history of madness
The Brattleboro Retreat was founded in 1834 as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane. Though private, the institution served as the State's only asylum until the Vermont State Hospital was opened in 1891. While the latter institution closed in 2011, the Retreat continues to operate today.
Holly Allen, Middlebury College
Sam Montgomery, Alec Brownlee
This article summarizes the 1838 Annual Report of the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, which it describes as a “well-conducted institution.” While noting that the Asylum lacks funds to complete necessary building improvements, it praises Dr. Rockwell…
Commenting on the first annual report of the Trustees and Physicians of the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, the editors of The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal wrote in January, 1838: “[I]t gave us great pleasure to read it, because it shows the…
“Vermont Insane Asylum. A shocking Condition of Affairs - Result of the Investigation of a Legislative Committee,” Boston Daily Globe, Jul 11, 1873, 1.
The article quotes extensively from the Legislative Committee’s 1873 Report into the Vermont Insane Asylum. The report characterizes the institution as terribly overcrowded, inadequately warm and ventilated, and prison-like. Committee members…
ART. VIII.--Vermont and Ohio Asylums for the Insane.
Pennsylvania Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy , Jan 1845; 1, 1.
The article offers highlights of the 1844 Annual Reports of the Vermont and Ohio Asylums for the Insane. In describing the Vermont Asylum at Brattleboro, the article notes the institution's expanded facilities and, in excerpts from the report…
Interesting to note is the significant growth in the number of causes of insanity. Especially interesting causes include, "Loss of property," "Menstrual derangement," "Extraction of teeth" and "Business Troubles."
In 1880 there were few categories of insanity. Tables of Principle Psychoses from later years show the growth in recognizing diversity in mental illness.
This collection of official reports of the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, while not comprehensive, contains important information about the changing administrative and medical practices and perspectives regarding the inmate population at the Asylum. …
Joseph Draper, The Vermont Asylum for the Insane: Its Annals for Fifty Years (Brattleboro: Hildreth and Fales, 1887).
Written by the superintendent of the institution, this lengthy history is generally favorable to the officers, medical staff, and trustees of the Brattleboro Insane Asylum. It contains useful illustrations and tabular data and it also engages some…
"The Vermont Insane Asylum," Massachusetts Ploughman and New England Journal of Agriculture, Jul 19, 1873; 32, 42.
This brief article reacts to the Vermont Legislature's findings of “a most horrible and almost incredible condition of affairs in the Vermont Insane Asylum."
A print reproduction of a photograph of the buildings and grounds of the Brattleboro Retreat.