Date Presented

Spring 5-1-2023

Document Type



Exercise Physiology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Crutchfield, PhD

Second Advisor

Dr. Price Blair, PhD

Third Advisor

Dr. Edward DeClair, PhD


The nineteenth century was a revolutionary period for the medical field in America. While there was little regulation of the practice of medicine, there was a push towards the greater incorporation of science in the latter half of the century, and training in formalized schools increasingly became a symbol of legitimacy for physicians. This applied not only to practitioners of physiological medicine, but those who practiced psychiatric medicine as well. The nineteenth century saw both the birth and the death rattles of the American asylum, and it ushered in a new understanding of the insane – it promoted the idea that the insane were able to recover and thrive if given proper treatment, an idea that was considered revolutionary during its time. Medical superintendents, charged with running asylums and caring for their inhabitants, encouraged the spread of these ideas and did their best to enact treatments in accordance with the new understanding, something they were ultimately unsuccessful with because they found themselves overextended as patient populations grew. The nineteenth century asylum is emblematic of both the potential for progress in American medicine and the pitfalls that we see in modern medicine, as the actions of medical superintendents, though well intentioned, fostered a misplaced hope in the American people and was ultimately detrimental to the patients and families who sought help, as well as to Americans’ faith in the field of psychiatric medicine.