Letter to America 2

Continuing this earlier post.

The address given by Dr Weir Mitchell to the American Medico-Psychological Association, which was the occasion of Dr John Batty Tuke writing to him in 1894, was one of censure and admonition of his asylum doctor audience:

The whole asylum system is, in my opinion, wrong, and has been let to harden into organized shapes which are difficult to reform…

There should, I think, be in America somewhere one large, perfected hospital for the possibly curable insane, and it should of need, include a home for the education and uplifting of the chronic and hopelessly insane…

There [should be] no bars, no locked doors. … I see you smile. It has been tried, I believe, and has not been found impossible.

(The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol . 21, no. 7 (July 1894), pp. 432-434.)

Reading this address prompted Dr Tuke to (somewhat fawning) agreement and self-exculpation:

Reform is needed here as well as with you. As Hospitals our Asylums are useless. Let me remind you that twenty-five years ago I abolished all locks and keys in the County Asylum of which I was then Superintendent…

I shall send you soon a copy … of my evidence given before the London County Council, advocating the erection and maintenance of a Curative Hospital. It is Hospitals we want…

I may add that I have been well nigh ostracized by the Mad-Doctors in Great Britain.

Dr Tuke’s letter to America puts us in mind of earlier efforts made by others, including his namesake Daniel Hack Tuke, to familiarize themselves with best (and worst) asylum practice of continental Europe (efforts which have been the subject of previous comment, and are documented here). The sentiments shared by Mitchell and Tuke also find echoes in the establishment by London County Council of a pathological research laboratory at Claybury Hospital in 1895, and the joint efforts of Drs Frederick Mott (the laboratory’s director) and Henry Maudsley to establish a LCC hospital for early inpatient and outpatient treatment of acute mental disorder. Mott and Maudsley’s proposals, oulined in a document held here at the Archives & Museum (and pictured below), were at length successful, but that’s another story…



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