1247: Bedlam

October 23, 1247 – Founding date of the London Priory of the New Order of St Mary of Bethlem, that after 1350 would evolve into the Bedlam hospital and become one of Europe’s first mental asylums.

The priory was founded on this day (“the year of our Lord God 1247, the Wednesday after the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist”) thanks to a grant of London Sheriff and Alderman Simon FitzMary. As a former crusader, he intended the priory to function as a religious center for collecting alms.

St. LukeWe have no portrait of Bedlam’s founder Simon FitzMary.
Therefore, here is a picture of St. Luke instead.

Originally, the priory was directly linked to the Church and Bishop of Bethlehem. In 1375, under King Edward III, this “foreign” background gave the Crown a motive to seize the priory. At this point it became a hospital; in 1377 it may have begun to take in mentally ill people.

The earliest date we know for sure that Bethlem housed mental patients is 1403. In that year, misbehavior of the priory’s porter caused a Royal Commission to inspect the premises. Among the patients they found “sex homines menti capti” (six lunatic men). The commission also registered the related therapeutic equipment: “Eleven iron chains with six locks, four pairs of iron manacles, and two pairs of stocks”.

In 1437 Bethlem was mentioned as providing “the succour of demented lunatics”: soon after, it had become an asylum exclusively for the mentally ill. They had room for about twenty of them. Among the buildings around the courtyard was not just a small church, but also a shed to store the hay that was used for bedding.

There are no images of Bethlem or the people involved in its first centuries. I can, however, show you what may have been one of the patients from this era. Between 2011-2013, during construction of a new underground station below Liverpool Street Station, archaeologists found 500-year-old graves from the old Bethlem graveyard:

A Bedlam Grave

Cryings, Screechings, Roarings, Brawlings…

The city of London took control of Bethlem in 1547 and for over a century, they had it managed as a kind of annex of the Brideswell prison-and-hospital: the place to dump the hopelessly insane.

By then, Londoners were already using the name “Bedlam” for the hospital, and they were sometimes touring it as if it was a zoo. In a general sense, the name would soon become synonymous for a pandemonium. Like it was described by clergyman Donald Lupton when he characterized the Bedlam patients in 1632:

Heere live many, that are cal’d men, but seldome at home, for they are gone out of themselves: Nature hath bin a Steppe-mother to some, and misery and crosses have caused this strange change in others: they seeme to live here, eyther to rectifie Nature, or forget Miseries: they are put to Learne that Lesson which many, nay all that will bee happy, must learne to know, and be acquainted with themselves: this House would bee too little, if all that are beside themselves should be put in here: it seemes strange that any one shold recover here, the cryings, screechings, roarings, brawlings, shaking of chaines, swearings, frettings, chaffings, are so many, so hideous, so great, that they are more able to drive a man that hath his witts, rather out of them, then to helpe one that never had them, or hath lost them, to finde them againe. A Drunkard is madde for the present, but a Madde man is drunke alwayes.
You shall scarce finde a place that hath so many men and woemen so strangely altered either from what they once were, or should have beene: The men are al like a Shippe that either wants a Sterne, or a Steresman, or Ballast: they are all Heteroclites from Nature, either having too much Wildnesse, or being defective in Judgment. Here Art strives to mend or cure Natures imperfections and defects. Certainely, hee that keepes the House may be sayd to live among wilde Creatures: It’s thought many are kept here, not so much in hope of recovery, as to keepe them from further and more desperate Inconveniences.
Their Faculties and Powers of their Soules and Bodies being by an ill cause vitiated and depraved, or defective. The men may be said to be faire Instruments of Musicke, but either they want strings, or else though beeing strung are out of tune, or otherwise want an expert Artist to order them: Many live here that know not where they are, or how they got in, never thinke of getting out: there’s many that are so well or ill in their wits, that they can say they have bin out of them, and gaine much by dissembling in this kind: desperate Caitifes that dare make a mocke of judgment: well, if the Divell was not so strong to delude, and men so easily to be drawne, this house would stand empty, and for my part, I am sorry it hath any in it.

The conditions in this old Bedlam were quite filthy. All the water had to be carried from one cistern in the yard; the sanitary conditions were especially bad for locked-in patients who had to make do with a bucket in their cell – which gave them the opportunity to throw about their excrement. Malnutrition was not uncommon, either.

As for therapy, until 1634 (when Bedlam for the first time got its own physicians) in fact there was none. The patients were indeed kept like animals in a zoo.

