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Calming minds and instilling character: John Minson Galt II and the patients' library at Eastern Asylum, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1843--1860

In 1843, two years after assuming the superintendency at Eastern Asylum in Williamsburg, Virginia, John Minson Galt II established a patients' library. It was not unique. Other asylum superintendents across America were building libraries for their patients as well, an essential component, they felt, of the broader moral management program borrowed from Europe and Great Britain for the cure of insanity. Along with other asylum activities, the library would help insane residents remain calm, recover stability by distraction from their delusions, and acquire mental habits of self-discipline. and in many cases libraries and reading would assist in restoring virtues that the superintendents believed to be closely associated with sanity---thrift, honesty, diligence, fortitude, hard work, and sobriety.;Within the context of moral management principles and of an antebellum culture that considered reading to be a virtue, the Eastern Asylum in Williamsburg, Virginia is a case study. Superintendent John Minson Galt II brought the Williamsburg asylum, the only mental institution dating from the late colonial era in America, into the age of the asylum. In the 1840s and 1850s he created an environment for his patients that followed closely the standards set by northern asylums, except in one crucial area: the need to accommodate a regional culture predicated on the institution of slavery. In addition Galt's economic and social background shaped the commitment he brought to the task of creating a patients' library. A man of letters, a trained physician, an affluent Virginian bound by southern and family traditions, a lonely man coping with his own psychological demons, Galt fashioned a print culture for his institutionalized audience whereby the illiterate might learn to read, the middle class might progress toward self-improvement, and where all, whether working class, middle class, or elite might become avid readers. Galt invited his patients, in spite of their mental problems or more accurately, because of them, to participate in that part of the larger antebellum society where everyone was expected to pick up a book and read.
Date01 January 2004
CreatorsManzo, Bettina Jean
PublisherW&M ScholarWorks
Source SetsWilliam and Mary
Detected LanguageEnglish
SourceDissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects
Rights© The Author

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