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July 18, 2019

125 Reasons You Could End Up in a Lunatic Asylum in the 19th Century

Reasons for admission into the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia from 1864 to 1889 included laziness, egotism, disappointed love, female disease, mental excitement, cold, snuff, greediness, imaginary female trouble, “gathering in the head,” exposure and quackery, jealousy, religion, asthma, masturbation, and bad habits. Spouses used lunacy laws to rid themselves of their partners and in abducting their children.

The diseases attributed to those admitted to the hospital from its opening in 1864 through 1880 were varied, with the most common being 304 patients with chronic dementia, 254 with acute mania, 225 with melancholia, and 165 with chronic mania. Listings were given of the supposed causes of the diseases, and they were labeled supposed causes, with the physicians of the time feeling “a little unease with them,” they still published them. Most common at Weston were the 359 who were “not assigned” a cause, and “heredity,” and “epilepsy” ranked next. Forty to fifty patients were attributed each of the following causes: “intemperance,” “ill health,” “menstrual,” “traumatic injury,” and “masturbation.” One honest man was listed with “masturbation for 30 years.”

OCTOBER 22, 1864 to DECEMBER 12, 1889
  1. Amenorrhea
  2. Asthma
  3. Bad company
  4. Bad habits & political excitement
  5. Bad whiskey
  6. Bite of a rattle snake
  7. Bloody flux
  8. Brain fever
  9. Business nerves
  10. Carbonic acid gas
  11. Carbuncle
  12. Cerebral softening
  13. Cold
  14. Congestion of brain
  15. Constitutional
  16. Crime
  17. Death of sons in the war
  18. Decoyed into the army
  19. Deranged masturbation
  20. Desertion by husband
  21. Diphtheria
  22. Disappointed affection
  23. Disappointed love
  24. Disappointment
  25. Dissipation of nerves
  26. Dissolute habits
  27. Dog bite
  28. Domestic affliction
  29. Domestic trouble
  30. Doubt about mother’s ancestors
  31. Dropsy
  32. Effusion on the brain
  33. Egotism
  34. Epileptic fits
  35. Excessive sexual abuse
  36. Excitement as officer
  37. Explosion of shell nearby
  38. Exposure & hereditary
  39. Exposure & quackery
  40. Exposure in army
  41. Fall from horse
  42. False confinement
  43. Feebleness of intellect
  44. Fell from horse
  45. Female disease
  46. Fever
  47. Fever & loss of law suit
  48. Fever & nerved
  49. Fighting fire
  50. Fits & desertion of husband
  51. Gastritis
  52. Gathering in the head
  53. Greediness
  54. Grief
  55. Gunshot wound
  56. Hard study
  57. Hereditary predisposition
  58. Ill treatment by husband
  59. Imaginary female trouble
  60. Immoral life
  61. Imprisonment
  62. Indigestion
  63. Intemperance
  64. Interference
  65. Jealousy
  66. Jealousy & religion
  67. Kick of horse
  68. Kicked in the head by a horse
  69. Laziness
  70. Liver and social disease
  71. Loss of arm
  72. Marriage of son
  73. Masturbation & syphilis
  74. Masturbation for 30 years
  75. Medicine to prevent conception
  76. Menstrual deranged
  77. Mental excitement
  78. Milk fever
  79. Moral sanity
  80. Novel reading
  81. Nymphomania
  82. Opium habit
  83. Over action on the mind
  84. Over heat
  85. Over study of religion
  86. Over taxing mental powers.
  87. Parents were cousins
  88. Pecuniary losses: worms
  89. Periodical fits
  90. Political excitement
  91. Politics
  92. Puerperal
  93. Religious enthusiasm
  94. Religious excitement
  95. Remorse
  96. Rumor of husband’s murder or desertion
  97. Salvation army
  98. Scarlatina
  99. Seduction
  100. Seduction & disappointment
  101. Self abuse
  102. Severe labor
  103. Sexual abuse and stimulants
  104. Sexual derangement
  105. Shooting of daughter
  106. Smallpox
  107. Snuff
  108. Snuff eating for two years
  109. Softening of the brain
  110. Spinal irritation
  111. Sun stroke
  112. Sunstroke
  113. Superstition
  114. Suppressed masturbation
  115. Suppression of menses
  116. Tabacco & masturbation: hysteria
  117. The war
  118. Time of life
  119. Trouble
  120. Uterine derangement
  121. Venereal excesses
  122. Vicious vices in early life
  123. Women
  124. Women trouble
  125. Young lady & fear
According to Snopes, although this list is frequently posted as a joke, it is somewhat rooted in truth. The list was compiled from the log book of the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, documenting admissions to that institution between 1864 and 1889 and has been published or referenced in several books and research papers. It has also been archived by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA) in the mountains of Weston, West Virginia, holds many dark and disturbing stories. Later known as the Weston State Hospital, TALA was a Kirkbride psychiatric hospital, constructed from 1858-1881 and in operation from 1864 until 1994. The main building is one of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the United States.

Although this list was sourced from a contemporaneous hospital log, its entries should not be considered as denoting things that were all considered symptoms of mental instability. Rather, among patients who were treated at West Virginia Hospital for the Insane for various illnesses such as chronic dementia, acute mania, and melancholia, these entries recorded the reasons or causes why those patients were said to have developed their underlying maladies. That is, people didn’t think that novel reading, asthma, the marriage of one’s child, politics, or falling from a horse were symptoms of mental illness, but rather factors that might have produced or exacerbated such an illness.



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