Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Norristown Asylum for the Criminally Insane: An Early History of Trouble

The Norristown Asylum for the Criminally Insane, completed in 1879, is historically known for being the first hospital to allow female physicians to practice within its walls. This is largely because they kept male and female patients separate from one another. Although after checking with the hospital, I was unable to find any record of a Dr. Anastasia LeBoux (the one mentioned in Von Weren's journal) ever having worked there. Obviously very progressive, especially for the time, it seems some of the staff may have been too progressive in other ways. Not the least of which was experimentation on patients. It is unclear to what extent these experiments were conducted or degree of severity. There was at least one that became publicized in medical  journals at the time, which I will not go into any more detail on, as it is quite discomforting.

Another incident took place in the summer of 1883, as seen in this New York Times article titled, "The Insane Asylum Murder". On July 5, a patient was severely beaten by one of the hospital attendants. Exactly one month later, that patient died from "blood poisoning" as a direct result of his previously sustained injuries. Conveniently, the resident physician for the male ward failed to report the incident to the board because he was, "very busy at the time and [he] forgot it." A $500 reward for the capture and conviction of the attendant, who evidently disappeared, was offered.

Jumping to the present for a moment, the hospital is still running today as Norristown State Hospital and has one of the few forensics units (used to hold and evaluate some prisoners before trial) in the state. It should be needless to say, but the hospital, and the practice of treating mental health in general, has come a long way since then.

Back to the past, it seems possible that Von Weren could have gotten involved with the hospital in some way, with his surgical background. However, I don't have any definitive proof of that and can't really see how or why.

I'll leave you with some photos from the hospital:



Female Infirmary

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