Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane 👻 🤐 #crazy#psycho
Though asylums often carry connotations of dark and torturous existences, Willard and other institutions like it were intended to be a better alternative to systems in place for taking care of the mentally ill. In the early 19th century, those without anyone to care for them and incapable of taking care of themselves were left to almshouses (basically shelters) which were overcrowded and under resourced. In response to these squalid conditions, New York’s Surgeon General Dr. Sylvester D. Willard proposed a state-run hospital for the insane. Abraham Lincoln himself signed off on the proposal a mere six days before his death.
Willard welcomed its first patient in 1869. She was a woman named Mary Rote, described as “demented and deformed”, who had spent ten years confined to an almshouse. The theme of horrific neglect would follow in patients admitted later. One girl had been shackled in a cell since childhood, another patient arrived at Willard in a chicken crate. The dreadful situations patients were arriving from coupled with the lack of understanding of mental disability meant that Willard essentially became a dumping ground for undesirables. Patients’ afflictions ranged from severe mental and physical handicaps to “nervousness”, “chronic” to “acute” insanity, “feeblemindedness”, and “lunacy.” #The asylum was built in the same style as many other Victorian institutional facilities. The campus was divided between a women’s side and a men’s side with a violent end and a non-violent end. Administration buildings sat in the middle. The land had originally been designated for agricultural purposes, so the hospital ran its own farm with crops grown and tended by patients. Patients were unconfined, able to walk about as they pleased (though unable to leave the premises). There was a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a gymnasium, and patients took part in camp-like activities like sewing classes. It was still a hospital though, and there were entire buildings devoted to treatments like electro-shock therapy and ice baths, as well as operating theaters and a morgue.