Archive for September, 2013

The Theater & All the Charming People In It!

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Typically, when we think of asylums in this period we think of cold, dark dreary places.  While certainly there are those institutions which comport with that description, it is also worth noting that there are exceptions to the rule.  It is surprising to see that within these relatively new institutions there was an approach to the inclusion of culture to enrich the lives of people most thought were helpless.  One cannot help but wonder if this served to help many hold their grip on some meaningful connection to the wider world.  Also it would be interesting to consider how the people within these institutions created their own unique sort of culture under a set of curious circumstances.  I wonder what we might stand to gain from that?

“Something Must Be Done for Them”: Establishing Minnesota’s First Hospital for the Insane, By William D. Erickson Link:

Research Proposal Part II

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Research Proposal:

The period from the 1830’s-1860’s was known as the era of Jacksonian Democracy.  This was the period that came on the heels of Jeffersonian Democracy which was defined by the development and expansion of the American nation.  Jacksonian Democracy was starkly different in some ways.  The Jacksonian Era was primarily defined by the expansion of a democratic spirit.  Specifically, with emphasis on broadening the public’s participation in the politics of their government.  In particular, the 1840’s and 1850’s were a period of political, social, and religious reforms of many different kinds.  Senator Thomas Hart Benton championed America’s Manifest Destiny.  Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass fought and championed the end of slavery in America.  At Seneca Falls, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony helped to launch the Women’s Rights Movement, demanding that women be given the right to own property, keep their own wages, and most astonishingly that they be granted the right to vote.

It was in the ether of this era, that another unique individual would rise to prominence.  A tall, driven, autocratic woman from Maine, who would become a champion for those whom most of society viewed as hopeless and undesirable.  Her name was Dorothea Lynde Dix.  Her cause: defending the indigent insane.  She was so driven, so devoted to her cause, that she seemed possessed by a great force.  So much so, that some thought her mad herself.  Perhaps the best way to describe what I hope to address in this paper is expressed by David Gollaher:


“More important, there is an excellent basis for addressing the questions that intrigued those who knew Dorothea Dix: What inspired her to take up her cause?  What hidden aspects of her own experience drew her to the mad?  Why would a woman of her standing choose to spend her days among the homeless insane?  She never directly answered these questions.  She was a perceptive woman—keenly self-aware and, in equal measure, self-controlled—with a genius for self-presentation (ix-x)”


This challenge is further aided by other challenges, more contemporary.

Contemporarily speaking, whenever one hears Dix’s name it is usually in relation to the Civil War.  This does not diminish her role as a reformer, nor as a person of historical significance.  In this other equally worthy cause her integrity and dedication shone through equally on both counts.  What is fascinating is that when people consider her role, historically, it is relegated to something of an anecdotal thumbnail sketch.  This raises the question of why she has been either ignored or bypassed as opposed to other historical figures.  These are precisely the things I will seek to explore in this paper.


Primary Source:

Dix, Dorothea Lynde & David L. Lightner. Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse: The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.

This primary source offers some of the most useful insights into the nature of Dix’s work, philosophy, and her personality.


Secondary Sources:

Baker, Rachel. Angel of Mercy: The Story of Dorothea Lynde Dix. New York: Messner, 1955.

This is the oldest secondary source I could find.  My hope is that this will offer some insight into how the historiography of Dix’s life has evolved since its publication.

Bly, Nellie. Ten Days in a Mad-House. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.

This book details Nellie Bly’s exploits of an asylum in 1887, the year that Dix died.  I think this will help in showing how reform takes time.

Brown, Thomas J. Dorothea Dix: New England Reformer. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Given that this was published in New England, where Dix is from, it will be interesting to consider how she is represented by the publishers.

Colman, Penny. Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix. White Hall, Va: Shoe Tree Press, 1992.

This biography will help to supplement the substance of other biographical materials.

