1855 Miss Phebe B. Davis

Names of patients who were incarcerated at state insane asylums 72 years ago or more can be difficult to find; not because they aren’t there but because they are buried in old documents, records, and books. It is rare that one finds a first hand account of the experiences of a person who had lived to tell the story of being locked up at the state lunatic asylum. Miss Phebe B. Davis, wrote and published a pamphlet entitled TWO YEARS AND THREE MONTHS IN THE NEW-YORK STATE LUNATIC ASYLUM, AT UTICA: TOGETHER WITH THE OUTLINES OF TWENTY YEARS’ PEREGRINATIONS IN SYRACUSE, in 1855, with her own money. Her goal was to inform the public about the terrible abuses that were endured by the patients while in “the house.” I read her story with one hand over my mouth for many different reasons, and at times, I could be heard to say, “Oh, Jesus!” and “Oh my God!”

Davis Pamphlet 1855

Davis Pamphlet 1855

I have transcribed her pamphlet word for word and bolded the names of all the people she mentioned. This is what I meant in my book when I said: “To believe that all our ancestors were good, kind, law abiding citizens who were literate, owned their own homes, and held steady employment is unrealistic.” Some of our ancestors were down right mean!

The pamphlet is not an easy read since it was written 157 years ago, but all 64 pages are worth the effort. I knew that some words were printing errors but everything else I kept as originally written. If you have read my blog, you will already know Dr. Amariah Brigham and Dr. John P. Gray. In the coming days, I will do more research on Miss Davis, Dr. Benedict, Dr. Nichols, and Dr. CookBub.”


1858 Biographical Sketch of Amariah Brigham, M.D.

I always try to obtain obituaries from The New York Times but the newspaper wasn’t founded until 1851, two years after the death of Dr. Amariah Brigham, M.D., the first Medical Superintendent of the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica. This piece has been reprinted from Biographical Sketch of Amariah Brigham, M.D., published in 1858.  

December 26, 1798 – September 8, 1849

Dr. Amariah Brigham

Dr. Amariah Brigham

The following sketch was written by one of the managers of the Asylum – a distinguished physician – Dr. Charles B. Coventry:

Dr. Amariah Brigham was born in the town of New Marlborough, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, on the 26th day of December, 1798, where his father, John Brigham, was also born. His grandfather, Francis Brigham, one of the first settlers of the place, was from Marlborough, in Worcester county, a descendant of Thomas Brigham, who came over from England, and settled in Cambridge in 1640. In 1805, the father of Amariah moved to Chatham, Columbia county, New York, where he had purchased a farm, and died there in 1809. On the death of his father, the subject of this memoir, who was now eleven years of age, went to reside with an uncle, Dr. Origen Brigham, a highly respectable physician in Schoharie, New York. Here he hoped long to reside, and to follow the profession of his uncle, for which he had already imbibed a fondness. But it was so ordered in Providence, that in the course of a few years, this beloved relative was removed by death, and the nephew left with limited resources, to seek some new home and employment.

After remaining a short period with his mother in Chatham, having little taste for the farm, and an ardent desire for books and knowledge, he started off alone at the age of fourteen, for Albany, in pursuit of a livelihood. He soon found a place there, in a book and stationery establishment, where he resided in the family of the proprietor, and found himself happy. He had there abundant access to books, was in the neighborhood of the courts, the Legislature, and public men, and embraced with eagerness every possible means of acquiring knowledge. One who furnishes the material for this part of the memoir, well remembers the enthusiasm with which he would describe men and scenes of the capital, on his occasional visits to his mother at Chatham. Though but fifteen years of age, he could describe the person and qualities of almost every man of note who came to Albany, had his own opinion formed on nearly all matters of public interest, and could cite book and chapter for the ground of his opinion.

He often mentioned one little occurrence in connection with the late Daniel D. Tompkins, who was then Governor of the State. He was directed, soon after entering on his new employment, to carry some articles of stationery to the Chief Magistrate, who resided in a mansion with spacious grounds in front, near the Capitol. After delivering his parcel, and coming down one of the winding paths to the gate, he picked up a new silk handkerchief which had been accidentally dropped. Presuming it to belong to some of the Governor’s family, he went back and inquired for an owner. The Governor soon appeared in person, gave him many thanks for the return of the article, inquired of him his history, and then dismissed him with a cordial shake of the hand and a generous piece of money. That occurrence, which he often mentioned in later years, impressed deeply on his mind two things: the value of strict integrity in boys, and of kind attention towards them by men of prominence. He said he could not be bribed after that to do a dishonest act for all the wealth of the capital.

