The goal of the asylum and penal reform was to amend the punishments for crime, conditions of jails, treatment of the mentally ill and better the institutions that housed them, and imprisonment for debt.
Punishment for crimes/ debt were too severe (criminal were tortured by being whipped or branded and people were thrown into debtor’s jail for owing less than a dollar).
Conditions of jails were vile: many visitors were driven away by the foul stench wafting from the cells.
People suffering from insanity were treated cruelly: people thought that the mentally deranged were cursed with unclean spirits so they were chained in jains or poorhouses with sane people.
Cruel Conditions of Asylums
During the 1800s, the mentally ill were assumed to be people who were willingly crazed.
These patients were usually chained and
(physically/mentally) tortured into obedience.
Many Americans were admitted into these mental institutions even if they were not actually mentally ill (i.e. for spitting on the street or disobeying a husband). Dorothea Dix
Dorothea was a teacher and author who spoke against the inhumane treatment of prisoners.
She traveled over 60,000 miles in 8 years gathering information for her reports. Her reports stated the concept that insanity was a disease of the mind, and not just a willfully act pursued on by an individual. “I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us.”
Petition of 1843 Massachusetts
❖ It was created by
Dorothea Dix to pay for an expansion of the state insane asylum in Worcester.
In the petition,
Dorothea provided evidence of the horrific conditions under which the people with mental illness lived.