Geller, Jeffrey L. & Maxine Harris. Women of the Asylum: Voices from Behind the Walls, 1840-1945. New York: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1994.

I think that this composition will help prove useful in examining the experiences of women held in these institutions during the era in which Dix was holding her crusade.  It will speak to how women were seen by society.

Gollaher, David L. Voice for the Mad: The Life of Dorothea Dix. New York: The Free Press, 1995.

This biography is well written and thoroughly researched.  It offers a narrative flow that make the reader relate to the material well and may serve useful in informing the writing of the paper.

Grob, Gerald N. Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill. New York: The Free Press, 2011.

Grob’s work offers an insight into the nature of how care for the mentally ill has evolved and offers a window by which we can begin to understand how and why Dix became involved.  What was going on when she got into reforming this type of work? (accessed September 23, 2013).

This offers some primary source data that provides insight into the nature of both Dix’s work and her approach to lobbying. (accessed September 23, 2013).

This again offers some insight into the nature of Dix’s work and also suggest what others thought of her.

Laird, S. Louise. “Nursing of the Insane.” The American Journal of Nursing 2, no. 3 (Dec., 1901): 170-180. (accessed September 9, 2013)

Since this was published at the turn of the twentieth century it may serve as useful in determining what, if anything, changed.

McCandless, Peter. Moonlight, Magnolias, & Madness: Insanity in South Carolina From the Colonial Period to the Progressive Era. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

McCandless offers some insight into how Dix was viewed and venerated by people across the country.  Specifically, it is worth noting how Dix’s service in the South was long remembered.

Miller, Dorothy & Esther Blanc. “Concepts of “Moral Treatment” for the Mentally Ill:Implications for Social Work with Post Hospital Mental Health Patients.” Social Service Review 41, no. 1 (Mar., 1967): 66-74. (accessed September, 9, 2013).

In class discussions we have discussed how doctors stressed the importance of moral treatment along with medical treatments.  I’m curious to see if this is something that Dix helped to encourage.

Muckenhoupt, Margaret. Dorothea Dix: Advocate for Mental Health Care. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2003.

This is another biographical source that will serve to supplement other biographical materials.

Reiss, Benjamin. Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

This source offers a detailed description into the practical and physical dimensions of what shape these institutions took.

Porter, Roy. Madness: A Brief History. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2003.

Drawing upon eyewitness accounts of doctors, writers, artists, and the mad themselves, Roy Porter tells the story of our changing notions of insanity and of the treatments for mental illness that have been employed from antiquity to the present day.  This might help to provide atmosphere in describing the spirit of a time.

Schlaifer, Charles, and Lucy Freeman. Heart’s Work: Civil War Heroine and Champion of the Mentally Ill, Dorothea Lynde Dix. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

This helps to emphasize Dix’s work and efforts for reform at nursing and hospitalization during the Civil War.

Schultz, Jane E. “The Inhospitable Hospital: Gender and Professionalism in Civil War Medicine.” Signs 17, no. 2 (Winter, 1992): 363-392. September 9, 2013).

This helps to describe the nature of how women were viewed during the era of America’s Civil War.  Considering the nature of Dix’s work and her personality, it would be interesting to consider how she got things done and how she altered people’s perceptions.

Shryock, Richard H. “A Medical Perspective on the Civil War.” American Quarterly 14, no. 2 (Summer, 1962): 161-173. (accessed September 9, 2013).

This source offers insight into the nature of medicine and the kind of difficult conditions that people had to contend with.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. Stranger and Traveler: The Story of Dorothea Dix, American Reformer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

This being an older resource may prove useful in exploring the historiography of Dix’s life.


Call Me Crazy!

