Tag Archives: utica crib

The Patient’s Voice

Reverend Chase's Book

Reverend Chase’s Book

A number of [insane] asylum patients eventually wrote about their experiences once they were released. A commonality that many of these accounts reveal is the lack of due process in the commitment process. In 1868, Reverend Hiram Chase wrote about his experience:

“. . . on the 20th of August, 1863, about 9 o’clock in the morning, I was called out of my room to dress and take a ride as far as the depot. . . I got into the wagon with three men besides myself. As I got into the wagon and saw my trunk, I enquired where they were going. Mr. Harvey told me I was going to the asylum in Utica.”*

Postcard of the Utica State Hospital for the Insane, 1907

Postcard of the Utica State Hospital for the Insane, 1907

Chase had previously described what was probably an episode of deep depression, brought on by hearing some unkind gossip about himself from church members. His own physician and another one had called upon Chase, and discussed an incident in which he had tried to get rid of a solution of silver nitrate, fearing that it would harm someone or some animal. His wife and family may have thought Chase had obtained the bottle of silver nitrate solution in order to hurt himself, though he had evidently made it abundantly clear he was getting rid of the contents. Regardless, the doctors got a warrant from the local judge after this interview, to take Chase to Utica.

Utica Crib, a Restraining Device Developed at the Utica

Utica Crib, a Restraining Device Developed at the Utica

Chase ends his first chapter with this: “We arrived there the same day, and I was locked up in the third story of the building, with about forty raving maniacs. Others may judge of my feelings when I sat down and looked around me. . . .”

*Two Years in a Lunatic Asylum; Van Benthuysen & Sons’ Steam Printing House.

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Early Madness

A Typical Way to Treat Lunatics, circa 1848

A Typical Way to Treat Lunatics, circa 1848

Early treatments for madness were as crude as those for physical ailments (see last two posts) and seldom involved physicians. Restraint would be a primary means of control. Households often chained a violent member or confined him or her in a strong building. No one gave much thought to the victim’s comfort, and reformers found many sad cases of men and women housed outdoors in winter without heat, proper shelter, or adequate clothing.

Thomas G. Hazard wrote in 1844 about the treatment of a lunatic named Abram Simmons in Rhode Island: “His prison was from six to eight feet square, built entirely of stone. . . the internal surface of the walls was covered with a thick frost, adhering to the stone in some places to the thickness of half an inch.”

Utica Crib, Another Notorious Restraining Device

Utica Crib, Another Notorious Restraining Device

The man’s bed was cloth sacking stuffed with straw. The flimsy cloth covering it was frozen stiff from the wall drippings, and the straw bed beneath it was wet through and through. The writer said the man lay in utter darkness (since the two iron doors to this dungeon didn’t admit light), and: “encased on every side by walls of frost, his garments constantly more or less wet, with only wet straw to lie upon, and a sheet of ice for his covering, has this most dreadfully abused man existed through the past inclement winter.”

Peabody Poorfarm, Kansas

Peabody Poor Farm, Kansas

The writer noted that the poor man constantly chattered: “Poor Tom’s a-cold!”

Public facilities like poor farms or jails could also house lunatics. In these, lunatics might at least find shelter and food.

 

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Investigations Elsewhere

Government Hospital for the Insane Administration Building

Government Hospital for the Insane Administration Building

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had its share of investigations, which often were a result of staff complaints. It was not unique in this respect–other asylums were also investigated with regularity, sometimes because of staff complaints, but often through outside intervention. In 1906, the Medico-Legal Society of the District of Columbia made a number of spectacular charges against the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths). The charges included allegations of brutal restraint through the use of “toweling” and the “saddle,” as well as “kicking and cuffing by attendants.”

Toweling involved placing dry towels around a patient’s neck and twisting from behind, to physically subdue a patient who was out of control. The allegations included a charge that the towels were twisted until the patient fell over semi-conscious. The saddle was a device which held patients in a reclining position, bound hand, foot, and neck, so that they couldn’t move at all; many were supposedly left for hours in this condition.

Patients were abused this way for their failure to obey orders or to do work properly, or for “taking an extra spoonful of beans” at table. Additionally, attendants were charged with using the feeding tube (which was pushed down through to nostril to feed patients who would not willingly eat on their own) as a punishment.

