Introduction: Sanative Culture

in Theaters of Madness

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226709635
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226709659 | DOI:
Introduction: Sanative Culture

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  • History of the Americas


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From the early 1830s until just before the Civil War, a great utopian movement to rehabilitate the insane resulted in the construction of dozens of publicly funded asylums, primarily but not exclusively in the Northern states. There, patients were attended to by medical staff who controlled their diet, exercise routines, drug intake, and cultural pursuits: their habits in literature, worship, handicrafts, and the like. The moral treatment movement gained systematicity in nineteenth-century asylums. Virtually every element of patients' quotidian routines attained therapeutic significance, but such activities as reading, writing, performing plays, worshipping in chapel, and learning useful—even marketable—skills were considered especially significant components of treatment, since they demonstrated the ability of the patients to internalize and reproduce the codes of behavior and thought endorsed by the authorities. This book investigates the cultural activity of inmates and doctors under the moral treatment regime in nineteenth-century asylums. It hopes to recapture the texture of a time when the treatment of the insane in America was a central topic in cultural conversations about democracy, freedom, and modernity.

Keywords: asylums; moral treatment movement; inmates; doctors; patients; insane; America; democracy; freedom; literature

Chapter.  9163 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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