In the last chapter, I talked about how the term Dementia has nothing but negative connotations. I’ll now show you how this term went from bad to a whole lot worse!
Welcome to, The Hotel Madhouse!
Ok, I agree, The Hotel Madhouse isn’t accurate, so I’ll use the correct reference and see if that helps? In 1774 the Mad House Act was passed, but it was soon realised that this didn’t favour local governments forced to build these places. Who wants a Mad House in the county?
So, in 1845 it was decided a new a more homely, caring, and compassionate term was required for this act. Could you have come up with something a bit better than, The Lunatic Asylums Act!?
Just a quick look at the words:
Lunatic; I tried to find anything good linked to this term, and the best I could find was surprisingly Fruitcake!
The other terms I’m sure you’ll already know; lunacy, loony, insane, mad, bedlam meaning, ‘scene of mad confusion,’ demonic meaning, ‘possessed by a demon,’ idiot, fool, and even moonstruck, to name but a few. As you can see, this didn’t give a positive outlook!
Asylum, at first sounds a bit better; ‘a place of refuge, or sanctuary.’ But, when the two words were used together, it soon changed from a place of sanctuary to one of confinement. A more common term became popular, The Insane Asylum, or Looney Bin, the place where you lock up mad people.
This is a bit you can skip if you wish. It’s just something that interested me when looking up the work bedlam “scene of mad confusion,” 1660s, from colloquial pronunciation of “Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem” in London, founded 1247 as a priory, mentioned as a hospital 1330 and as a lunatic hospital 1402; it was converted to a civic lunatic asylum on dissolution of the monasteries in 1547. It was spelled Bedlem in a will from 1418, and Betleem is recorded as a spelling of Bethlehem in Judea from 971. The proper name might be caught in transition in the title of John Davies’ 1617 publication of humorous poetry, “Wits bedlam —where is had, whipping-cheer, to cure the mad.”
Now you know what the place is like, how do you get admission?
As with many areas of society at the time, the admission into asylums was based on class. The upper and middle classes could admit family members who were suffering from some sort of mental trauma as private patients. However, those with little or no funds were admitted as paupers, more as an attempt to keep them away from society and used as experimental guinea pigs.
To avoid abuse of the system, the 1853 Lunatic Asylums Act, laid down guidelines for admitting patients to the asylums. In order for the detention of pauper lunatics to be legal, they required the appropriate paperwork on admission. This included a medical certificate signed by a doctor or apothecary (similar to a modern-day pharmacist, so pop along to Boots or any other well-known brand and book a place at the local Looney Bin for a loved one!) who had personally examined the patient within the previous seven days. In addition, an order from a Justice, a Clergyman, an Overseer, or the Relieving Officer (under the Poor Law) was required.
Private patients needed a medical certificate signed by two physicians, surgeons, or apothecaries.
In both cases, detailed information about the patient was also required. This included: name of patient; sex and age; married, single or widowed; condition of life and previous occupation; religious persuasion; whether this was their first attack; age at the time of the first attack; duration of existing attack; supposed cause; whether the patient was subject to epilepsy; whether they were suicidal or dangerous to others.
Once admitted, there was no procedure for the patient to appeal against detention. They could, however, be discharged on the application of a relative or friend, as long as they confirmed that they would take proper care of the patient and prevent them from injuring themselves or others.
Who you knew and the influence and money you possed made this process somewhat open to abuse. Class played a big part!
Despite the good intentions of the 1853 Act, it appears there was still plenty of scope to abuse the system. Unfortunately, for many, asylums were regarded as prisons disguised as hospitals. It was a convenient way to remove the poor and incurable from society and for those with money, private madhouses were often convenient dumping grounds for unwanted wives.
Although many patients were admitted for short periods of time, there are plenty of stories of patients who were admitted to asylums, often for very unsatisfactory reasons, and basically forgotten about. Some could spend twenty or more years locked away, and sadly some patients died without ever being released.
Reasons for admission were very much down to personal judgment and seem to have been heavily weighted against women. Indeed there were often many more women compared with men confined in these institutions.
Depression associated with various situations seems to be common. Examples listed include valid reasons such as ‘death of sons in war’, ‘desertion or death of husbands’ and ‘domestic trouble’. Many other reasons, however, are much more spurious. For example, ‘imaginary female trouble’, ‘immoral life’ (often associated with carrying &/or delivering an illegitimate child), ‘menstrual problems’, ‘the menopause’, ‘uterine problems’, ‘female disease’ and ‘nymphomania’.
‘Hysteria’ is also cited as a reason for admission. This is, however, a subjective assessment and one that was easily abused. Women at the time were expected to be demure, polite and agreeable to the men in their lives. Should a women dare to speak out of turn or argue with her father or husband, however, she could be considered hysterical and in need of treatment.
Equally worrying was that women were admitted if they had ‘over action of the mind’. This could be because they wanted to educate themselves, or for some, it may have been as simple as wanting to read. Indeed, ‘book reading’ is listed as a reason for admission.
As you can clearly see, the Lunatic Asylums Act had a more significant impact on society than the building of asylums. It was a method of control at every level of life!
Between the passing of the The Lunatic Asylums Act in 1845 and 1890, over sixty asylums were built and opened. A further forty were subsequently built. Eventually, asylum numbers reached a peak in the 1950s with over one hundred hospitals and approximately 150,000 patients in England and Wales.
Next time I’ll talk about life inside the asylum.
Now I’ll leave you with a list of, Reasons for Admission. This document is from the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in America between 1864 to 1889. I couldn’t find a similar document from here in Britain; maybe they all got lost!? However, what went on in America, was a close mirror of what went on here too!
Have a look and see if you could have had an invite to, The Hotel Madhouse? (I’ve written out the list below)
‘You’re a Looney, You’re In!’
INTEMPERANCE & BUSINESS TROUBLE
KICKED IN THE HEAD BY A HORSE
ILL-TREATMENT BY HUSBAND
IMAGINARY FEMALE TROUBLE
JEALOUSY AND RELIGION
MARRIAGE OF SON
MASTURBATION AND SYPILIS
MASTURBATION FOR 30 YEARS
MEDICINE TO PREVENT CONCEPTION
OVER ACTION OF THE MIND
OVERY STUDY OF RELIGION
OVERTAXING MENTAL POWERS
PARENTS WERE COUSINS
TOBACCO AND MASTURBATION
FEVER AND LOSS OF LAWSUIT
FIS AND DESERTION OF HUSBAND
BAD HABIT AND POLITACAL EXITMENT
CARBONIC ACID GAS
CONGESTION OF THE BRAIN
BEAT OF SONS IN WAR
DECOYED INTO THE ARMY
DESERTION BY HUSBAND
EXCESSIVE SEXUAL ABUSE
EXCITEMENT AS OFFICER
EXPOSURE AND HEREDITARY
EXPOSURE AND QUACKERY
EXPOSURE IN ARMY
FEVER AND JEALOUSY
SUPPRESSION OF MENSES
TIME OF LIFE
SHOOTING OF DAUGHTER
SNUFF EATING FOR 2 YEARS
GATHERING IN THE HEAD
RUMOR OF HUSBAND MURDER
SEDUCTION AND DISAPPOINTMENT
SEXUAL ABUSE AND STIMULANTS
FEEBLENESS OF INTELLECT
FELL FROM HORSE IN WAR
DISSIPATION OF NERVES
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