Insane Asylums Unveiled

Popular mode of curing Insanity.

On June 18, 1860, Mrs. Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was abducted on her husband’s orders and taken to the insane asylum in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she spent the next three years. After she was released, she wrote profusely. In one volume, Modern Persecution or Insane Asylums Unveiled, she detailed her experiences during that time.

For the first four months of my prison life, Dr. McFarland treated me himself, and caused me to be treated with all the respect of a hotel boarder, so far as lay in his power.
           
As to medical treatment, I received none at all, either from himself, or his subordinates. And the same may be said with equal truth, of all the inmates. This is the general rule; those few cases where they receive any kind of medical treatment, are the exceptions.
           

A little ale occasionally is the principal part of the medical treatment which these patients receive, unless his medical treatment consists in the “laying on of hands,” for this treatment is almost universally bestowed. But the manner in which this was practiced, varied very much in different cases.
           
For the first four months the Doctor “laid his hands” very gently upon me, except that the pressure of my hand in his was sometimes quite perceptible, and sometimes, as I thought, longer continued than this healing process demanded! …
           
But after these four months he laid his hands upon me in a different manner, and as I then thought and still do think, far too violently. There was no mistaking the character of these grips—no duplicity after this period, rendered this modern mode of treatment of doubtful interpretation to me.

[The eighth] ward was then considered the worst in the house, inasmuch as it then contained some of the most dangerous class of patients, even worse than the fifth in this respect, and in respect to filth and pollution it surpassed the fifth at that time. It is not possible for me to conceive of a more fetid smell, than the atmosphere of this hall exhaled. An occupant of this hall would inevitably become so completely saturated with this most offensive effluvia that the odor of the eighth ward patients could be distinctly recognized at a great distance, even in the open air.
           
I could, in a few moments after the Doctor put me in among them, even taste this most fetid scent at the pit of my stomach. Even our food and drink were so contaminated with it, we could taste nothing else sometimes. It at first seemed to me, I must soon become nothing less than a heap of putrefaction. But I have found out that I can live, move, breathe, and have a being, where I once thought I could not!

The patients were never washed all over, although they were the lowest, filthiest class of prisoners. They could not wait upon themselves any more than an infant, in many instances, and none took the trouble to wait upon them. The accumulation of this defilement about their persons, their beds, their rooms, and the unfragrant puddles of water through which they would delight to wade and wallow, rendered the exhalations in every part of the hall almost intolerable.

One night I was aroused from my slumbers by the screams of a new patient who was entered in my hall. The welcome she received from her keepers, Miss Smith and Miss Bailey, so frightened her that she supposed they were going to kill her.
           
Therefore, for screaming under these circumstances, they forced her into a screen-room and locked her up. Still fearing the worst, she continued to call for “Help!” Instead of attempting to soothe and quiet her fears, they simply commanded her to stop screaming.
           
But failing to obey their order, they then seized her violently and dragged her to the bathroom, where they plunged her into the bathtub of cold water.
           
This shock so convulsed her in agony that she now screamed louder than before. They then drowned her voice by strangulation, by holding her under the water until nearly dead.
           
When she could speak, she plead in the most piteous tones for “Help! Help!”
But all in vain. The only response was “Will you scream any more?”
She promised she would not, but to make it a thorough “subduing,” they plunged her several times after she had made them this promise! My room was directly opposite with open ventilators over both doors, I could distinctly hear all.
           
This is what they call giving the patient a “good bath!”
But the bewildered, frightened stranger finds it hard to see the “good” part of it. The patient was then led, wet and shivering, to her room, and ordered to bed with the threat, “If you halloo again, we shall give you another bath.”