During a three year’s residence at Albany, while he had given perfect satisfaction to his employer, he had retained his desire for professional life, and had devoted all his leisure time to reading and inquiry relating to the same. His mother now moving back to his native place in Berkshire, Massachusetts, he soon got released from his engagements and resided with her, and entered on the study of medicine with Dr. Edmund C. Peet, a distinguished physician, brother of H. P. Peet, Esq., President of the New York Deaf and Dumb Asylum.

Here he resided and studied more than four years, subtracting one or two winter terms, when he taught school; and one spent in New York, attending lectures. His study too, was close and thorough, often amounting to twelve hours a day, besides miscellaneous reading.

While he had at this time, when his professional studies commenced, acquired an extensive acquaintance with books, had practiced much in composition, and wrote well, he had never in form studied English grammar. One who was the teacher of a select school in the place, informs us that he was waited on by the young medical student, with a proposition to be taught the grammar, and wished to have it all done in a single day. A day was given him, and a hard day’s work it was, for hundreds of questions had to be thoroughly answered, and different parts of the text-book explained. In the evening several young persons, who had spent months in the same study, undertook to examine the pupil of a day, and found, to their surprise, that he had not only reached their position in the study, but had gone beyond them, and could propose and solve difficulties in the language quite too hard for them. Within a few weeks he commenced the teaching of a school for the winter, in which he had a large class in grammar, and which was so taught, that at the closing examination, both teacher and pupils received high commendation.

In prosecuting his medical studies, he found that many things which he wanted were locked up in the French language. With the same resolution which had led him to master the English grammar, he procured dictionaries and other helps, and without any teacher mastered the French. Nearly one-third of his large library left, is in this tongue, and was read, in later years particularly, with as much facility as his own vernacular.

The year 1820, when his professional studies closed, he spent with Dr. Plumb, of Canaan, Connecticut, engaged, most of the time, in practice with him. In 1821, he commenced practice by himself in the town of Enfield, Massachusetts. Here he remained for two years, with fair prospects, but finding a more inviting field before him in Greenfield, the shiretownof Franklin county, he removed thither, and practiced for two years, when he went to Europe. After a year’s residence in France, Italy, England, and Scotland, he returned to Greenfield, but moved, in April, 1841, to Hartford, Connecticut. Here he had a large and successful practice, much of it in the line of surgery, until 1837, when he moved to New York, and lectured one winter in the Crosby Street Medical College. But his health here not being good, and not liking the confinement, to which he was so unused, he returned in October, 1838, to Hartford, a place which was always dear to him, and where he had hoped, even the last year, to spend the evening of his days. Dr. Brigham was married, January 23, 1833, to Susan C. Boot, daughter of Spencer Boot, Esq., of Greenfield, Massachusetts, by whom he had four children, of whom three, with their mother, survive to mourn his death.

In January, 1840, he was appointed in connection with Dr. Sumner, to take charge of the Retreat for the Insane, at Hartford, and in July, 1840, was appointed Superintendent of the same.

