Blog Posts - Medical History



Water Therapy

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...

Gender Inequality

Treatment for mental disorders was generally hit-or-miss in most insane asylums, and many superintendents embarked on experimental procedures simply because there weren’t any reliable ways to help patients. Some treatments were more bizarre tha...

Gender Inequality

Treatment for mental disorders was generally hit-or-miss in most insane asylums, and many superintendents embarked on experimental procedures simply because there weren’t any reliable ways to help patients. Some treatments were more bizarre tha...

Few Patients Came Voluntarily

The case of Peter Thompson Good Boy (see last three posts) shows how easy it was for a Native American to lose his freedom. It would be safe to say that few or no patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians actually wanted to be there. Patient S...

Few Patients Came Voluntarily

The case of Peter Thompson Good Boy (see last three posts) shows how easy it was for a Native American to lose his freedom. It would be safe to say that few or no patients at the Canton Asylum for … Continue reading →...

New Reasons for Insanity

Many (white) observers over the years believed that insanity was rare among Native Americans. Their conclusion was born out during the Indian Bureau survey that tried to assess the need for a special asylum for insane Indians; among the thousands ...

The Insane as News Items

Though early alienists did a great deal to de-stigmatize insanity and help families feel better about seeking help for their mentally ill members, insanity was still a delicate subject that most families preferred to keep private. Asylum superintende...

Public Interest in Insane Asylums

The construction of an insane asylum was usually a welcome event for most towns or cities, since the work meant jobs and a continued money flow into the local economy. Newspapers had little but praise for these projects, as the Knoxville Daily Journa...

The Chronic Insane

Alienists stressed that the prompt treatment of insanity was imperative to a cure. They cautioned the public that it was far wiser to bring an afflicted person to an asylum for a cure as soon as possible, rather than let the patient languish at home...

Evolution of Treatment for the Insane

Most modern readers would consider the mid-1800s a fairly rough and rugged period, inhabited by correspondingly rough and rugged individuals. However, changes in the treatment of insanity during this period point to the idea that people in the middle...

What Caused Insanity?

The causes for insanity that early alienists compiled can seem amusing–as well as appalling–to modern readers. Almost anything, from disappointment in love, financial reverses, over-study, improper diet, use of alcohol or tobacco, and mas...

New Ideas

Food was not the only way to treat physical illnesses (see last few posts), though healthy eating may have been the least harmful way to ward off sickness. The turn of the 20th century saw many innovations and experimental treatments by physicians wh...

Food Woes

Choices concerning Bran Flakes and Shredded Krumbles (see last post) weren’t the only food problems patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians suffered. They, like most Native Americans, had already lost a basic underpinning of life–...

Unfired Foods

As generations move away from them, old ideas become new again. Just as foraging has become popular in the past few years (see last post), so has the idea of eating raw foods. George J. Drews wrote about “unfired food” in 1912 in Unfired...

Water Closets

Ordinary homes during the late 1800s and well into the 1900s had few conveniences (see last post); unlike homes today, a dedicated bathroom was a luxury. A largely rural population typically used an outhouse, which could be indifferently built at wor...

In the Long Run

Insane asylums were initially embraced because they held out the hope of curing the insane, rather than merely incarcerating them. Recovery rates were high at first, in the typically small asylums where doctors could devote themselves to patient care...

Practicing Medicine on a Frontier

Any reasonably ambitious man could become a doctor during the nation’s early years. Few licensing requirements existed, and men could choose to attend one of many substandard medical schools that were unbelievably slack in their requirements fo...

The Push West

In April, 1750, “Colby Chew and his horse fell down the bank,” wrote Dr. Thomas Walker, an Appalachian explorer, in his journal. “I bled and gave him valatile [sic] drops and he soon recovered.”* Pioneers going to the West enc...

Territories Not Immune to Mental Illness

The vast expanses of the West usually meant adventure, opportunity, and fresh beginnings for the people who traveled there. However, the road West was rigorous, dangerous, and oftentimes dismal. Frontier travelers could not escape mental illness any...

An Asylum in South Dakota

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was not the state’s first asylum; the Yankton Insane Asylum was established in 1879 during South Dakota’s territorial days. Interestingly, Canton had been considered as a site for that asylum, as well.


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