What Made You Lunatic Asylum-Level Crazy in 1864?

reasons for admission to a lunatic asylum in 1864

I stumbled across this gem courtesy of Kate et al. of Colour of Madness. It lists reasons people were admitted to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia in its first 25 years of existence, from 1864 to 1889. The building is still around, but now it’s a museum/ghost tour operation.

Trans-Allegheny “diagnoses”

There was certainly no DSM around at the time, and diagnosis was a bit of a free-for-all. While the whole list is pretty special, these would be my top 10 picks (I apologize to my visually impaired readers; the list is too long to write out the whole thing):

  • jealousy and religion (why are those two combined?)
  • masturbation for 30 years (um, so the average 40-something?)
  • deranged masturbation (I would what would qualify…)
  • novel reading (I would’ve thought 1864 would be too late for this particular version of crazy to be a thing)
  • parents were cousins (I suppose that was an issue in West Virginia)
  • fever and loss of law suit (another connection I fail to see)
  • exposure and quackery (this one fascinates me – what was the exposure and who were the quacks?)
  • time of life (um, which time?)
  • seduction and disappointment
  • sexual derangement

Lady problems

And there needs to be another top picks list for troubles of the female variety that landed people in the loony bin:

  • ill treatment by husband
  • imaginary female trouble (I suspect that back in the day a woman could have been bleeding profusely after giving birth and they would still call that imaginary female trouble)
  • menstrual deranged
  • fits and desertion of husband ˆ(Who was having the fits?  The husband or the wife?)
  • uterine derangement (I’m curious what this would look like, and what the differences would be from menstrual deranged)
  • women trouble (hmmm…..)
  • rumor of husband murder (Was the husband the murdered or the murderer?  If he was engaged in “excessive sexual abuse”, I bet she shot his ass)
  • female disease (Is it contagious?/  If so, how do we spread it around to infect the menfolk?)

What killed you in 1632?

diseases and casualties list for 1632

There was also this gem that was making the rounds on Twitter with some causes of death from 1632 (where, I’m not sure). My top 10 are:

  • affrighted (I suppose that’s where the phrase scared to death came from)
  • cancer, and wolf (I’m missing the connection here)
  • Cut of the Stone (is this a particular stone, or are stones in general going around killing 5 people?)
  • dead in the street, and starved (6 actually seems like a rather low number for that particular time in the world)
  • kil’d by several accidents (was this multiple accidents happening to each person?)
  • King’s Evil (huh?  Are we talking Henry VIII?)
  • planet (???)
  • Rising of the Lights (???)
  • suddenly (how is this a cause of death?  Descriptor, yes, but cause, no.)
  • teeth (what??? And why is it the 5th leading cause of death?)

Are there any of these reasons for lunatic asylum admission or causes of death that you find particularly interesting/appealing?

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My latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.

You can find it on Amazon and Google Play.

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54 thoughts on “What Made You Lunatic Asylum-Level Crazy in 1864?”

  1. Great post. This is the sort of thing that makes me think we’ve come a long way even tho we have far to go — & it makes me feel sorry for people in those days…

  2. This is interesting! I kind of like how the causes are listed instead of the current symptoms in some cases, like “fell from horse in war.” That makes sense to me. People can react in varying ways, but dealing with / confronting the origin would probably help in most cases.

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