Lunacy, Law, and Conscience, 1744-1845: The Social History of the Care of the Insane

Lunacy, Law, and Conscience, 1744-1845: The Social History of the Care of the Insane

Lunacy, Law, and Conscience, 1744-1845: The Social History of the Care of the Insane

Lunacy, Law, and Conscience, 1744-1845: The Social History of the Care of the Insane

Excerpt

In the eighteenth century, madmen were locked up in madhouses: in the nineteenth century, lunatics were sent to asylums; and in the twentieth century, the mentally ill receive treatment in hospitals.

That is the essence of the change which has taken place in the care and treatment of the insane in the past two hundred years -- a change which is more than a matter of terminology; for a 'madhouse attendant' is not the same as a mental nurse, nor is a 'mad-doctor' the professional equivalent of a psychiatrist.

This survey deals with the development of 'madhouses' into 'asylums' during the period 1744-1845. It is primarily an administrative study. In 1744, a section of the insane first received mention as a separate class in the community for whom it was desirable that provision should be made. By 1845, a national system of inspection and supervision of all institutions for the insane had been achieved. After 1845 came the development from 'asylums' -- to 'mental hospitals' -- a development belatedly recognized by the Mental Treatment Act of 1930; but the events and ideas of 1744-1845 have a unity of their own, culminating in the first great Lunatics Act.

Lunacy reform was not an isolated movement. It was connected with the other reforms of the early nineteenth century -- reforms of the penal law, of factory law, new developments in education and public health. Like these other movements, it sprang from a conception of the community's responsibility for the well-being of its members, and revealed a new spirit of humanity in public life. The insane were in fact the first of the handicapped classes to receive legislative protection.

The course of reform followed what was to become a familiar pattern in nineteenth-century England -- a pattern which bore a clear relation to the parliamentary system. First came an indefinable sense of public uneasiness at existing conditions. This manifested itself in isolated incidents and local experiments. Improvements were carried out by individual philanthropists and small groups of influential people in two or three of the larger cities. In time, these experiments attracted the attention of . . .

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