In the summer of 1842, Dr. Brigham was appointed Superintendent of the New York State Lunatic Asylum, at Utica. The institution was opened on the 16th of January, 1843. From this time, until the period of his death, he was unceasing in his devotion to the great cause of humanity in which he was engaged. It is well known that the building first erected, was intended as only a part of the entire establishment, and consequently, was not susceptible of such an arrangement, as was necessary for a proper classification. It was the ambition of Dr. Brigham that the State of New York should have a model institution, and this was impossible without further accommodations; and although his duties were thereby rendered more arduous and responsible, without any increase of remuneration, he was unceasing in his application to the managers and the Legislature, for additional buildings. In May, 1844, an additional appropriation of $60,000 was made by the Legislature, to enable the managers to erect two additional wings for patients, thus doubling the accommodations, and also the necessary room for bakery, wash-rooms, &c, in the rear of the buildings, and thus removing them from the basement of the main building. The new erections were completed in 1846, and were soon filled with patients. From that time until the present, the average number of patients has been from four hundred and fifty to five hundred. Dr. Brigham was not only desirous of establishing an institution which should be creditable to the State, but, in order that our citizens should avail themselves of its advantages, he labored to diffuse a more extended knowledge of the subject of insanity. This he did by popular lectures, and by embodying in his reports details of the causes, the early symptoms, and means of prevention, but particularly by the establishment of a quarterly journal, viz: “The Journal of Insanity,” which was devoted exclusively to this subject. In order to secure its more extensive circulation, it was placed at the low price of one dollar a year, in addition to many copies gratuitously distributed. To the readers of the Journal, nothing need be said of its merits. At the time it was commenced, it was the only Journal of the kind published, either in this or any other country, and elicited the highest encomiums from the medical and legal professions, both in Europe and America. Although Dr. Brigham was the responsible editor, it was the medium of communication for some of the ablest writers in our country. We have reason to know, that in addition to the gratuitous labor of editing and superintending its publication, it was long maintained at a heavy pecuniary sacrifice. In the Prospectus to the first number, the Doctor says:

“The object of this Journal is to popularize the study of insanity – to acquaint the general reader with the nature and varieties of this disease, methods of prevention and cure. We also hope to make it interesting to members of the medical and legal profession, and to all those engaged in the study of the phenomena of mind.

“Mental philosophy, or metaphysics, is but a portion of the physiology of the brain; and the small amount of good accomplished by psychological writers, may perhaps be attributed to the neglect of studying the mind, in connection with that material medium which influences, by its varying states of health and disease, all mental operations.

“We regard the human brain as the chef-d’oeuvre, or master-piece of creation. There is nothing that should be so carefully guarded through all the periods of life. Upon its proper development, exercise, and cultivation, depend the happiness and higher interests of man. Insanity is but a disease of this organ, and when so regarded, it will often be prevented, and generally cured by the early adoption of proper methods of treatment.”

In August, 1848, Dr. Brigham lost his only son, John Spencer Brigham, a promising and particularly attractive lad of the age of 12 years. In this son was treasured a father’s fondest hopes and proudest aspirations. He fell a victim to the dysentery which was prevailing in the Asylum, as also in the neighboring city of Utica and surrounding country, in a malignant form. A few weeks after he was called to follow to the grave his only remaining parent. These repeated afflictions, which were felt as parents who have lost the child of their affections alone can feel, evidently preyed upon a constitution naturally feeble, and seemed to prepare the way for his own premature removal. Though educated by a pious mother, and enjoying the advantages of an early religious education, he, like too many others, had been too much engrossed with the cares of this life to attend much to the future. This circumstance, with some severe strictures in his writings on the pernicious effects of revivals and protracted meetings on the health of young persons, very unjustly gave rise to a charge of skepticism and infidelity. If there was a fault, it was one into which a medical man, like Dr. B., possessed of a strong feeling of benevolence, would naturally run, viz: in his solicitude for the health and physical well-being, to forget that there were other and higher claims than those of this world. For the last four or five years more attention was paid to the subject of religion. The death of his son and mother made him feel more strongly the vanity and uncertainty of all earthly ties, and induced him to place his treasures in heaven. Dr. B. seemed to have a presentiment that his earthly pilgrimage was approaching its termination, and in his letter to his brother, the Rev. John C. Brigham, on the subject of the death of his son and mother, he spoke freely of his own death as not far distant; expressing, however, neither fear or regret. It was but too evident to the friends of Dr. B. that his afflictions, together with his arduous duties, were preying upon a constitution naturally feeble, and he was urged to relax his exertions, and if that could not be done to resign his situation; but he could not consent to leave his work unfinished, and only promised that when the institution was in a condition to dispense with his services, he would retire; but, alas! that period never arrived. In the month of August, the dysentery again made its appearance in the institution, but in a much milder form than in the preceding year. Dr. B. was seized with diarrhoea, which in many cases was the precursor of the more formidable affection. He, however, still persisted in discharging the duties of his office, and attending to his patients, until so far exhausted that it was impossible. The writer first saw him on the 27th of August; he had then been confined to his bed three days, and was suffering from the ordinary symptoms of dysentery; with fever, pain, and discharges of blood, but combined with extreme debility and prostration, so as to cause great apprehensions for the result. The severer symptoms yielded readily to the treatment, and his medical attendants flattered themselves with the hope that he might still be spared; but these hopes proved delusive: the disease, though not severe, had exhausted the little strength which he possessed, and there seemed no power of restoration. Every effort was made to sustain the system, (which was all that could be done,) but these efforts were all vain, and he expired without a struggle or a groan, on the morning of the 8th of September, 1849. The Doctor himself from the first said he should not recover, spoke calmly but freely about his death, gave directions about his affairs, and as to his burial, requesting to be laid beside his beloved son, and that the bodies of both should subsequently be removed to the new cemetery, where a spot has been selected for their interment.