A Reconstruction

As said, we have no reliable pictures of old Bedlam at all. A circa 1572 city map by Ralph Agas gives a vague impression of what the complex may have looked like. The cutout below shows how Bedlam (within the red lines) still had its original position just outside the medieval city wall; a century later the fast-growing city would be all around it.

Bedlam on 1572 map)

By combining Agas’ picture with other old maps and descriptions, in 1882 physician Daniel Hack Tuke made a reasonable reconstruction of what the original old Bedlam in the 1400s and 1500s may have looked like:

Reconstruction of Old Bedlam by Tuke

Important to note here is that as an institution, Bedlam initially remained quite small. Between 1440 and 1600, the number of patients kept hovering around 30. During an inspection in 1598, the patient count got no further than 21.

But in the 1600s, gradually the old former priory buildings began to get overcrowded. In 1667 there were 59 patients.

Ten years later (1675-1676) a much bigger “New Bedlam” would be built to replace the dilapidated old one; but that’s another story.


In the 19th century, a railway station was built on the site of the original medieval Bedlam (and its graveyard). Since an 1894 extension, this Liverpool Street Station covers the entire area. Except for underground construction work, little will remind people of the asylum that once was there.

There’s just a wall plaque now:


Isn’t it a little strange that this plaque does not explicitly commemorate the nameless patients who suffered terribly here and who for centuries lay buried at this spot?



1959: An American in Moscow

October 21, 1959 – This was when (just three days after his 20th birthday) a slightly disturbed young American came into touch with the Soviet system of psychiatric care. He had tried to kill himself.

If his pathetic half-hearted suicide attempt had succeeded, then a few years later President John F. Kennedy might have returned from Dallas alive.

I can and will be brief here, as the life of this young ex-Marine has already been examined in hundreds of books and a zillion websites, up to the minutest detail. I don’t even need to mention his name anymore, but OK, I will.

Lee Harvey Oswald (1959)Lee Harvey Oswald, 1959: about to go to Russia

Lee Harvey Oswald had arrived in Moscow a few days before on a one-week tourist visa, with the intention to apply for Soviet citizenship and stay there. But on this day he was told that his application was rejected and that due to his visa expiring, the authorities expected him to leave right away.

In his room in the Moscow Hotel Berlin, Oswald (as he later described in his diary) held his left wrist under the cold tap to make it numb, then slashed it open and put his bleeding wrist in a bathtub with hot water.

He knew that his KGB-assigned sightseeing guide, Rima Shirokova, would return an hour later. Did he expect to be dead by then?

The guide found him half-conscious next to the bathtub. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital emergency unit where he got five stitches in his wrist. The medical report was later retrieved from the hospital archive: the wrist slash had been a fairly superficial one, two inches long and not really deep.

Botkinskaya Hospital (about 1959)Gate of the Botkinskaya Hospital, about 1959 (Oswald’s time)

Oswald found himself in the Moscow Botkinskaya Hospital, where the next morning he awoke in a room with twelve patients and three nurses. He described both the room and the breakfast given to him as “drab”. It took him two hours before he realized that he was in a psychiatric ward.

Later that afternoon he was interviewed by two doctors (with his tourist guide serving as interpreter) who had to laugh when he complained about the bad food.

The next day, having been diagnosed as not insane and not dangerous, Oswald was transferred to another ward that was partly reserved for foreign patients. This was not an exclusively psychiatric ward, but the nurses kept a close watch on him (and Oswald noted with relief that the food was much better now).

For a week, he was kept under observation here in the Botkinskaya Hospital. His tourist guide came to visit him every afternoon; the lady who ran the hotel reception counter payed him a visit too.

Botkinskaya Hospital (about 1959)Same gate of the Botkinskaya Hospital, about 1959 (Oswald’s time)

28 October 1959, one week after his suicide attempt, Oswald was released from the hospital. The Russian authorities made him check into another, more luxurious hotel and in the next days they let him know they would consider his citizenship application one more time.

Trying to force the issue, Oswald went to the American embassy to renounce his American citizenship, handing over his American passport.

In one sense, we may say that his suicide attempt was successful: for in the end it helped him get what he wanted. The next month the Russians gave him a one-year permit to stay. In January 1960 they got him a job, at an electronics factory in Minsk. Because by then he was broke, the Russians even gave him $500 to settle his unpaid hotel bill.

