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Posts Tagged ‘asylums’

-contributed by student assistant Anthony Pankuch.

The complete Cushing Memorial Library Collection of Asylum Reports is now available through the Cummings Center online database. The collection includes over 400 reports from asylums throughout 32 U.S. states and dating back to as early as 1832. These reports are open to the public and viewable in their entirety.

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Reports cover asylums across 32 states, reflecting treatment practices in all regions of the United States.

These reports contain financial records, floor plans, patient intake statistics, and day-to-day details from asylums throughout the nation. They provide information on the historic classifications of diseases and their treatment, from melancholy to mania to nostalgia. They are a vital resource for scholars of institutional care throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as for anyone with an interest in the history of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine.

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Many reports include illustrations of the interiors and exteriors of these institutions, along with floor plans and architectural information.

Of particular interest are the reports of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, which were written by the noted physician Dr. Thomas Kirkbride. Kirkbride was the founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (precursor to the modern American Psychiatric Association) and the creator of the “Kirkbride Plan” of asylum architecture. Kirkbride served as superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane from 1840 to 1883. The collection contains 18 reports from Kirkbride’s time as head of the institution.

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Reports include information on the primary staff members of institutions, patient statistics, and more.

The collection was donated as a permanent loan to the Cummings Center from the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M University, facilitated by Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. It was digitized and uploaded to the online database over the course of one year by student assistants Emma Grosjean and Anthony Pankuch. Excluded from the online database are several reports still in need of archival repair. Aside from these documents, the complete collection is now available for public access.

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-Contributed by Rhonda Rinehart.  

A new collection at the Center for the History of Psychology gives an insider’s view of the daily operations of early American psychiatric hospitals.  On permanent loan to the Center from the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M University, this collection of nearly 500 asylum reports from 33 states opens the front doors of US psychiatric hospitals and allows us a look at operations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Most reports include information on conditions, client activities, food and diet, demographics, and strategic planning while some reports also include images such as photographs or etchings of the facility.

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These reports provide a good opportunity to compare activities among hospitals during this time as well as delve into differing historical perspectives of treatment, facility support and client well-being.  Differences in types of facilities range from institutions that focused on the treatment and housing of the “criminally insane” to those referred to as “retreats” where clients were treated for alcoholism.

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These reports, from 1837 through 1936 span a 100 year history of psychiatric care in the United States.  Changes in medical terminology throughout the years in describing psychological disorders and diseases are often reflected in the report titles.  Inebriates, dipsomaniacs, idiocy, lunatic, and psychopath are terms used in describing the patients themselves as well as terms that appear in the names of the facilities.

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As some of these reports are nearly 200 years old, the condition varies, from nearly unusable with crumbling paper and detached covers, to usable but fragile.  Each report came to the Center with archival board binder protection, but the reports themselves are in great need of preservation to make them accessible to researchers.

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This important collection is a rare reserve of materials that complement both the history of psychology as well as additional collections at the CHP.  Browse the collection in the University of Akron Libraries catalog.

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