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Old September 25th, 2009, 04:08 PM   #1
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Default Women In Insane Asylums

The following is taken from "Mental Illness in the 19th Century" by Carrie Hughes.

As you can see, many of the "Probable Causes of Mental Disorder" are ones which would apply only to Women and not to Men:

Asylum Records, a List of Probable Causes, Apparent or Assigned, for Mental Disorder, 1882:

Anxiety for Family
Death of Husband
Domestic Troubles
Excitement after Imprisonment
Fright from Assault
Over-Taxed Brain
Religious Excitement
Reversal of Circumstances

Brain Disease
Change of Life
Climate of India
Hyperlactation (= too much breast milk!)
Injury to Head
Old Age
Premature Labor
Puerperal State
Rheumatic Fever
Scarlet Fever

The history of the treatment (or lack there of) of the mentally ill in the United States is a checkered one.
The first colonists blamed mental illness on witchcraft and demonic possession, and the mentally ill were often imprisoned, sent to alms houses, or remained untreated at home. Conditions in these prisons were appalling. In 1841, Dorothea Dix volunteered to teach a Sunday-school class for women prisoners; she was outraged by the conditions she witnessed. Dix went on to become a renowned advocate for the mentally ill, urging more humane treatment-based care than that given to the mentally ill in prisons. In 1847 she urged the Illinois legislature to provide “appropriate care and support for the curable and incurable indigent insane.” In 1851, Jacksonville Insane Asylum, where Elizabeth Packard was later confined, was opened.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century “moral treatment” had become the prevalent school of treatment in the United States. Replacing the model of demonic possession, “moral treatment” hypothesized that insanity was caused by brain damage from outward influences on the soft and fragile brain. Removing patients to an appropriate environment where they could indulge in clean, healthy living, and would be offered exercise, work, education and religious instruction, was thought to facilitate their cure.

But the “moral treatment” method was riddled with problems. As doctors and other hospital personnel grew frustrated by their lack of progress and a shortage of willing qualified staff, conditions often deteriorated. Faced with overcrowded hospitals, and concerned about the rise of the spiritualist movement (which some attributed to the “moral treatment” method), many superintendents resorted to physical restraints. By the middle part of the century, heredity also was considered a root cause of mental illness. Many in the field believed that weak family and vices, like alcoholism and masturbation, could lead to madness. The mentally ill were considered “genetically inferior” and eugenics and warped interpretations of Darwin’s theories suggested that mental illness could be eliminated through social engineering.

By the 1880s the tide was turning against asylums, thanks to stories of their poor conditions, some true, some sensational, appearing in the press. Greater oversight and medical standards for asylums were implemented. New theories promoted by neurologists included “rest cures” and treatment using static electricity. By the close of the century, Freud’s theories began to arrive in America, precipitating a revolution in psychiatry.
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Old September 25th, 2009, 04:22 PM   #2
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Default Elizabeth Packard: Kidnapped & Locked In Insane Asylum

The excerpt below is taken from a website devoted to a play based on the dreadful asylum
experiences of Mrs. Elizabeth Packard.

Mrs. Packard was a perfectly rational and intelligent woman living in the US. In 1860 her husband had her forcibly abducted and incarcerated in an Insane Asylum. She spent 3 horrific years there and was brave enough to write about her living nightmare, which included filthy living conditions and sexual abuse. Her ground-breaking book was called 'Modern Persecutions, Or Insane Asylums Revealed' and it helped shock the world into realizing the necessity of Asylum Reform.

On June 18, 1860, Mrs. Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was abducted on her husband’s orders and taken to the insane asylum in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she spent the next three years. After she was released, she wrote profusely. In one volume, Modern Persecution or Insane Asylums Unveiled, she detailed her experiences during that time. (This 3-sentence intro by Emily Mann is taken from website.)

By Elizabeth Packard, author of Asylums Unveiled:

" For the first four months of my prison life, Dr. McFarland treated me himself, and caused me to be treated with all the respect of a hotel boarder, so far as lay in his power.

As to medical treatment, I received none at all, either from himself, or his subordinates. And the same may be said with equal truth, of all the inmates. This is the general rule; those few cases where they receive any kind of medical treatment, are the exceptions.

A little ale occasionally is the principal part of the medical treatment which these patients receive, unless his medical treatment consists in the “laying on of hands,” for this treatment is almost universally bestowed. But the manner in which this was practiced, varied very much in different cases.