Dr. Brigham was a philanthropist, a lover of his brother man, in the strictest sense of the term; he no doubt was ambitious of fame and distinction, but he was still more ambitious of being useful, and often expressed the idea, that he saw no object in living after a man had ceased to be useful. Fortunately for the community, the usefulness of which he was most ambitious will not perish with him. As the first Superintendent and organizer of the New York State Lunatic Asylum, he has erected a monument as durable as the blocks of stone of which it was built. His teachings too live in his writings. In additional to his annual reports, in which the whole subject of insanity is discussed, and the editorial articles in the “Journal of Insanity,” he has at different times published works of a more permanent character. In 1832, he published a small volume on the epidemic or Asiatic cholera; also a work on mental cultivation and excitement. In 1836, a volume on the influence of religion upon the health and physical welfare of mankind. In 1840, a volume on the brain, embracing its anatomy, physiology, and pathology. His last publication was an appropriate crowning of his labor of benevolence; it is a small duodecimo volume, entitled “The Asylum Souvenir,” and is dedicated to those who have been under the care of the author and compiler. It consists of a collection of aphorisms and maxims, to aid in the restoration and preservation of health, and we have no doubt it will be cherished with a double care, as it may now be considered the parting legacy of their friend and benefactor. The following extracts will exhibit the general tenor of the work:


“To all those who are or have been in my charge as patients, this little book is affectionately dedicated by their friend, – Amariah Brigham.

 “ ‘Peace be around thee wherever thou rovest,
May life be for thee one summer’s day,
And all that thou wishest, and all that thou lovest,
Come smiling around thy sunny way.
If sorrow e’er this calm should break,
May even thy tears pass off so lightly,
Like spring showers, they’ll only make
The smiles that follow shine more brightly.’ ”

Were we asked what were the leading traits in the character of our departed friend, we should answer, that the first and strongest impulse was one of kindness and benevolence, but this was combined with a high sense of justice, and he would not indulge the former at the expense of the latter. In addition, he possessed a strong feeling of self-reliance, a quickness of perception which enabled him to seize readily the views of others, and use them for his own purpose; but above and before all, an iron will and determination, which brooked no opposition; consequently in whatever situation he was placed, he must be absolute, or he was unhappy. It is seldom we find this strong determination of purpose connected with a feeble constitution, but whenever it exists, the individual may be marked for a premature grave: the strongest constitution can scarcely long maintain itself under the thousand irritations and annoyances to which such a will is subject.

The following extracts from the reports of Dr. B. while Superintendent of the Asylum, at Utica, are a specimen of the tone of kindness which pervades all his writings:

“That education which consults the good of the whole man, that tends to develop and strengthen in just proportion the moral, intellectual, and physical powers, is conducive to health of body and mind. But in all countries the intellect or some of the intellectual faculties are cultivated to the neglect of the moral qualities, while in others the feelings, appetites, and propensities, are too greatly indulged and cultivated, to the neglect of just intellectual improvement. Hence arise unbalanced minds which are prone to become disordered. They feel too intensely, and are too ardently devoted to the accomplishment of certain purposes to bear disappointment without injury. They have not been taught self-denial, without which all education is defective.” – 3d Annual Report, pp. 54, 55.

