The familiarity of madness

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People in the past were much more familiar with many different kinds of unusual or disruptive behaviour than we are now. Asylums were rare before the nineteenth century and most care was domestic, and ideas of privacy and individual freedom were quite different in the past. Neighbours and acquaintances felt no compunction about enquiring into personal affairs and offering their opinions. But even if madness was more familiar, the growing provision of asylums in the nineteenth century seems to have been broadly welcomed, not least by the families of sufferers. This does not mean that public asylums were dumping grounds for unwanted members of families. Instead public asylums were a resource used strategically by poor households, because most were for paupers. Asylums were a social resource as well as a medical institution.

Image of the week: male patient of West Riding Lunatic Asylum, Wakefield, York, suffering from ‘Mono-mania of pride’, c. 1869
Full Bibliographic Record: Wellcome Library Catalogue L0041119
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

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