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

What I find curious is that Nellie Bly feigned that she was crazy so that she could investigate the Women’s Lunatic Asylum, on Blackwell’s Island, and gain an insiders view of a home for the crazy. Putting herself at great personal risk to verify claims of neglect and abuse. Is it not fair to say that on some level she was crazy?  I think its fair to say that certainly her mission was. What I was surprised to find was that this was in 1887. Ironically enough, the same year that Dorothea Dix died. I would have thought that by now the scenes she describes would have been mostly outmoded. In the article, “Into the Madhouse with Nellie Bly: Girl Stunt Reporting in Late Nineteenth-Century America,” Jean Marie Lutes offers further exploration of the kind of reporting that Bly was engaged in.

Deeper Dimensions

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

In 1861, most of the nation’s 31 million people lived in relative peace and prosperity, scattered in cities and small towns all across America.  By 1865, everything had changed.  The nation had paradoxically torn itself in two, in order to become one.  Approximately 624,511 men had died in a devastating Civil War.  Roughly two percent of the population.  Killed by the arithmetic of war.  A number so huge, that the real figure may never be fully known.  As many as the combined total of every American war combined.  For those left behind, one war was over and another was just beginning.  The survivors, particularly in the South, went home and had the difficult task of, not only struggling to get on with the business of living, but also, having to learn to cope with the trauma of their war experience; and with a new world that was being shaped by forces that seemed as complicated as they were new.  The changes were political, social, economic, and psychological.  The psyche of the nation had its consciousness altered profoundly having experienced wholesale carnage and slaughter on level that no one had known, nor could have imagined before this moment.  Consequently, many public service institutions and relief societies were pushed to their limit and found themselves drowning in the desperate needs of many.  And certainly this was true of Lunatic Asylums.  The problems that they faced were not just a matter of resources, but also the problems of space.  In “The Linear Plan for Insane Asylums in the United States before 1866, by Carla Yanni and “Public Welfare in the South during the Reconstruction Era, 1865-80 by John Hope Franklin we get a clearer portrait of what forces shaped the effectiveness of these institutions during this period.;

Southern Hospitality?

Monday, September 16th, 2013

When we think of the America’s Southern Heritage we think of humidity, magnolia dogwoods, good food, and hapless southern belles who have to spend their dowry on bourbon and pills to numb the loneliness.  Oh, well I can’t help it; I am a romantic! But enough novel nonsense!  Along with the romance and humor, we find that there is deeper, more darker, side to all things.  What I appreciate about McCandless’ work is that he offers an opposing perspective of asylum life, by showing how different institutions were depending upon where you were.  The laws, customs, culture, and supervisors all inform the operation of these institutions.  As well as their form and the functions that follow.  The following link offers some insight into the changes that occurred between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century in England.

A Sideshow of The Big Show

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

In the winter of 1841, while a young soft-spoken Quaker named Thomas Story Kirkbride began to charter a new course in the relatively new field of mental health, at the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane in Philadelphia, another unique institution at the corner of Broadway in the heart of New York City opened its doors to the public.  The American Museum, run by P.T. Barnum, who would become the nation’s greatest showman, offered the public masses a series of exhibitions that helped to give audiences a chance to decompress and amuse themselves.  However, when we look back through the contemporary lens with which we view these scenes, we cannot help but feel both fascinated and somewhat shamed.  Fascinated, on the one hand, for the fact that these exhibitions included a host of things that are unusual; so much so in fact that they seem to defy our imagination.  And shamed of course for the fact that these amusements came at the expense of other peoples dignity.  What is interesting is that while Barnum was making a profit off of his exhibitions, so was Kirkbride for allowing people to examine the facilities he was running to attract potential philanthropic interest.  Although there is difference between the two men’s motives and professions, this offers us something in the way of understanding the ethos of the time.  The following link offers something to reflect on in the way of how we consider these two men and the time that shaped their moral compass’, both socially as well as individually.

Research Proposal

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Research Proposal:

One way to describe the respective roles of medical personnel is to say that while the doctor is the head the nurses are the hands.  Too often the practice of hospital care, so to then as is often the case today, is seen as the domain of the physicians.  However, this paints only a quarter of the picture.  To have, at least, a full half of the picture, we must take into careful consideration the role of nursing in the administration of patient care.  To this end, I propose to research what nursing was like in asylums in the nineteenth century and view the experience and analysis through the lens and life of Dorothea Dix.