“Allusion has been made to a predisposition to insanity being given by premature cultivation of the mental faculties. This appears to be a fruitful source of weak, ill-regulated, and, not unfrequently, disordered minds. The mental powers being unduly and irregularly tasked in early life, never after obtain their natural vigor and harmonious action. The dominion of reason should extend over all the feelings and impulses, the good as well as the bad, for insanity is perhaps most frequently produced by the excitement of some of the best impulses of our nature.” – 1st Report, pp. 34, 35.

Dr. Brigham, as we have said, was ambitious, but his was a noble ambition. He was ambitious of being useful to mankind, and of leaving a monument by which he should be remembered in after ages, and be ranked among the benefactors of our race; and most nobly has he succeeded. Few men were less covetous of personal popularity, or more regardless of the opinions of those about him, so long as he was sustained by the approbation of his own conscience. The following extract from Bryant, which he himself selected for “The Asylum Souvenir,” but a short time before his death, beautifully expresses the purpose of his life, and the manner of his death:

“So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but sustain’d and sooth’d
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who draws the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” C. B. C.

SOURCE: Reprinted from Biographical Sketch of Amariah Brigham, M.D., Late Superintendent Of The New York State Lunatic Asylum, Utica, N.Y., W.O. McClure, 177 Genesee Street, Curtiss & White, Printers, 171 Genesee Street, 1858, Pages 110-117.

1880 The Utica Crib

It is so interesting to read original documents from the nineteenth century. It gives us a great insight into how people viewed the “insane.” The following articles feature Dr. William A. Hammond, who fought to remove all mechanical restraints, including the infamous “Utica Crib,” from New York State Insane Asylums. The first article was written by Dr. Hammond in March of 1880 and was published in The International Review. The second article from the Utica Morning Herald and Daily Gazette published on November 25, 1879, argues that Dr. Hammond was making “reckless and wholesale charges,” it also refers to the inmates as “unfortunate creatures” as if they were not human beings. What I discovered was that the Utica Crib was invented by Dr. M.H. Aubanel, of the Marseilles Lunatic Asylum in 1845, and was introduced at the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica in 1846 by Dr. Amariah Brigham, the first Medical Superintendent.

On November 29, 1886, Dr. John P. Gray, died. He had held the position as Medical Superintendent at Utica for several years. On December 14, 1886, Dr. George Alder Blumer was appointed as the new Medical Superintendent. On September 30, 1887, Dr. Blumer proudly reported: “Mention should be made in this connection of the so-called ‘Utica Crib,’ generally known in this hospital under the less suggestive euphemism of ‘covered bed.’ I am happy to report that we have been able to dispense with these restraint-beds, and that on January 18, 1887, all that remained of them were removed from the wards.”

Utica Crib 1

Utica Crib 1


“Now let us take a brief review of the treatment of lunatics as regards mechanical restraint in this country. While it is certainly true that there are lunatic asylums, the superintendents of which are actuated by a desire to keep the number of restraint cases at a minimum, there is not one in which mechanical restraint in some form or other is not employed, and in some the proportion equals that at Hanwell before Dr. Conolly instituted his reform measures. In the New York City lunatic asylum on Ward’s Island, for instance, there is a daily average of over twenty patients kept in mechanical restraint, and twenty-five in seclusion. The means employed are strait-jackets or camisoles, muffs for the hands, some kind of contrivance to restrain the motion of the legs, chairs in which refractory lunatics may be confined, and last, but by no means least, the “Utica crib.” The object in view in using most of these contrivances is readily apparent from their designations; but the crib probably requires a brief description. It is constructed somewhat after the manner of a child’s crib, having like it barred sides and ends; but in addition it is furnished with a lid also of bars or slats on hinges, and fastening with a spring or lock. It is so arranged that the inmate is unable to open it when it has been closed upon him. The space between the body of the lunatic imprisoned in this cage and the lid does not exceed twelve inches, and is probably less. The consequence is that he must lie at full length, and this sometimes for many hours at a time. For those maniacs whose cerebral bloodvessels are full to repletion, the enforced position of recumbency is in the highest degree prejudicial; for those whose brains are anaemic it is not required, as they will lie quiet enough without being thus imprisoned. It is a matter of experience that patients who were previously maniacal while in the crib, dashing themselves with violence against the bars like a wild lion in its cage when first confined, have become entirely quiet and composed when taken from the cage and allowed to sit or stand; and yet its use is held to tenaciously by many superintendents, and long papers are written in its defence. It is true that it is not found in some institutions. There has never been one at Willard, none at Flatbush; and since the agitation for lunatic-asylum reform, it has been discontinued at Bloomingdale, Poughkeepsie, and perhaps other asylums; and even at Ward’s Island the lids have been taken off.”
(SOURCE: The International Review, The Treatment Of The Insane by William A. Hammond, Volume VIII, March 1880, New York: Barnes & Company, Page 236).

