy Library of Congress

St. Elizabeths, circa 1909, courtesy Library of Congress

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had little beyond fresh air and exercise to offer its patients. Superintendents allowed a little beadwork and craft-making to occupy patients’ time, along with field work and housekeeping for the able-bodied patients. It had no hospital in 1910, nor means of quarantining patients effectively.

St. Elizabeths had a training school for nurses, quarantine rooms, and a full hospital where operations ranging from appendectomies to hysterectomies were performed. The dental department performed extractions and cleanings for patients, and created false teeth for them.

Most tellingly, the psychiatric department conducted research and published its work in professional journals, like the American Journal of Insanity. It conducted additional research through its pathology laboratory, conducting autopsies and studying tissue samples to understand the changes disease caused in the body.

St. Elizabeths was a psychiatric and teaching hospital, while the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was merely a warehouse.

St. Elizabeths Hydroptherapy Patients, courtesy Library of Congress

St. Elizabeths Hydrotherapy Patients, courtesy Library of Congress

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