For the first four months the Doctor “laid his hands” very gently upon me, except that the pressure of my hand in his was sometimes quite perceptible, and sometimes, as I thought, longer continued than this healing process demanded! …

But after these four months he laid his hands upon me in a different manner, and as I then thought and still do think, far too violently. There was no mistaking the character of these grips—no duplicity after this period, rendered this modern mode of treatment of doubtful interpretation to me.

The eighth ward was then considered the worst in the house, inasmuch as it then contained some of the most dangerous class of patients, even worse than the fifth in this respect, and in respect to filth and pollution it surpassed the fifth at that time. It is not possible for me to conceive of a more fetid smell, than the atmosphere of this hall exhaled. An occupant of this hall would inevitably become so completely saturated with this most offensive effluvia that the odor of the eighth ward patients could be distinctly recognized at a great distance, even in the open air.

I could, in a few moments after the Doctor put me in among them, even taste this most fetid scent at the pit of my stomach. Even our food and drink were so contaminated with it, we could taste nothing else sometimes. It at first seemed to me, I must soon become nothing less than a heap of putrefaction. But I have found out that I can live, move, breathe, and have a being, where I once thought I could not!

The patients were never washed all over, although they were the lowest, filthiest class of prisoners. They could not wait upon themselves any more than an infant, in many instances, and none took the trouble to wait upon them. The accumulation of this defilement about their persons, their beds, their rooms, and the unfragrant puddles of water through which they would delight to wade and wallow, rendered the exhalations in every part of the hall almost intolerable.

One night I was aroused from my slumbers by the screams of a new patient who was entered in my hall. The welcome she received from her keepers, Miss Smith and Miss Bailey, so frightened her that she supposed they were going to kill her.

Therefore, for screaming under these circumstances, they forced her into a screen-room and locked her up. Still fearing the worst, she continued to call for “Help!” Instead of attempting to soothe and quiet her fears, they simply commanded her to stop screaming.

But failing to obey their order, they then seized her violently and dragged her to the bathroom, where they plunged her into the bathtub of cold water.

This shock so convulsed her in agony that she now screamed louder than before. They then drowned her voice by strangulation, by holding her under the water until nearly dead.

When she could speak, she plead in the most piteous tones for “Help! Help!”
But all in vain. The only response was “Will you scream any more?”
She promised she would not, but to make it a thorough “subduing,” they plunged her several times after she had made them this promise! My room was directly opposite with open ventilators over both doors, I could distinctly hear all.

This is what they call giving the patient a “good bath!”
But the bewildered, frightened stranger finds it hard to see the “good” part of it. The patient was then led, wet and shivering, to her room, and ordered to bed with the threat, “If you halloo again, we shall give you another bath.”
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Old September 25th, 2009, 04:33 PM   #3
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Default Elizabeth Packard Biography

Elizabeth Packard's entry in Wikipedia.

Elizabeth dared to differ with her husband's extreme religious views, so he persuaded a judge to find her
"slightly insane", which permitted him to have her incarcerated against her will.


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Old September 25th, 2009, 04:44 PM   #4
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Default Book: 'The Private War Of Mrs. Packard'

There is a highly regarded biography of Elizabeth Packard called "The Private War of Mrs. Packard"
by Barbara Sapinsley. Here is its link on Amazon. I included several reviews below as they contain excellent information.



