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Insane Asylums Unveiled
n June 18, 1860,
Mrs. Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was abducted on her husband’s
orders and taken to the insane asylum in Jacksonville, Illinois,
where she spent the next three years. After she was released, she
wrote profusely. In one volume, Modern Persecution or Insane
Asylums Unveiled, she detailed her experiences during that time.
For the first four months of my prison life, Dr. McFarland
treated me himself, and caused me to be treated with all the respect
of a hotel boarder, so far as lay in his power.
As to medical treatment, I received none at all, either from
himself, or his subordinates. And the same may be said with equal
truth, of all the inmates. This is the general rule; those few cases
where they receive any kind of medical treatment, are the
A little ale occasionally is the principal part of the medical
treatment which these patients receive, unless his medical treatment
consists in the “laying on of hands,” for this treatment is almost
universally bestowed. But the manner in which this was practiced,
varied very much in different cases.
For the first four months the Doctor “laid his hands” very gently
upon me, except that the pressure of my hand in his was sometimes
quite perceptible, and sometimes, as I thought, longer continued
than this healing process demanded! …
But after these four months he laid his hands upon me in a different
manner, and as I then thought and still do think, far too violently.
There was no mistaking the character of these grips—no duplicity
after this period, rendered this modern mode of treatment of
doubtful interpretation to me.
[The eighth] ward was then considered the worst in the house,
inasmuch as it then contained some of the most dangerous class of
patients, even worse than the fifth in this respect, and in respect
to filth and pollution it surpassed the fifth at that time. It is
not possible for me to conceive of a more fetid smell, than the
atmosphere of this hall exhaled. An occupant of this hall would
inevitably become so completely saturated with this most offensive
effluvia that the odor of the eighth ward patients could be
distinctly recognized at a great distance, even in the open air.
I could, in a few moments after the Doctor put me in among them,
even taste this most fetid scent at the pit of my stomach. Even our
food and drink were so contaminated with it, we could taste nothing
else sometimes. It at first seemed to me, I must soon become nothing
less than a heap of putrefaction. But I have found out that I can
live, move, breathe, and have a being, where I once thought I could
The patients were never washed all over, although they were the
lowest, filthiest class of prisoners. They could not wait upon
themselves any more than an infant, in many instances, and none took
the trouble to wait upon them. The accumulation of this defilement
about their persons, their beds, their rooms, and the unfragrant
puddles of water through which they would delight to wade and
wallow, rendered the exhalations in every part of the hall almost
One night I was aroused from my slumbers by the screams of a new
patient who was entered in my hall. The welcome she received from
her keepers, Miss Smith and Miss Bailey, so frightened her that she
supposed they were going to kill her.
Therefore, for screaming under these circumstances, they forced her
into a screen-room and locked her up. Still fearing the worst, she
continued to call for “Help!” Instead of attempting to soothe and
quiet her fears, they simply commanded her to stop screaming.
But failing to obey their order, they then seized her violently and
dragged her to the bathroom, where they plunged her into the bathtub
of cold water.
This shock so convulsed her in agony that she now screamed louder
than before. They then drowned her voice by strangulation, by
holding her under the water until nearly dead.
When she could speak, she plead in the most piteous tones for “Help!
But all in vain. The only response was “Will you scream any more?”
She promised she would not, but to make it a thorough “subduing,”
they plunged her several times after she had made them this promise!
My room was directly opposite with open ventilators over both doors,
I could distinctly hear all.
This is what they call giving the patient a “good bath!”
But the bewildered, frightened stranger finds it hard to see the
“good” part of it. The patient was then led, wet and shivering, to
her room, and ordered to bed with the threat, “If you halloo again,
we shall give you another bath.”
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