Evolution of a Madhouse Michelle Wiesen

Activist and reformer Nellie Bly once said “The insane asylum on Blackwell's Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out” (Bly).

Nellie Bly’s investigative skills helped improve conditions for mental hospitals by improving treatment towards patients, educating the staff, and changing opinions on who should be sent to an institution.


Treatment towards patients in the 1800’s was horrible, “If patients were violent, they were restrained. If they spouted nonsense and could not communicate, they were isolated from those who could talk sensibly” (Leon).


Moreover, treatment was improved by educating the staff more about how to treat mental illnesses. At first, institutions were staffed with untrained nurses with doctors as the main figure of authority (Mental Health).


Often, the people sent to an institution were unfairly sent. For example, “one woman who was declared insane by her husband after he caught her being unfaithful” (Bly).


During the 1800’s, black people were poorly treated and respected, so much so that “most asylums in the United States, both North and South, either refused admission to blacks or gave them inferior treatment and facilities. Indeed, common knowledge among both medical professionals and lay people held that blacks and whites were so different in every way that they could not even suffer the same forms of mental illness” (Leon).

Thanks to her investigative experience in Blackwell’s Island, the committee of appropriation provided $1,000,000 more than was ever before given, for the benefit of the insane (Bly).


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