Surprisingly, Minsk soon began to bore him… In the summer of 1962 he would return (with his Russian wife and baby daughter) to the USA. This time it was the American embassy that loaned him $435 to pay the journey home.

Oswald with wife and daughter (1962)Oswald with wife Marina and baby June, 1962

November 1963 was not far away.


The doctors in the Botkinskaya Hospital were right: Oswald probably was not truly suicidal. But was he sane?

Countless people have tried (and still are trying) to analyze him and his motives to murder JFK. A true diagnosis will forever remain difficult. Some conclude that Oswald was crazy indeed, while some others are sure there was nothing wrong with him.

However, many experts have come to the more-or-less final conclusion that while Oswald was not insane, he was not quite of sound mind either. I think I can agree with this more nuanced impression.

So to cap this off, here is a tentative diagnostic quote:

Based on his reported behavior, some of the early signs of sociopathy seem to have been present in Oswald, along with narcissistic traits, as evidenced by grandiosity, inflation, and his reportedly rude, egocentric, and arrogant attitude toward others, including his wife, whom he allegedly physically and emotionally abused on more than one occasion. This is a syndrome I have previously referred to as “psychopathic narcissism”.

Before I forget, sorry for the complete lack of conspiracy theories in this post.

No Conspiracy Theories?

No. Believe me. This is it.

REALLY? No Conspiracy Theories?

Well, if you insist. But listen carefully, for I will say this only once: this is a deeeep secret. They don’t want you to know this.

In truth, Oswald was no human being. Oh no no no no no! Actually Oswald was a very advanced cyborg. He was the very first result of a CIA experiment with electronic brain implants. The CIA had pulled this technology from the alien flying saucer that crashed in Roswell. Unfortunately, something went wrong with Oswald’s experimental brain implant. You know, Kennedy’s lover Marilyn Monroe had hired the Mexican drug mafia to kill her rival, Jacqueline Kennedy. As part of a devious plan, Marilyn first faked her own death, and then the mafia hacked Oswald’s CIA cyborg brain and programmed it to shoot the First Lady. But due to his android battery running low (it had been sabotaged by jealous anti-CIA FBI agents) Oswald missed the mark and by accident shot the President instead.

As for Jack Ruby… but need I say more? And when Ruby shot Oswald, why do you think he didn’t dare to shoot Oswald in the head? Right! That brain implant! The CIA has done everything to… No, for my own safety I cannot say more now.


  • The yellow quote is from a 2013 Psychology Today blog post that briefly analyzes Oswald’s life and his mental problems, by clinical and forensic psychologist Stephen Diamond: Why Did Lee Harvey Oswald Kill John Fitzgerald Kennedy?
    The bold emphasis in the yellow quote was added by me.


1970: Unica Zürn

Tormented Artist

October 19, 1970 – This day German-French artist, writer and poet Unica Zürn (54) killed herself by jumping from her 6th-story apartment at 4 Rue de la Plaine in Paris. Her death looked like taken from the story in her own book Dunkler Frühling (“Dark Spring”) that had been published the year before.

Here is not one portrait, but three. For viewed in sequence, they reflect a life that was a journey into ever more sadness and mental suffering:

Unica Zürn, about 1950about 1950

Unica Zürn, about 1960about 1960

Unica Zürn, about 1970about 1970

In 1949 (when she was 33) Zürn had separated from her first husband and lost the custody of her children. She began to move in German artistic circles and in 1953 she met surrealist artist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975). She went to live with him in Paris.

Although sometimes they had difficulties and tried to separate, in fact they remained a couple until shortly before Unica’s death.

Bellmer’s work had strong sexual elements with explicit sadist and fetishist elements. He used Unica as a model; some think she must have been masochist to lend herself to it. There certainly were masochist fantasies in Unica’s own writings.

Notorious is a series of photos Bellmer took in 1958 of her nude body bound with thin, flesh-distorting string. These photo’s leave a shocking impression of degrading the nude female body (Unica’s head is not shown) in a deeply humiliating way. I find them disturbing enough to not show them here. If you insist on seeing some, Google Image Search will help you out.