Utica Crib 2

Utica Crib 2


“Some notion of the utter wantonness of DR. WILLIAM A. HAMMOND’S statements regarding the lunatic asylums of this state may be obtained from the report of the senate committee, elsewhere published this morning, and the letter of SENATOR GOODWIN, the chairman of that committee, addressed to the editor of this journal. In respect to HAMMOND’S assertion that the investigation SENATOR GOODWIN conducted was one-sided and unfair, it appears from this document – in which all the evidence taken is published in full – that DR. HAMMOND and all the physicians who signed his petition were invited to appear before this committee, and furnish all the evidence in their possession regarding their alleged abuses in the conduct of the state asylums. It is their own fault – the fault more especially of DR. HAMMOND – if they did not make a case; and their failure to do so was admitted by themselves in the testimony here published. The evidence of DR HAMMOND, who makes these reckless and wholesale charges in the New York Herald, is especially noteworthy, as showing his total ignorance of the management of our insane asylums. He was asked if he had ever visited any of the insane asylums; yes, he had visited the Utica asylum twelve and eight years ago – on which latter occasion he merely entered the office; the Po’keepsie asylum four years ago – which was before it was fairly in operation; the Blackwell’s Island asylum – but not during the day of the present superintendent there; and the Bloomingdale asylum, but not since DR. NICHOLS has been in charge there. This was the basis of his personal knowledge of the asylums – and it of course appeared in the investigation, that he knew nothing at all. DR. HAMMOND was not able to make a single allegation, either upon personal knowledge or hearsay, which indicated any basis for the investigation he then demanded. His nearest approach was his denunciation of what he called the “Utica crib” – a contrivance or the confinement of violent lunatics which was invented by AUBANEL, the superintendent of the Marseilles insane asylum in France, and introduced into the Utica asylum, among others, in 1846, by DR. BRIGHAM, and which has been fully described by DR. GRAY in his annual reports to the legislature – notably in the eighteenth report. Even in respect to this crib, so-called, DR. HAMMOND was compelled to admit that the question whether this method of restraint was more objectionable than others was “a matter of opinion.”

The answers of DR. HAMMOND to two questions put to him in this inquiry will be interesting to our readers in Utica. To the question – “How long were you at the Utica asylum?” he answered, “I don’t think I should be warranted in making any observations upon that institution.” – and again, “Utica is the asylum I know least about.” To the question that he knew that the two asylums of which he made the loudest complaint were under the control of the board of charities of New York city, DR. HAMMOND answered: “I believe they are; my personal views do not concern any of the state asylums; I only believe in a general way that this matter ought to be investigated.”

Utica Crib 3

Utica Crib 3

 THE UTICA CRIB. The Covered Bed at the State Asylum for Restless Patients – A Herald Reporter Comfortable within what Dr. Hammond declares a “Barbarous Device.”

The unfortunate creatures who become insane suffer but little or nothing within the walls of humane state institutions when compared with the great anxiety and pain of loving parents and friends over their afflictions. Justice to the friends of the insane in the New York state asylum located in this city demands that nothing be added to their trouble by permitting unfounded reports regarding the care of the insane to go uncontradicted. Such sensations are cruel and unjust, whether they are prompted by malice or ignorance of facts. DR. WILLIAM A. HAMMOND, of New York, in an interview with a reporter of the Sunday Herald, of that city, took occasion to refer to what he is pleased to call “the Utica Crib,” the covered bed in use in the state asylum for the insane in this city, and in what are known as model asylums of America and Europe. When asked to describe the “Utica crib,” DR. HAMMOND said:

