Blog Posts - Medical Treatments



Were Cures Worse Than the Condition?

By the middle and late 1800s, so-called “heroic” medicine (in which extraordinary measures to cure a condition often endangered the patient) had been abandoned. However, patients were sometimes little better off calling a doctor than if t...

A Favorite Project

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, almost continually made and implemented plans to expand the facility. One building that he especially wanted and never received was a separate cottage for epileptics. Though it...

Treating Morbid Impusles

In A Treatise on Insanity (1883), author William Hammond (former surgeon-general of the Army) described various cases of intellectual objective morbid impulses and how he had treated them. In one case, a young man developed an overwhelming desire to...

Trauma Care for the Insane

Many asylum patients were ill with various chronic conditions, but accidents and self-inflicted injuries also kept doctors busy. In How to Care for the Insane by Dr. William Granger (1886), the author discusses some particular issues that nurses migh...

Common Sense

Laypeople were interested in mental health, and by the early 1900s had recognized that their lives might be happier if they could overcome and control some of the mental distress which seemed rampant in their complex and hurried world. Annie Payson C...

The Front Line

Though administrators and superintendents get most of the recognition for asylum care, attendants were the really critical employees. Their skills and strengths, their attitudes and moods, affected patients profoundly. Clifford Beers, a Yale graduate...

You Get What You Pay For

The superintendents at most asylums had the best of intentions when it came to patient care. They understood (for that era) what kind of help patients needed and what kind of attendants could best provide it. Most asylums had rules of conduct for sta...

A Rational Solution

Wealthy families with an insane member could usually afford to pay someone to care for their unfortunate relative; they also had accommodations for him or her. It was an entirely different matter for the poor or even the middle class, whose homes wer...

Natural Medicine

Before modern pharmaceuticals, people looked to nature for their cures. The Chippewa, for instance, used numerous plants to treat ailments, often in conjunction with special songs and music. Red baneberry treated the “diseases of women,”...

Cruel Through and Through

Insanity was a cruel condition, and its victims suffered doubly: their minds caused them unease or suffering, and then caretakers typically punished their bodies. Though physicians eventually discerned that mental illness was not an incurable disease...

Early Madness

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...

A Layman’s Doctorin’

Early settlers did not necessarily trust doctors (see last post) and were often able to circumvent seeing one by simply “reading up” on medicine, themselves. In this, they didn’t always lag so far behind a university-trained doctor,...

Empty Yourself

Early alienists typically believed that an insane person needed to eliminate something from the body in order to get well. Copious bleeding and/or purging were popular ways to deplete a maniac’s excessive energy or excitement, but many alienist...

Dance Therapy

Physical exercise was seen as therapeutic for mental illness, and the staff at insane asylums employed it in many ways. Patients often labored in asylum gardens and farms, took walks, joined in exercise programs, or otherwise used their bodies in hea...

Intervention in Insanity

Alienists (early psychiatrists) believed in actively treating insanity. Most believed that it was beneficial to a patient to completely remove him or her from familiar surroundings; the change would allow new thought patterns and behaviors to form mo...

How to Test for Insanity

Insanity is an elusive condition, and alienists (early psychiatrists) spent time and effort studying ways to detect it. In an article in the October, 1865 issue of the American Journal of Insanity, Dr. John Tyler admitted that “men differ so wi...

Interesting Cases

Alienists (psychiatrists) wanted to provide good care for the insane in their midst, and in the early years offered assistance primarily  through therapeutic stays at insane asylums. These doctors’ favored regimens of rest, occupational therap...

Early Problems Providing Mental Health Care

Leaders in many states recognized early on that they needed to provide treatment for mental illness at public expense. The North Carolina Hospital (Raleigh) opened in 1856, but an influx of patients after the Civil War forced the state to find other...

Combating Smallpox

Smallpox decimated Native Americans (see last post) after Europeans arrived and spread this virulent disease on a population with no immunity to it. However, the disease was not simply accepted and endured. Though native peoples did not immediately c...

Material Improvements

For such a small institution dependent on government funds, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had a surprisingly robust building program. Dr. Harry Hummer constantly requested new buildings, upgrades to old ones, new farm acreage (and then new out...


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