On the other hand, Bellmer also kept stimulating Unica to write and to make drawings. Expositions of Unica’s surrealist doodle-drawings soon became a success. Here is an example:

Drawing by Unica Zürn

She also became famous for her anagram poems, where every line is composed from the same series of characters. Here is one of them:

Wir lieben den Tod
Rot winde den Leib,
Brot wende in Leid,
Ende Not, Beil wird
Leben. Wir, dein Tod,
weben dein Lot dir
in Erde. Wildboten,
wir lieben den Tod
        – In my own rough translation,
        of course no longer an anagram:

We love death
Red threading the body,
bread change into sorrow,
end of distress, ax becomes
life. We, your death,
weave your lead-line
in soil. Wild messenger,
we love death


Some think that the sadomasochistic element in the personal and artistic relationship of Hans Bellmer and Unica Zürn may have contributed to her mental disintegration. I don’t think we can be entirely sure about that.

Anyway, Zürn became depressed in 1959 after Bellmer persuaded her to have an abortion. It was the first of several times they separated for a while.

Soon after, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her ensuing journey reads like a slow slide down into hell.

Bomhoeffer Nervenklinik, BerlinThe Karl Bonhoeffer psychiatric clinic: Zürn’s first one.

● October 1959-February 1960: stay in the Karl Bonhoeffer Nervenklinik, a psychiatric clinic in Berlin-Wittenau;
● September 1960-Augustus 1962: stay in the Sainte Anne psychiatric clinic in Paris;
● July 1964-November 1964: stay in the Lafond asylum in La Rochelle; she also became a patient of the famous Paris psychiatrist Gaston Ferdière (1907-1990);
● June 1966-September 1966: first stay in the Maison Blanche psychiatric hospital in Neuilly-sur-Marne;
● December 1969-January 1970: second stay in the Maison Blanche;
● April 1970-July 1970: third stay in the Maison Blanche;
● July 1970-October 1970: stay in a beautiful old country house that had been converted into a psychiatric clinic: the La Chesnaie clinic in Chailles.

La Chesnaie psychiatric clinicThe La Chesnaie psychiatric clinic: Zürn’s last stop.

In this last place Zürn’s condition seemed to improve. But when in October she got permission to go home for a few days, it gave her the opportunity to kill herself.

Amazingly, during all these years she kept writing and making drawings. She really remained very productive until the last.

In the interval between 1964-1966 (when she was largely out of clinics) she began writing The Man of Jasmine: Impressions from a Mental Illness.

This would become a lucid and touching description of her psychotic hallucinations, depressions and anxiety attacks – the “Man of Jasmine” was derived from a fantasy figure from her childhood dreams. The book would be published in 1977, seven years after her death.

And here is one of Unica’s last doodles, from a 1970 notebook:

Drawing by Unica Zürn

When in 1975 Hans Bellmer died, five years after Unica, he was buried next to her at the Paris Père-Lachaise cemetery. Their shared stone has an inscription originally written by Bellmer for Unica’s funeral wreath: “my love will follow you into Eternity”.

A Song

Unica Zürn’s person and her work have inspired many others, not just in surrealist art and poetry. For example, her anagram poems are quite popular with musicians who put them to music: several examples are mentioned on Unica’s German Wikipedia page.

But I always like something that’s a little, well, different. And so, out of pure contrariness, I present you with the song Hello Kitty by Homme Jasmin. This is French for the “Man of Jasmine”, the title of Unica’s book: and it also is the Zürn-inspired pseudonym of a Japanese singer-songwriter. She lives in Marseilles, France.

ジャスミン男 fuses modern rock and antique baroque music, accompanied by everything from electronics to age-old instruments such as clavichords. She covers a wide range of moods; Hello Kitty is one of her more quiet songs.

If you like this one, you can listen to many more songs at her Homme Jasmin Soundcloud page.