“It is a bed like a child’s crib, with slatted sides, eighteen inches deep, six feet long and three feet wide. It has a slatted lid which shuts with a spring lock. A lunatic put in it can barely turn over. There is not as much space between the patient’s head and the lid as if he were in a coffin. He is kept in the crib at the will of an attendant, the key being in the possession of the latter and not of a physician. Patients have sometimes died in these cribs. DR. MYCERT, who is an authority, says the crib is a most barbarous and unscientific instrument because there is already a tendency to a determination of blood to the brain in excited forms of insanity which is increased by the horizontal position in the crib and the struggles of the patient. The crib was introduced by the superintendent of the Utica asylum. The padded room could always be substituted for the crib.”

Following this is what purports to be a cut of the Utica crib. Any one of the thousands who visit the state asylum every year and are shown the covered bed in use at that institution will bear us out in saying that the picture looks as much like the bed as a peach crate does like a cradle. The cut looks like a chicken-hatching machine, and is simply a burlesque upon the truth, for which there is no possible excuse.


A reporter of the Herald visited the asylum, yesterday, and requested permission to examine one of the cribs which he had frequently seen in visits to the asylum. DR. GRAY cheerfully gave the permission, and the reporter had an opportunity of selecting one of five or six of the covered beds or “barbarous devices,” for actual experiment. Simply removing his outer coat he got into the crib, which was in condition for use, and the lid was closed down upon him. As the reporter is nearly six feet in height, and weighs two hundred and seventy six pounds, and larger in every respect than any patient in the asylum, it will be admitted that this test was a fair one. When the lid was closed the occupant laid with perfect comfort upon either side and upon his back. When lying upon his left side the position was sufficiently easy to permit him to write his description of the covered bed if he had chosen to do so. The hands and arms could be put between the smooth wooden rounds which formed the slatted top, and there was a perfect circulation at the sides and top. The bed was easy and comfortable and there was an abundance of room for lifting the head from the plump pillow so that the lower end of the bed could be seen with ease. In short the reporter found that he could roll and toss about at will as easily as he could in his own bed at home, but he could not get out of it – and this is the humane plan of the device which is styled “barbarous” – as will be seen hereafter.


The covered bed or “Utica crib” is simply an ordinary hospital bed to all intents and purposes. It is made of smoothly finished and varnished wood with a woven wire bottom and slatted sides, like a child’s cradle. The one tested contained a mattress thicker than the ordinary ones, a plump soft pillow, clean and comfortable sheets, blankets and counterpanes. In the sides there are twenty wooden rollers, in the ends eight and in the cover seven rollers of smooth hard wood. The cover is attached to hinges which permit its entire removal at any time. The beds are frequently used without the cover by patients and attendants. A few months ago a venerable Utica patient got into one of these covered beds and permitted a reporter of the Herald to close it tightly to note its workings. The patient moved about easily in it and conversed cheerfully. When asked how he liked to sleep in this bed he replied: “Oh, I like it very much. I am often disturbed in my sleep. When I occupy this bed I rest easily, for I know where to find myself in the morning. Without such restraint, I might do myself some harm during the night.”

The patient, tho’ insane at intervals, really had more sense than those who denounce what they appear to know little about. Covered beds, patterned after those in use at the state asylum, are used in St. Elizabeth’s and other hospitals of Utica and thro’out the state, and they are daily seen and examined by visitors. So simple and harmless is the contrivance that parents, after seeing them, inquire, “Why would not this be a good plan to prevent our babies from falling out of their cradles?” It certainly would.


The covered beds are used to secure the excited and restless patients, the requisite quiet and sleep in a horizontal position, that are absolutely necessary for their recovery. Insane people are sick people. When a sane person is sick his physician directs that he shall lie in bed, and a sensible invalid always obeys the orders of his physician. When an insane person requires rest he may be ever so much disposed to obey the doctor and lie in bed, but his mind is disordered and his will is gone so that he can not control his own actions. The result is he is liable to exhaust himself by getting in and out of bed at frequent periods, risking chances of falls and exposure to cold. Epileptics and paralytics are apt to fall out of open beds and receive severe injuries.

