The lovely Choo recently loaned me a copy of Life at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857–1997 by Sarah C. Sitton (1999). The Texas State Lunatic Asylum is what is now known as the Austin State Hospital, and since it is right in my neighborhood, I was very interested to learn more about it.
Sitton's book is a nicely researched history both of the Austin State Hospital and of the history of state-supported mental health care over the past 150 years. Starting with the asylum philosophy of curative care through cleanliness, order, routine, and a beautiful living environment, moving through the custodial care philosophy of much of the 20th century, and ending with the de-institutionalization movement of the 1980s, Sitton shines a light on the ideals of mental health care and contrasts them with its sometimes sad realities.
Through a detailed examination of records at the state hospital and local archives, in combination with oral history interviews with former administrators, doctors, attendants, staff, and patients of the hospital, Sitton gives us a well-rounded view of the successes and failures of the institution. The book is nicely illustrated with dozens of pictures that show the physical changes of the hospital campus over its 150+ years of existence. This is a well-written book that avoids technical jargon and provides the necessary context to understand the history of the Austin State Hospital in its relation to national mental health care movements and historical events.