Dix, Dorothea Lynde & David L. Lightner. Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse: The Writings and

Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University

Press, 1999.


Field, Peter S. “Less than Meets the Eye: The Strange Career of Dorothea Dix; Review of

Dorothea Dix: New England Reformer,” by Thomas J. Brown. Reviews in American

History 27, no. 3 (Sep., 1999): 389-396.

(accessed September 9, 2013).


Gollaher, David L. Voice for the Mad: The Life of Dorothea Dix. New York: Free Press, 1995.


Laird, S. Louise. “Nursing of the Insane.” The American Journal of Nursing 2, no. 3

(Dec., 1901): 170-180.

(accessed September 9, 2013).


McCandless, Peter. “Institutional Solutions?; Review of Voice for the Mad: The Life of

Dorothea Dix, by David L. Gollaher; Feeble-Minded in Our Midst: Institutions for the

Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900-1940,” by Steven Noll. Reviews in American

History, 24, no. 4 (Dec., 1996): 618-623.

(accessed September 9, 2013).


Miller, Dorothy & Esther Blanc. “Concepts of “Moral Treatment” for the Mentally Ill:

Implications for Social Work with Post hospital Mental Patients.” Social Service Review

41, no. 1 (Mar., 1967): 66-74.

(accessed September 9, 2013).


Reiss, Benjamin. Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American

Culture. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


Schultz, Jane E. “The Inhospitable Hospital: Gender and Professionalism in Civil War

Medicine.” Signs 17, no. 2 (Winter, 1992): 363-392.

(accessed September 9, 2013).


Shryock, Richard H. “A Medical Perspective on the Civil War.” American Quarterly 14, no. 2

(Summer, 1962): 161-173.

(accessed September 9, 2013).


Trattner, Walter I. “The Federal Government and Needy Citizens in Nineteenth-Century

America.” Political Science Quarterly 103, no. 2 (Summer, 1988): 347-356.

http:/ (accessed September 9, 2013).

Radical Reforms

Monday, September 9th, 2013

“Do  not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a  trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In America, the 1840′s was a period marked by seismic shifts.  Waves of political and social reforms of many kinds were sweeping like wildfire across the landscape.  Among these reforms was the idea that there should be reform in the ways in which the public cares for those who are mentally deficient or diseased.  The most radical idea being that they should be treated, as opposed to just put into another version of a prison.  Discipline would no longer be defined as a form of physical abuse, but rather  a more regimented organized exercise.  Of course, everything new or newly defined, or reorganized, has to establish itself and create its own credentials.  And that takes time.  What Thomas S. Kirkbride and other did was to help charter a new course for an already growing field, still relatively quite new.  However, despite the best of their intentions, it would take decades before they could determine how to effectively help people.  What is interesting to note is the fact that while patients were placed in a structured environment for their own welfare, they were still allowed to be on display for other peoples own twisted and depraved amusement.  This speaks to how American’s ideas about mental health how evolved.  And yet there remains a stigma that has never really gone away.  To help sort of shed some light into the nature of how the approach to the study of mental health has evolved the following link should provide some interesting insights.

A History of Psychiatry

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Primum non nocere”~The Hippocratic Oath

First, do no harm.  This fundamental tenet is the basis for all medical care.  What I am most interested in is the approach that physicians took not just practically, but also morally.  What shaped the interpretive apparatus that they utilized initially, when they considered how to aid those who were mentally diminished? What form did that take?  And how did that form the function of their role and that of the institutions purpose and practices.  I found it interesting how Shorter offered insights into the beginnings of this field when the course was just being charted.  This made me wonder more about what life was like within these institutions.  This link offers a unique insight into the nature of asylums in the early nineteenth century.