Homme Jasmin - Hello Kitty 
Homme Jasmin – Hello Kitty


  • There is a wealth of Unica Zürn stuff online, but not yet her own books. At least the two most important of them have been translated and printed in English.
    They can be easily found at Amazon: Dark Spring, translated by Caroline Rupprecht, and The Man of Jasmine: Impressions from a Mental Illness, translated by Malcolm Green.
  • Zürn’s ingenious and often striking anagram poems ought to be read in the original German for the full effect. Hans Werner Lang at the University of Flensburg has several of them online: Unica Zürn Anagramme.
    Although much is lost in any translation, some well-translated examples can be found at Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems and Poetics blog: Unica Zürn: Nine Anagrammatic Poems, translated by Pierre Joris.
  • There are many, many sites that display their own selection of most beautiful drawings by Unica Zürn. Let me mention just one that I like, posted at the Strange Flowers blog by James Conway: Unica Zürn | drawings.
  • If you can read German and want to read more about Unica Zürn, here are two suggestions:
    – Amazon has a brief biography (print version only) Die Einzige: Begegnung mit Unica Zürn. This book was written by Ruth Henry (1925-2007) who as an art journalist in Paris in the 1950s-1960s knew Unica Zürn personally.
    – The interdisciplinary gender studies journal Freiburger Zeitschrift für GeslechterStudien offers a more academic analysis online in PDF format: “Der Körper hat es dann auszubaden” – zum Verhältnis von Körper, Sprache und (Re)Produktivität bei Unica Zürn, written in 1997 by Rita Morrien.
    Basically she concludes that Zürn had an “autoagressive”, self-harming tendency that expressed itself both physically and in her language.
  • For a little more about the sex-obsessed artwork of Hans Bellmer, see this essay (PDF file) for the Art Institute of Chicago: Hans Bellmer in The Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body, written in 2001 by Sue Taylor.
    In the wider context of Bellmer’s work she also discusses some pen-and-ink portraits (no, not those nasty photos) that Bellmer made of Unica Zürn.


1673: Thomas Clifford, Lord Chudleigh

October 17, 1673 – Today Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (43) killed himself. His suicide came just four months after his resigning from the top government position of Lord High Treasurer.

This painting from a year before shows him holding the white staff that was the exclusive symbol of the High Treasurer office:

Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh

Clifford’s resignation had been a consequence of his strong Roman Catholic sympathies; it was even whispered he might actually be a closet Catholic. Since 1673, a new so-called Test Act required any government official to take the following oath to prove he did not share Catholic beliefs:

I, [name], do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

Clifford had refused to take this oath (a courageous decision, according to some) and therefore he had to resign. And apparently, this sudden undeserved end of his distinguished political career had reduced him to a state of deep depression.

Handling the Problem

Suicide was a crime at the time, and people who had killed themselves were by definition denied to right to a proper Christian burial. Often they were buried in an ignominious manner. But somehow this never happened when members of the upper class killed themselves.

After an upper class suicide, there were two potential ways out of the dilemma. Either it was established that the deceased had killed himself in a bout of insanity (meaning he could not be held responsible for his act) or else the suicide was simply hushed up.

In this particular case, the second route was chosen: a hush-up. The alternative (asserting a temporary bout of insanity) would have looked a bit implausible, because there were indications of premeditation. Ten days before, on October 7, the 43-year-old Clifford had dictated his last will (referring to his being “of sound mind though weak in body”) with explicit instructions for his funeral.

Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh

The hush-up did serve its purpose. Clifford could be buried normally in his family chapel on his estate at Ugbrooke (near Exeter). His 10-year-old son Hugh inherited the Baron title.

However, one problem with hush-ups such as this was that the upper-class always had many servants around who often were in the know. If just one of those servants started to talk, this could start rumors about what actually happened.

“After an Extraordinary Melancholy”

The well-known English diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) knew Clifford personally. In his private diary he described his last meeting with a very depressed Clifford, and how a few months later the rumors about Clifford’s suicide reached him – complete with details about how a servant had tried to save his master’s life:

Taking leave of my Lord Clifford, he wrung me by the hand, and looking earnestly on me, bid me God-b’ye, adding, “Mr. E. I shall never see thee more;” “No!” said I, “my Lord, what’s the meaning of this? I hope I shall see you often, and as greate a person againe.” “No, Mr. E. do not expect it, I will never see this place, this Citty or Court againe,” or words of this sound.
In this manner, not without almost mutual tears, I parted from him: nor was it long after, but the newes was that he was dead, and I have heard from some who I believe knew, he made himself away, after an extraordinary melancholy.
This is not confidently affirm’d, but a servant who lived in the house, and afterwards with Sir Robert Clayton, Lord Mayor, did, as well as others, report it; and when I hinted some such thing to Mr. Prideaux, one of his trustees, he was not willing to enter into that discourse.
It was reported with these particulars; that causing his servant to leave him unusually one morning, locking himselfe in, he strangled himselfe with his cravatt upon the bed-tester; his servant not liking the manner of dismissing him, and looking thro’ the key-hole (as I remember), and seeing his master hanging, brake in before he was quite dead, and taking him downe, vomiting a greate deale of bloud, he was heard to utter these words, “Well, let men say what they will, there is a God, a just God above,” after which he spake no more.
This, if true, is dismal.


