Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Inspector's report from the Oregon Insane Asylum, 1872

Another post by former HC&A volunteer Laurel Narizny, who is now Metadata Librarian at Caltech.

“Report of the inspecting physician of the insane asylum, Oregon, to the legislative assembly thereof” [an item in HC&A's Pacific Northwest Collection] is an interesting predecessor to Ken Kesey’s novel of a mid-twentieth-century Oregon mental hospital, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

In September 1872 Andrew D. Ellis, visiting physician at the Oregon Insane Asylum, wrote to L. F. Grover, Oregon’s governor at the time:

“...the percentage of cures is remarkably in excess of that of many older and younger institutions in the East. This is gratifying to our young State, and is attributable to a series of causes:

“First, The Asylum not being overcrowded, the contractor having spared no expense in extent of necessary buildings, the patients receive more attention from the medical corps and the skilled wardens, whereby the average duration of treatment is reduced and a rapid cure results.

“Second, The healthy location of the Institution, with a perfect drainage, secures the complete health of the entire household.

“Third, The abundant supply of good, wholesome water from the springs on the land belonging to the Institution, promotes the health, cleanliness and comfort of the patients. This is a desideratum that all hospitals for the insane do not possess, and, in a number of instances, where the supply of water was not sufficient to accommodate the increased number of patients, buildings heretofore used as asylums were abandoned, resulting in the loss of many hundred thousand dollars. We can, therefore, congratulate the State upon the fact that the present Institution will never have to be abandoned for this cause.

“Oregon has pursued a wise and humane course of conduct in not making any change since she first undertook to properly care for her insane wards, thus securing and retaining the best ability for those so terribly afflicted with the worst of ‘all the ills that flesh is heir to.’ Experience constantly adds to the ability and efficacy of those who make the subject of the treatment and care of the insane a specialty; hence, as few changes in the medical and attendants’ staff as is consistent with the proper treatment and care of the insane are made.

“We can congratulate ourselves that the Oregon Hospital for the Insane is, in every respect, a curative institution, and not merely an Asylum for the restraint of these poor unfortunates, who are entrusted to its care.”

Given our rather more advanced knowledge of mental illness and its treatment today, one has to wonder: were there Nurse Ratcheds in 1872?

--Laurel Narizny, HC&A Volunteer

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