Peep shows (Doug Edwards) | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Peep shows (Doug Edwards)

July 17, 2008
by Doug Edwards
| Reprints

At the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, England, in the 1700s, visitors could peer into patients' cells, poke them with sticks, and be amused by their unusual behavior.1 We certainly have come very far from that time, but people with mental illness continue to fascinate—and frighten—many. Just today the National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations
called for the proper burial of two women who were patients at the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane in the 1880s. Their mummified remains are on display in a bathroom of the Barbour County Historical Museum in Philippi, West Virginia "at a dollar a look," says the Coalition (entry at Bethlem was free on the first Tuesday of the month
1). This story reminded me of
plans for the now closed Weston Hospital in West Virginia (what is going on in this state?): "Psyco Path" dirt bike races, "Hospital of Horrors" haunting tours in October, and a "Nightmare Before Christmas" tour on December 23. So much has changed since the 1700s, but some attitudes have persisted. The victims of this continued exploitation are
all people with mental illnesses—past
and present.
Reference 1. Currie JM. The Fourth Factor: A Historical Perspective on Architecture and Medicine. Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects; 2007: 89.



Thanks for sharing. That sounds exactly like the account given by Currie. He notes that "In 1814 there were 96,000 such visits" at Bethlem Hospital.

When my daughter was young, I read her the entire "Little House on the Prairie" series twice. She so loved those books, I purchased another written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This one described her adult life as a wife and mother in Mansfield, Missouri. Wilder described a Sunday when, feeling bored, the family drove out to the insane asylum to watch the "inmates." Apparently, the patients were placed on exhibition on the weekends. Like a zoo. That would have been around the turn of the century.

Doug Edwards

Vice President and Managing Director

Doug Edwards

Doug Edwards is Vice President and Managing Director of Vendome Healthcare Media’s Mental Health...

The opinions expressed by Behavioral Healthcare Executive bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.