  • The portrait of Clifford as Lord High Treasurer was painted in 1672 by Dutch-English Baroque painter Peter Lely (1618-1680, birth name Pieter van der Faes).
    As a part of the British Government Art Collection, today this is one of the paintings on the walls of 10 Downing Street, the official London residence of the British Prime Minister. Source: the Government Art Collection website.
    The other, engraved Clifford portrait is just a romantic impression from a much later date. It was included in an 1823 printed collection of historical British portraits. Unfortunately I could not retrace the exact source for this one.
  • John Evelyn’s personal diary remained unpublished for over a century. A selection from the it was printed for the first time in 1818. Recognized as an interesting historical source, the diary was reprinted several times since then.
    I used an 1827 edition that is online in e-book format at archive.org: Memoirs of John Evelyn Comprising his Diary from 1641 to 1705-6, Volume II.
    The quoted part relating what Evelyn heard about Clifford’s suicide can be found at page 387-388.
  • The British History of Parliament website has a detailed biographical overview of Clifford’s political career in its Member Biographies: Clifford, Thomas (1630-73).
    Among Clifford’s many formal achievements this biography also mentions how in March 1662 in the Upper House of Parliament he came to blows with fellow member Andrew Marvell, who later called Clifford “a tall louse”.


1941: Arthur Kronfeld

October 16, 1941 – Panic suicide of prominent German psychiatrist Arthur Kronfeld (55) and his wife Lydia Quien. In exile in Moscow, they killed themselves by an overdose of barbiturates (the strong sedative Veronal) during the “October Panic” when briefly it looked as if the invading German army was about to overrun the Soviet capital. Some sources suggest the couple preferred suicide over a possible evacuation to Tomsk in Siberia.

Arthur KronfeldAs early as 1912, Kronfeld had written a thorough study criticizing Freud’s psychoanalytical theories. Serving in the German army in World War I he got wounded and decorated, and then worked as psychiatrist in a military hospital. The photo here shows him in 1919, when he began to work as a psychiatrist at the groundbreaking Institute of Sexology founded in Berlin by Magnus Hirschfeld. In 1925, while still working with Hirschfeld, he wrote a psychotherapy handbook that definitively put him on the map.

In 1926 they parted ways and Kronfeld, profiling himself as a follower of Alfred Adler, became one of the best known psychotherapists in Berlin. He personally knew many artists and other celebrities such as Albert Einstein.

Book by Arthur KronfeldEventually he became psychiatry professor, working at the famous Berlin Charité hospital and writing several books.

Kronfeld had a Jewish background, but was thoroughly assimilated: to get his professorship, in 1930 he converted to Protestantism. His ideas were in fact a somewhat strange mix.

As a psychotherapist he had progressive Adlerian ideas about socialization as a therapeutic goal. But to him this socialization could also mean normalization: in his views on sexuality, race, heredity, eugenics, he was in fact rather conservative. To make the mix even more complicated, politically he was both a German nationalist and a left-wing anti-Nazi: for a while, he was active in the German socialist movement.


When in 1933 Hitler took power, Kronfeld at first naively hoped that as a well-assimilated German citizen, a decorated war hero even, he would be allowed to continue his work as an important psychiatrist. But in 1935 the persecution of Jews meant he lost his job.

Arthur KronfeldHe went into in exile in Switzerland. Temporarily working in a Swiss clinic, he learned about Manfred Sakel’s insulin shock therapy to treat schizophrenia.

The Swiss didn’t want to give him a permanent asylum permit. So when in 1936 he was offered the job of head of the experimental therapy department of the Gannuschkin Institute in Moscow, the main neuropsychiatric institute in Soviet Russia, he accepted the invitation.

From 1936 to 1941 he worked in relative peace in Moscow, where he got the facilities to experiment with new therapeutic approaches such as the insulin shock therapy. Some of his books were re-published in Russian: in Russia he still counts as an important psychiatric author today.

In June 1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and Kronfeld became politically active again. He spoke several times against the Nazis in Russian radio broadcasts. He wrote a pamphlet in which he characterized the Nazi leaders as degenerated, sexually perverted, criminal, mentally ill psychopaths: Degenerati u wlasti (“Degenerates In Power”).

To be honest, this hastily improvised pamphlet described people like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels in a very crude way indeed. Kronfeld derided Goering’s fatness, and Goebbel’s thinness and clubfoot, almost like in the spirit of Ernst Kretschmer (who in the 1920s had connected people’s physical build with mental illnesses). A real psychiatric analysis was absent here. Besides, today we know that many of the things that Kronfeld assumed as a fact – such as Hitler being a closet homosexual – were in fact not true at all.

