Reasons for Admission to Lunatic Asylum

I just had to share this from the wonderful @MsPraxis. I have no idea where she got it from, but the reasons are interesting to say the least. I should point out I did go to the website given on the bottom to validate the authenticity of this list. What did I find? 😀

I couldn’t actually find the list on the above site, but there is lots of interesting information, especially if you are curious about human history.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, constructed between 1858 and 1881, is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and is purportedly the second largest in the world, next to the Kremlin. It was designed by the renowned architect Richard Andrews following the Kirkbride plan, which called for long rambling wings arranged in a staggered formation, assuring that each of the connecting structures received an abundance of therapeutic sunlight and fresh air. The original hospital, designed to house 250 souls, was open to patients in 1864 and reached its peak in the 1950’s with 2,400 patients in overcrowded and generally poor conditions. Changes in the treatment of mental illness and the physical deterioration of the facility forced its closure in 1994 inflicting a devastating effect on the local economy, from which it has yet to recover.


Essentially this place ended up housing ten times the patient population it was designed for! I cannot imagine how horrific this must have been for both patients and staff.

On the FAQ page I found this:

Do we have medical records?
No, we do not have medical records of any of the patients that were admitted to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

That doesn’t mean the above list isn’t authentic, it just means they don’t have individual’s medical records. I hope.

English: Thomas Story Kirkbride (July 31, 1809...

English: Thomas Story Kirkbride (July 31, 1809 – December 16, 1883) was a physician, advocate for the mentally ill, and founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII), a precursor to the American Psychiatric Association. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although much of this sounds terrible now, the Asylum was an enlightened development for the time. Dr Kirkbride, if alive today, would no doubt be a human rights activist.

… Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride’s theory on what he referred to as the “moral treatment” of the insane, a constructive idea unique to the United States, for mental asylums from the mid to late 19th century.


Let’s have a look at a few of the choice reasons as I’d love some definitions!

Female Disease: What on earth is this condition? While these British acts of parliament may not be the right “definition”, I do wonder if, given the era, it was something similar! The Contagious Diseases Act may well have crossed the pond.

Bad Habits & Political Excitement: Now this interested me, given the photos used against suffragettes in 1915

No Vote for Women

Anti-suffragette poster 1915

Uterine Derangement: Having been diagnosed as having, at different times, a “bulky” uterus and a “mangled” ovary, the concept of a deranged uterus doesn’t seem so strange. Medicos seem to have a lovely lexicon. I did wonder what it meant though. I found this article about uterine derangement published in 1852.

Women Trouble and Imaginary Female Trouble didn’t seem to have matching Man Trouble or Imaginary Man Trouble, so presumably men were considered immune to gender specific troubles.

Egotism: I can think of a few politicians who could be marched off to the Asylum based on that diagnosis.

I don’t think these were generic reasons, I think they are a random selection of specific reasons for specific cases over the years. After all, presumably not too many patients shot their daughters (like an insanity plea today), although possibly more than one fell from a horse in war (resulting in brain damage, most likely).

There are some pretty interesting photos on the Asylum’s Facebook page. I have to say I’ve learnt quite a bit of history from MsPraxis’ original Tweet! If I am ever in West Virginia, I think I’ll have to visit as it sounds like a wonderfully interesting place. This NY Times article gives some insight as well.

It is, after all, almost Halloween. 😛

This article is a lighthearted look at history. Anyone in need of crisis support should call LifeLine on 13 11 14 in Australia or  1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the USA.

4 comments on “Reasons for Admission to Lunatic Asylum

  1. I’ve a friend, poor thing, who would fit under the menstrual derangement label but for me, there are just too many to attribute only one diagnosis. But please lock me up with the ‘bad company’, certainly wouldn’t be bored there.


  2. Well that’s me locked up and the key thrown away – unless I had already been burnt at the stake!


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