Administrations of Lunacy: Racism and the Haunting of American Psychiatry at the Milledgeville Asylum

Administrations of Lunacy: Racism and the Haunting of American Psychiatry at the Milledgeville Asylum

by Mab Segrest


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A scathing and original look at the racist origins of psychiatry, through the story of the largest mental institution in the world

Today, 90 percent of psychiatric beds are located in jails and prisons across the United States, institutions that confine disproportionate numbers of African Americans. After more than a decade of research, the celebrated scholar and activist Mab Segrest locates the deep historical roots of this startling fact, turning her sights on a long-forgotten cauldron of racial ideology: the state mental asylum system in which psychiatry was born and whose influences extend into our troubled present.

In December 1841, the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum was founded. A hundred years later, it had become the largest insane asylum in the world with over ten thousand patients. Administrations of Lunacy tells the story of this iconic and infamous southern institution, a history that was all but erased from popular memory and within the psychiatric profession.

Through riveting accounts of historical characters, Segrest reveals how modern psychiatric practice was forged in the traumas of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. Deftly connecting this history to the modern era, Segrest then shows how a single asylum helped set the stage for the eugenics theories of the twentieth century and the persistent racial ideologies of our own times. She also traces the connections to today's dissident psychiatric practices that offer sanity and create justice.

A landmark of scholarship, Administrations of Lunacy restores a vital thread between past and present, revealing the tangled racial roots of psychiatry in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620972977
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 452,410
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Mab Segrest is professor emeritus of gender and women's studies at Connecticut College and the author of Administrations of Lunacy and Memoir of a Race Traitor (both from The New Press). A longtime activist in social justice movements and a past fellow at the National Humanities Center, she lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Table of Contents

Preface: Georgia on My Mind xi

Introduction: Administrations of Lunacy 1

Part I The Asylum's Antebellum Origins

1 "Demonic and Legionized, They Entered": Samuel Henderson, Supt. Cooper, and the American Journal of Insanity 15

2 Asylum Psychiatry and Slavery: Fellow Travelers 30

3 "Stark Mad After Negroes!": The Asylum's Georgia Backstory 40

Part II The Settler-Colonial Mind

4 "Confused Farragoes" and "Mesmerized" Alcoholics: Nancy Malone, John Wade, Cherokee Removal, and Slavery 55

5 "Beat Her with a Wagon Whip": Frances Edwards, Mary Cobb Howell, and White Wives'Miseries 68

Part III Civil War, Reconstruction, and "Our Disturbed Country"

6 "The Great Interests of Our Disturbed Country": Civil War and the Georgia Asylum 83

7 "Separate, Unequal, and Compulsory": Freedpeople Enter the Georgia Asylum 104

8 "No History Furnished": Ku-Kluxing, Lynching, and Psychiatry's Inter-Psychic Tomb 117

9 "A Witless Woman's Story": Sue Pagan, Jane Stafford, and Belle Mitchell-Solidarity and a Certain Freedom in Atlanta 132

Part IV New Science, Old Ideas

10 Georgia's Segregated Psychiatric Fiefdom 143

11 Dr. Koch and Supt. Powell: Bacillus or Emancipation-"The Problem"? 160

12 Turn-of-the-Century Dreams: The Fire This Time, the Asylum Farm, and Supt. Powell's "Operation of a Certain Class" 185

13 Plantation-Asylum-Prison 204

Part V Jim Crowed Psychiatric Modernity

14 "It Must Be the Boss at the Other End": Psychiatry's Black Atlantic 219

15 Abraham Lincoln Jones, Dr. Goldberger, and the Asylum's Epidemic Violence 239

16 Dora and the Kindergarten Teacher: (Dis)Abilities and Eugenics 258

17 "Exalted on the Ward": Mary Roberts and the Asylum's Epistemic Violence 276

Epilogue: Psychiatry's Afterlives of Slavery, Our Ecologies of Sanity 293

Acknowledgments 331

Notes 333

Index 377

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