If such beds are not used, other more objectionable systems would have to be put into practice, such as the “bed strap,” for holding excited patients in the ordinary beds, or the forcible holding of the patient by attendants. This latter method better deserves the title of barbarous than does the covered bed system. No one or two attendants can hold an excited patient in a bed without using a force that must be more or less cruel and the marks of their grasp will not fail to be undeniably imprinted upon the delicate arms, body or limbs of the invalid. Insane people are endowed at times with extraordinary strength and the utmost exertions of strong men are required to quiet them. The use of the strap is harsh and at times injurious.


The crib, or covered bed for restless patients, is not a new device and was not introduced by the superintendent of the state asylum at Utica as DR. HAMMOND alleges. It was devised in France by DR. AUBANEL of the Marseilles lunatic asylum, in 1845, and described in the Annales Psychologniques of the year. DR. BRIGHAM, in 1846, introduced the crib bedstead into the Utica asylum, and was described in the American Journal of Insanity in that year. In 1852, DR. WILLIAM WOOD, medical official of Bethlem hospital, England, improved upon the crib bed, and gave a description of the same in Winslow’s Journal of Psychological Medicine. This bed was like a child’s crib but the covering was of webbing. In 1854 the AUBANEL bed was abandoned in the Utica asylum and the present one was put into use, resembling DR. WOOD’S, with this exception – the sides were made with rounds like an ordinary child’s crib instead of with boards like the English bed, and a round slatted corner in place of webbing, which powerful patients could easily displace.


The covered bed is spoken of as the “box bed” or “locked bed,” by DR. LINDSAY, in an article on dipsomania, in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, of October, 1808, in which he says: “Its use renders him quiescent for the time, while it maintains warmth and does not prevent free ventilation. I have repeatedly tried it in various forms, and have no doubt as to its having prolonged several lives and prevented many accidents that would have been sacrificed or that would have occurred under the customary arrangements of many or most other asylums. Such is my opinion of its usefulness, that I think it should find place not only in every lunatic asylum, but in every general hospital, for I remember the difficulties that used to occur in the fever and delirium tremens wards of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and the impossibility of dealing with occasional patients other than by mechanical restraints of the nature of strait-waistcoats and strapping to bed.”

In the Edinburgh Medical Journal of February, 1878, DR. LINDSAY, M.D.,R.S.E., and physician to the Murray royal institution at Perth, published another article commending the covered beds in the highest terms as invaluable for preventing injuries – adding, however, “a lid in the case of patients who would scramble out of bed with sides merely. The kind of bed that I have found most useful is the following, and I venture to recommend some such bed to the attention of the medical profession generally because I am satisfied it is very much wanted in all departments of medical, surgical and obstetric practice.”

Then follows the description of forms of beds all alike, or closely resembling what is called by DR. HAMMOND “Utica crib,” but which is styled by DR. LINDSAY “the protection bed,” a term he says “happily applied to it many years ago by DR. BROWNE of Dumfries, when he was one of her majesty’s commissioners in lunacy for Scotland, and who had occasion to see such beds in use here during his official inspections. Moreover, he had himself, when at the head of Dumfries asylum used beds of a somewhat similar kind. And in America such beds are, and have long been in common use in its hospitals for the insane.”

Finally he adds: “The general result of the use of the protection bed in some of its forms, as compared with the orthodox modes of dealing with the classes of patients already described, is this – in my opinion – that it is directly and decidedly conservative of life and health, and preventive of injury and disease.”

The above is high authority in approval of the covered bed from professional and practical men who have daily opportunities of testing its merits. Laymen or friends of those who are confined in asylums can examine these beds in the Utica asylum and judge for themselves whether they are “barbarous” or “cruel devices” as has been alleged.


DR. HAMMOND, in his interview with the New York Herald reporter, makes the important announcement that sometimes patients die in covered beds or “Utica cribs.” Can not DR. HAMMOND, without particular effort, recall many instances where sane and insane patients have died in ordinary beds which have no sides or covers?”
(SOURCE: Reprinted from Utica Morning Herald and Daily Gazette. Wednesday, November 25, 1879).

1880 The Treatment Of The Insane by W.A. Hammond