The charges were sensational, but were they true? St. Elizabeths’s board of visitors (its oversight group) asked the Medico-Legal society to help them investigate the charges they had made, but the group refused to appear before them or to submit its records concerning the abuse.

My next few posts will continue to discuss this investigation.

Utica Crib, Another Notorious Restraining Device

Utica Crib, Another Notorious Restraining Device

Force Feeding

Force Feeding

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Compassionate Doctors

Dr. William A. White, Superintendent at St. Elizabeths, courtesy National Institutes of Health

Dr. William A. White, Superintendent at St. Elizabeths

Though many abuses toward patients  were either condoned or ignored by senior staff, some doctors cared very much about patient abuse.

When Dr. William A. White took over as superintendent of St. Elizabeths (the federal government’s hospital for insane soldiers, sailors, and citizens of Washington, D.C.), he immediately issued a terse letter absolutely revoking use of the saddle (a harness fashioned around a patient in bed and tied so that he/she could not raise up) as a restraining device. Continue reading

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Asylum Dangers

Straitjacket

Straitjacket

Most accounts of assaults within insane asylum walls concern assaults on patients. However, asylum duty held dangers for staff, as well. On October 15, 1878, The New York Times published a vivid account of an assault on an attendant. Only three months on the job, Richard T. Harrison was beaten so badly by a patient at Ward’s Island Insane Asylum that he died within six hours of the attack. Continue reading

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Power at an Insane Asylum

Dr. John Gray

Dr. John Gray

Superintendents were responsible for almost everything at an asylum. Though their responsibility might bog them down with administrative details, it also made their word law in the asylum. John Gray, superintendent of the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica, was arguably one of the most powerful of these powerful men.

Gray fired anyone on his staff who disagreed with him, and carried on ill-natured vendettas against fellow doctors and superintendents whose policies he disliked. Gray enjoyed the limelight and was criticized for spending too much time testifying in trials as an expert witness. He edited the American Journal of Insanity for many years, but was often accused of refusing to publish articles about insanity and its treatment when they differed from his own.

Gray spent 34 years at Utica. In 1886, after testifying as an expert witness, Gray returned to his office in the evening. Henry Remshaw, who may have been temporarily insane, walked into Gray’s office and shot him in the face. Gray never fully recovered from the attack and spent his remaining four years of life in poor health.

New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica

New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica

Utica Crib, used for disruptive patients

Utica Crib, used for disruptive patients

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Headlines and Horrors

Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum

Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum

The public has always enjoyed  a good scandal, and madhouses of the 19th and 20th centuries sometimes provided horrific fodder for newspapers eager to sensationalize problems. Nellie Bly’s stay at Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum was well publicized, but abuses existed elsewhere as well. Continue reading

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Proven Ways to Keep a Troublemaker Quiet

Historically, the treatment of the insane has been riddled with abuse, neglect, and indifference. Restraints were particularly abused, as attendants restrained patients for a variety of reasons: sometimes for safety, sometimes for convenience, and sometimes for punishment. Below are a few popular methods:

1. The crib was a box with a cover and crossbars in which a patient had to lie. Often called a Utica crib for the asylum where it originated, this device was discontinued around 1887.

2. A straitjacket is a shirt-like garment with extra-long sleeves that can be tied at the back of the wearer, whose arms are criss-crossed in front. Many times the ends of the sleeves were sewn shut. Wearing a straitjacket for any length of time can cut off circulation to some extent.

3. Leg locks and chains secured patients to walls and chairs.

4. Dr. Rush developed a tranquilizing chair that restrained an agitated patient in order to slow down the flow of blood.

5. Leather muffs restrained hands by enclosing them in a tight one-piece leather cover. The patient’s hands might be placed in front or in back.

6. A restraining sheet was a fabric sheet with fasteners along the sides. Each fastener was secured to a portion of the bed frame, with the prone patient confined to the space between the mattress and the sheet.

Locking Glove

Locking Glove

Patient In Straitjacket

Patient In Straitjacket

Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

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Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

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Utica Crib

Utica Crib

Isolation Cell used in Kew Asylum, Victoria, Australia about 1870

Isolation Cell used in Kew Asylum, Victoria, Australia about 1870

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