From Publishers Weekly:
In 1861, when Elizabeth Packard dared to question the Calvinistic extremism of her husband, Theophilus, a minister in Illinois, he had her committed to an insane asylum. After a lengthy, publicized trial, Elizabeth was pronounced sane and began an arduous, national battle to effect changes in treatment of the mentally ill and in the rights of women. In this first biography of an overlooked pioneering feminist, Elizabeth, who never divorced her abusive husband, and who retained the love of her children, remains an enigmatic figure. Sapinsley, a freelance writer, who examined family journals and medical records to reconstruct the life of a woman who attempted to make a difference, fails to convey the temper of the times against which readers might appreciate Elizabeth's audacity. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal:
This is a fascinating biography of a pioneering crusader who heretofore has been ignored by historians. Popular journalist and author Sapinsley uses family records and an assortment of other primary materials to tell the story of Elizabeth Packard, an otherwise conventional 19th-century wife and mother who was committed to an insane asylum by her husband because of her unorthodox ideas on religion and child-rearing. After winning her freedom in a highly publicized trial, Packard spent the rest of her life lobbying for changes in state laws governing the commitment of individuals to mental institutions. Although geared to general readers, this volume should interest historians as well because it details the sorts of tensions that inspired the fledgling feminists of the same period. Recommended for history and women's studies collections.
- Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews:
All the makings of a TV docudrama in an unlikely source: the story of feisty Elizabeth Packard, little-known 19th-century advocate of the rights of mental patients, by journalist (Newsweek, The New York Times, etc.) and TV-writer Sapinsley. Packard's troubles began when her vocal deviation from the Calvinist thinking of her aptly named preacher-husband Theophilus became a decided embarrassment to him. Announcing that since she ``persistently refused my will or wishes...it must be that she is insane,'' he took advantage of the law that allowed a husband to have a wife committed to a lunatic asylum simply on his say-so- -plus the ever-ready consent of the admitting doctor. Released three years later through the efforts of her eldest son and subsequently declared sane in a sensational jury trial, Packard spent the rest of her life working to change the laws so that no other wives could be subjected to the same treatment. Gifted with a keen intelligence, determination, and great physical stamina, she managed to support herself through her writings, regain custody of her children, and persuade numerous state legislatures to rewrite the laws regarding commitment and treatment of mental patients. Sapinsley's experience in writing TV documentaries (The Twentieth Century, etc.) is evident in her selection of scenes that dramatize the story. Hampered by the destruction of court and legislative records, she has nevertheless created a vital portrait of a remarkable woman, ingeniously piecing it together from family records, contemporary newspaper clippings, and Packard's own writings. An eye-opener. (Photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright 1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Old September 25th, 2009, 06:23 PM   #5
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Nice work Archaic.

If you get the time...look up Bulwer Lytton's wife....I have the ebook here somewhere on the boards...she was put in an asylum or Lytton tried to get her committed...one or the other.
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Old September 25th, 2009, 07:03 PM   #6
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One important one seems to be missing, "disappointed in love" lots ended up in the Asylum through breach of promise..
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Old September 25th, 2009, 07:16 PM   #7
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In 1890 records of the time indicate that 98% of inmates were paupers. here is a classic example, looks a lot older than her 28 years wouldn't you say..

Eliza Whitfield

Admission number: 296

Admitted 1st April 1889

Age: 28

Occupation: Nil

Facts observed:

“She laughs frequently – when there does not appear to be anything to cause merriment. She has had epileptic attacks since she was a child.

Other facts communicated: she throws herself on the floor of the ward, especially before or after an attack of epilepsy.

Patient is anexcited, emotional imbecile epileptic, with a marked defect in her speech. Has a miserable expression and her speech is a perpetual wail. She is full of complaints about being brought here.

Says she has had fits since she was vaccinated.

Diagnosis: Epileptic imbecility

Causation: Congenital

Prognosis: Unfavourable

Treatment: Palliative.

Previous place of abode: Clayton workhouse.

Nov 15th 1894

“patient is very difficult to understand on account of her peculiar manner of speech but keeps up a continuous flow of conversation of material incoherent”

Mar 13th 1896.

“Patient is a quarrelsome demented epileptic. Her fits are infrequent and slight but she is subject to attacks of excitement. She is incoherent and unable to give sensible answers to questions. Does a little work in the ward. Bodily condition: fairly good.

Died: 22nd July 1898

Age 37

Apparent cause of death: Congestion of lungs

http://highroydspauperlunaticasylum..../c1543691.html plenty more here, I went through the casebooks at the archives.
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Old September 25th, 2009, 07:17 PM   #8
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Default Elizabeth Packard Being Kidnapped

A couple of the so-called "Causes of Mental Disorder" blew me away.

"Shock After Imprisonment" must be another term for "abject terror"...

And "Hyperlaction"!!! That will do it every time.

I guess all they forgot is "Disappointed In Love" and "Really Bad Cramps".

Here is an image of Mrs. Packard being carried onto the train that would take her to the Asylum;
her distressed children are calling out to their mother and attempting to run after her..

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Old September 25th, 2009, 07:33 PM   #9
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Default "Curing Insanity" 1873

More illustrations from Packard's 1873 book.

These ones depict the punishments Elizabeth observed another patient suffer at the hands of an angry female warder. The warder suspected the patient of stealing her keys, which she denied.

The title is "Curing Insanity".

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Old September 25th, 2009, 07:37 PM   #10
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That photo of the female patient is one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

As Elizabeth Packard and others found out to their cost, to complain about being shut up in an Insane Asylum
was taken as the ultimate proof of one's insanity!

Such a Kafkaesque existence must have driven perfectly sane women mad.
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