Pilgrim State Hospital 1938
Photographs taken for a LIFE magazine piece on life inside a psychiatric hospital.
Not far off from Shutter Island. In 1938 the old age of psychiatry was on the cusp of a shift towards ethics. Eugenics and sterilization from the 19th century were slowly replaced with the rise of bioethical principles after World War II. Eugenics endured in the name of scientific progress for the betterment of society, completely without regard for human rights. Below the images are a few excerpts from a paper I wrote on the subject in undergrad.
Taken from a 1914 textbook: Since our knowledge of heredity has been increased, the demand has become even more urgent that we do something to prevent the race from handing down diseases and other defects, and that we apply to man some of the methods we employ in breeding plants and animals. [..] Eugenics is the science of being well born, or born well, healthy, fit in every way. A tendency to cancer, or tuberculosis, or cholera, or feeblemindedness is a handicap which is not merely unfair, but criminal, to hand down to posterity.
The common sterilization procedure (tying of the fallopian tubes laparoscopically) was first performed as a surgery in 1881. Now that the sterilization surgery was made easier, and the category of degenerates had been defined, sterilization of the unfit had no obstacles. In some states anyone who was deaf, dumb, blind, homeless, orphaned, a criminal, or considered a pauper or a tramp, was sought after for sterilization. This violation of patient’s rights is hard to imagine until we note that modern bioethics, as a practical approach to biology, medicine, or psychology, did not emerge until after WWII. And it was not until 1974 that the National Research Act, which protected the rights of the patient and regulated experimentation, was written into law.
Despite the shocking revelation of the Nazi’s routine extermination of the “unfit” in Germany, there remained many scholars who upheld the eugenic creed, including economist John Maynard Keynes; “Galton’s eccentric [..] mind led him eventually to become the founder of the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists, namely eugenics.”