JF Ptak Science Books Post 1349
Following an earlier post that I made here on the History of Bad Chairs (including a contrivance made by Declaration-signer Dr. Benjamin Rush that immobilized the body, dulled the senses and kept the feet of its mental-patient-occupant in cold water for "treatment") I'd like to start a short series on bad beds. This part was excited by another historic psychological/shrinkological tool from the arsenal of doctors who treated the insane: an instrument of torturous treatment called the "Utica crib".
It was a device used, obviously, to constrain the person placed in it--so that they could be controlled during the day if drugged and still not controllable, and to be used at night if the patient wouldn't stay under their covers. It looks pretty terrible, a squashed baby bed with a prison door for a top. It comes as one in a long line of bad beds, including psychiatric hospital"tumbling beds". centrifugal beds, and of course spiked beds of the inquisition, stretching beds form the same, Aushwitz "beds", and on and on, devices of torture made from places of rest.
The Utica Bed of the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica--if not actually constructed in Utica it was popularized there--was put into use at about the same time that the facility was opened in 1843. According to the numerous reports of New York State asylums directors in Supervision of our Asylums for the Insane1, it was about time (in 1880) that folks in control of the state institutions start to deal with their charges in a medical, treatable, fashion; to try and remedy the effects of mental illness rather than just use the asylums to warehouse societal outcasts. And it was in this paper that the Utica Crib (and other retraining devices) came under very severe criticism. (The original pamphlet is available at our blog bookstore.)
Edward C. Spitzka makes the point that the institutional that use devices like the Utica Crib--which was supposed to prevent patients from injuring themselves--actually had far more incidences of patient injurious than those institutions which--with a similar clientelle--didn't use them at all. Spitzka made a very compelling case the the Utica Crib and other devices were archaic remnants of an earlier and darker time in the treatment of cases outside mental health, and they they were far more injurious to patients than not having them at all. They also, he said, demoralized the staff of the hospital and depressed the medical supervision, making a mockery of treatment. All in all, Spitzka's insights were accurate and prescient.
1. Report of the Proceedings for Establishing a Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for the State of New York, published by Sherwood & Co., NYC, in 1880. 55pp.