The State and Mental Disability


in Mental Disability in Victorian England

Published in print October 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246397
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191715235 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Historical Monographs

 The State and Mental Disability

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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In Victorian England, the Old Poor Law did not function as a unitary system: its implementation varied according to the problems, priorities, and wealth of each of more than 10,000 parishes. However, by the end of the 18th century certain patterns of parochial care and accommodation were beginning to emerge as officials dealt more frequently with those suffering from mental disability: idiots or imbeciles. By retaining individuals in workhouses, the Poor Law Guardians were saving enormously on the costs of formal institutional confinement. A confluence of cultural, medical, and charitable forces by the early Victorian period left idiot children as a constituency without a home. County lunatic asylums were concentrating their limited resources on violent and incurable adult lunatics, and were being increasingly seen as an inappropriate locus of care for idiot children. Meanwhile, the cultural status of children's charities was on the rise. Orphan asylums had been established in the early decades of the 19th century, and childhood was becoming identified as central to new bourgeois configurations of family.

Keywords: Old Poor Law; mental disability; workhouses; children; lunatic asylums; charities; idiots; imbeciles

Chapter.  5171 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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