Arthur Kronfeld (right) in 1941

This last known photo of Kronfeld was printed just a few days before his suicide in the English-language Soviet propaganda paper Moscow News. It shows him, standing at the right, with scientists of various disciplines committing themselves to an anti-Hitler pledge. In case you wonder, the bearded patriarch signing the joint declaration is agricultural chemistry pioneer Dimitri Pryanishnikov (1865-1948).

Due to the war circumstances, Kronfeld’s tragic death remained almost unnoticed. He did not get the obituaries he deserved, and after the war a new generation of psychiatrists tended to forget how important he once had been.

A Poem

When he was a beginning psychiatrist in his twenties, already mingling with a scene of artists, philosophers and writers, Kronfeld also wrote poetry.

So to conclude this post, let’s hear his own voice from the culture and arts magazine Der Sturm.

Der Sturm

Here is a poem Kronfeld wrote in this magazine in 1911:

The greasy smiler from Austria
presents me his hand in a jovial greeting.
Franziska leans torn against the wall;
hate-flashing and horny and pale she eyes
me and the greasy gentleman from Austria.
He introduces us to each other, and deftly
withdraws. I am correct-gallant,
she’s stunned. I suddenly feel soft
and say quietly: Tender young animal,
Are you afraid? Disgusted? Does not
Unconsciously a racy pale craving
Still pull you out into the hot light?
You wrote to me… and yet disgust? with me?
She glances down. And I just clam up.

Of course I wonder who Kronfeld meant with that “greasy gentleman from Austria”. Would it be, by any chance, a well-known Austrian psychiatrist? It’s too late to ask.

Well, at least we had a glimpse of the real Kronfeld here – and of one Franziska. I like her defiance.

And I feel sorry for Kronfeld, in more than one way.


  • A nice biographic article with some more details can be found at the IP-GIPT site (Internet Publikation für Allgemeine und Integrative Psychotherapie): In memory of Arthur Kronfeld (1886-1941), Fate and work of a Jewish psychiatrist and psychotherapist, by Ingo Wolf-Kittel (2006).
  • At least two books by Kronfeld are online:
    – archive.org has (in various e-book formats) his 1920 Das Wesen der psychiatrischen Erkenntnis: Beiträge zur allgemeinen Psychiatrie;
    – bookzz.org has (PDF only) the 1925 second edition of his Psychotherapy — Characterology, Psychoanalysis, Hypnose, Psychagogik.
  • Amazon has printed editions of several more books by Kronfeld, and also some books that refer to him (most of them in German). See the Kronfeld page at Amazon.
  • An important source here is the BIFFF website by Peter Kratz (Berliner Institut für Faschismus-Forschung und Antifaschistische Aktion). He has Kronfeld’s 1941 pamphlet against the Nazi leadership online.
    Kratz offers the full text side-by-side in the original Russian and a German translation, with extensive footnotes and commentary: Arthur Kronfeld: “Degenerierte an der Macht”. The well-documented point-by-point commentaries by Kratz make very clear that Kronfeld’s hasty sketch of the Nazi leaders was factually inconsistent and offered no valuable psychiatric analysis.
    At the same site, see also the article Vom Antisemitismus zur Homophobie, Teil III. Kratz, who evidently does not like Kronfeld at all, offers a scathing but thoroughly researched critique of Kronfeld’s conservative attitude regarding homosexuality. He considers Kronfeld’s attitude in the 1920s-1930s “homophobic”.
  • The poem by Kronfeld is from the Berlin culture and arts weekly Der Sturm, 1911 (nr. 61, page 488). A full scan of this magazine (1910-1912) is online at archive.org: Der Sturm.
    The translation given above is my own. Translating poetry always is a somewhat arbitrary affair, so here is Kronfeld’s poem in the original German:
    Der fettig Lächelnde aus Oesterreich
    Reicht zu jovialem Grusse mir die Hand.
    Franziska lehnt zerrissen an der Wand;
    Hassblitzend mustert sie und geil und bleich
    Mich und den fettigen Herrn aus Oesterreich.
    Er stellt uns beide vor, und formgewandt
    Verzieht er sich. Ich bin korrekt-galant,
    Sie fassungslos. Ich werde plötzlich weich
    Und sage leise: Zartes junges Tier,
    Hast Du denn Angst? und Ekel? Zieht Dich nicht
    Unter der Schwelle rassig fahle Gier
    Dennoch hinüber in das heisse Licht?
    Du schriebst mir… und doch Ekel? und vor mir?
    — Sie senkt die Lider. Und ich schweige schlicht.


