American Studies Program
College of William and Mary
2015 to 2016
The Peculiar Institution: Race, Gender, and Religion in the Making of Modern Psychiatry
This project analyses the role of slavery and race in the emergence of moral treatment in the late eighteenth century and its demise after the Civil War. Two Virginia asylums, The Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg and the Central Lunatic Asylum in Petersburg, receive special attention. Central Lunatic Asylum was created after the Civil War to treat African Americans exclusively. Prior to that, the Eastern Lunatic Asylum was the only U.S. hospital to accept free blacks and slaves as patients and to employ slaves as direct attendants. These unique demographics encouraged innovation, particularly with regard to non-restraint and outpatient treatment. Race was also central to the creation and enforcement of enduring norms of gender and religious belief. This manuscript connects these norms to the crises precipitated by abolitionism and to diverse women’s activism and professional employment as caregivers.