The January issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is a special issue in honor of the late Gerald Grob (1931-2015), groundbreaking historian of mental health in the United States.
(If you want to read more about how Grob’s intellectual biography, here’s his account in our series “How I became a Historian of Psychiatry.“)
The special issue of JHMAS contains the following articles:
An introduction by Nancy Tomes and Kathleen W Jones.
This article offers an overview of the life and work of Gerald N. Grob. As part of a generation of scholars intent on overturning the old “Whig history” of medicine, Grob pioneered the use of institutional history as an analytical tool. His work on American psychiatry combined a formidable command of archival sources with a strong commitment to putting medical practice in social context. Grob’s personal and political views put him at odds with other scholars of the asylum; he conducted some very public feuds with David Rothman and Andrew Scull. At the same time, he showed a more benevolent side to younger historians interested in psychiatry; he took particular pains to encourage women (including the authors of this introduction) to enter a historical specialty then dominated by men. To honor Grob’s legacy as a scholar and a person, this special issue features articles written by several generations of scholars influenced and inspired by his work.
“New Directions in the Historiography of Psychiatry,” by Deborah Doroshow, Matthew Gambino, and Mical Raz.
Gerald Grob’s work in the history of psychiatry over the course of almost fifty years created a model for how historians might successfully situate mental health in its social and political context, and how inseparable it was from this context. Over the last twenty years, the field has grown tremendously. Historians have incorporated categories of analysis like gender and race, methodologies like cultural history and intellectual history, and sought to continue Grob’s quest to understand American mental health history as a critical component of American history writ large. In this piece, we suggest several potential areas for future study. Building on Grob’s work on the asylum, we focus on the continued need to explore the texture of lived experience for both practitioners and those experiencing mental illness, both within and beyond the institution. In an era when the politics of deinstitutionalization continue to shape the modern mental health enterprise, we suggest that further examination of the consequences of deinstitutionalization is both inherently rich and relevant to contemporary mental health practice. Finally, we discuss opportunities for historians to engage with policymaking and social justice, pointing to incarceration and juvenile justice as two especially relevant areas for further study.
“Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis Meet at a Mental Hospital: An Early Institutional History,” by Naoko Wake.
Psychoanalysis and homosexuality in the United States were both largely in flux between 1910 and 1935. This article sheds light on this unique historical moment by first exploring scholarly discussions of the era’s psychoanalysis and homosexuality, both of which emphasized the transitional nature of therapy and sexuality. By putting two bodies of scholarship into conversation, I also suggest how the historiography might move beyond two oft-cited arguments—that the psychoanalysis of the era had the power to form a person’s sexual identity negatively, and that sexual minorities formed their identities affirmatively by staying away from medical interventions. I argue that, instead, psychoanalysis was part of modern sexual identity-formation in surprisingly open-ended ways. The second half of the article continues to explore the interplay between therapy and sexuality by closely examining clinical practices at one of the leading mental hospitals of the era: Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland, where an eclectic mode of psychotherapy was actively employed to treat homosexuality. In particular, the work of Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949), a gay psychiatrist well-known for his interpersonal theory of mental illness, shows how male patients who experienced same-sex sexual relationships nurtured productive interdependency among men in their articulation of sexual identity. By carefully delineating this process, the article shows how analytic practices could, and sometimes did, offer a crucial space for self-reflection and articulation of male sexuality.
“Pathologizing the Crisis: Psychiatry, Policing, and Racial Liberalism in the Long Community Mental Health Movement,” by Nic John Ramos.
The community mental health movement has been generally regarded as a benevolent movement that replaced old notions of psychiatric racism with new ideas about the normality of race. Few studies, however, have explored the movement for its active support for new surveillance and policing strategies, particularly broken windows theory, a policing approach partly responsible for the expansion of prisons in the United States after the 1970s. Looking to racially liberal approaches to psychiatry in the 1960s and 1970s crafted by integrationist psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West and black nationalist psychiatrist J. Alfred Cannon at the University of California, Los Angeles, this essay demonstrates that cultural and biological explanations for racial violence in civil rights and black nationalist discourses renewed surveillance on poor people of color that resulted in increased forms of incarceration, segregation, and discrimination for them by the 1980s. Rather than forward racial justice, I argue that psychiatric discourses arguing for the racial sameness of white and black minds in the 1960s and 1970s relied on scientific and cultural narratives centered on child development, gender, and sexuality that obscured the processes of racial capitalism that continued to produce poverty and sickness in black communities.
“Psychiatric Jim Crow: Desegregation at the Crownsville State Hospital, 1948–1970,” by Ayah Nuriddin.
The Crownsville State Hospital, located in Maryland just outside of Annapolis, provides a thought-provoking example of the impact of desegregation in the space of the mental hospital. Using institutional reports, patient records, and oral histories, this article reconstructs the three phases of desegregation at Crownsville. First, as a result of its poor conditions, lack of qualified staff, and its egregious mistreatment of patients, African American community leaders and organizations such as the NAACP called for the desegregation of the care staff of Crownsville in the late 1940s. Second, the introduction of a skilled African American staff created unprecedented and morally complex issues about access to psychiatric therapeutics. Last, in 1963, Health Commissioner Dr. Isadore Tuerk officially desegregated patients in all Maryland state hospitals. Though desegregation brought much needed improvements to Crownsville, these gains were ultimately swamped by deinstitutionalization and the shift towards outpatient psychiatric care. By the 1970s, Crownsville had returned to the poor conditions that existed during segregation.
“The Final Years of Central State Hospital,” by Ellen Dwyer.
There is a rich literature on the deinstitutionalization movement in the US but few, if any, parallel histories of state mental hospitals. Under attack from the 1950s on, state hospitals dwindled in size and importance. Yet, their budgets remained large. This paper offers a case study of one such facility, Indiana’s Central State Hospital, between 1968 and 1994. During these years, local newspapers published multiple stories of patient abuse and neglect. Internal hospital materials also acknowledged problems but offered few solutions. In 1984, the US Department of Justice intervened, charging Central State with having violated patients’ civil rights, the first such action filed under the 1980 Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. Although Indiana signed a consent decree promising major reform, long-lasting change proved elusive. Civil and criminal lawsuits proliferated. In 1992, as Central State continued to attract negative attention, Indiana Governor Evan Bayh ordered the troubled hospital closed. His decision promised to save the state millions of dollars and won plaudits from many, but not all, mental health advocates. Even as the last patients left in 1994, some families continued to challenge the wisdom of eliminating Indiana’s only large urban mental hospital, but to no effect.