1840: Maine Insane Hospital

October 14, 1840 – In Augusta, Maine, the newly-built Maine Insane Hospital was opened today. One of the first patients was a 24-year-old mentally disturbed man who had been restrained for weeks in handcuffs at the poorhouse where he came from.

The plan for this asylum dated from 1834. Actually building it had been financed for one half by the state and for the other half by two rich citizens, who each had contributed $10,000 (which, depending from how you calculate inflation, would be at least $278,000 or even some millions today).

Maine Insane Hospital, AugustaThe asylum building in 1869

There is a lot of information online about the history of this asylum. Basically this history is very similar to that of most other asylums already presented here. First, a continuous growth in patient numbers to a peak of about 1,700 patients in 1950. And since about 1960, due to modern developments such as better new medication, rapidly declining numbers again.

In 1851 here also occurred one of those typical fires where the bolted doors and barred windows claimed lives: a calamity that happened in far too many asylums. In this case, 27 patients and one attendant died.

Later renamed the Augusta Mental Health Institute, this one continued until 2004 when it was replaced by a small modern facility for just 100 patients, Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Instead of repeating an already familiar course of history here, let me highlight two interesting sources from this asylum’s early days.

The 1840 Asylum Regulations

Among the historical sources online at archive.org is a small 12-page booklet that contains the original rules for the asylum staff, from physicians to stewards and matrons to simple attendants.

You can read it in full here: System of regulations for the Maine Insane Hospital, Augusta, 1840.

Augusta Asylum Regulations

To give you an idea how this hospital in 1840 tried to implement then-modern ideas of humane treatment of the mentally ill, here is the section that describes the work of attendants:

Duty Of Attendants To Patients
The attendants are to treat the inmates with respect and attention; to greet them at all times with kindness, and show such other attentions as will evince an interest in their welfare. Under all circumstances the patients must be treated kindly and affectionately — must be spoken to in a mild and gentle tone of voice — soothed and calmed when irritated, encouraged and cheered when melancholy and depressed.
Should the attendants be provoked by insults and abusive language, they must keep cool, forbear to recriminate, to scold or irritate or dictate in language of authority, unless absolutely necessary; must never lay violent hands on a patient except in self defence, or to prevent his injuring himself or others, and under no circumstances whatever must he inflict a blow on a patient. He must maintain his authority by dignity of deportment, and never cower or suffer himself to be looked out of countenance.
The muffs, mittens, wristbands or any other means of restraint, are never to be used unless by order of the officers. One attendant must always be in the gallery with the patients, and he must not leave except to take his meals and to prepare the food for the patients, under any circumstances but when relieved. An attendant must always be present at the meals, carve the food and distribute it to such as are not competent to do it for themselves, and to see that each one has his proper supply. He must also be careful that no knife, fork, or other article be carried from the table by the patients, for which purpose he shall regularly count those in use.
On rising in the morning, the attendants must see that the patients are properly washed, their hair combed, that they may be decently dressed for the day in season for breakfast.
The attendants must never ridicule the patients, nor mock nor irritate them to wound their feelings; and if the patients engage in any improper topic of discourse, or any controversy, they must in the most gentle manner check it; if this fails, they must interfere, and not let the quiet of their gallery be disturbed.
The attendants must never place in the hands of the patients any razor, knife, scissors, or other dangerous instrument, without permission of the officers ; and they must see that no weapon whatever gets into the possession of the patients. Male attendants must shave the men under their charge.

Maine Insane Hospital, AugustaPostcard showing the Augusta asylum building, about 1900

The 1851 Account by a Patient

A contrast to the official regulations above is offered by another online historical source: the 1851 account of a patient who had been discharged after three years in this asylum. You can read this one in full at the Disability History Museum website: Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad-House.

This 50-page booklet was written by Isaac Hunt (1810-1884). He promised his readers:

A true account of the barbarous, inhuman and cruel treatment of Isaac H. Hunt, in the Maine Insane Hospital, in the years 1844, ’45, ’46, and ’47, by Drs. Isaac Ray, James Bates, and their Assistants and Attendants.
Also, a correct account of the abusive treatment of a multitude of other patients, some of which are tantamount to murder.

Hunt told, in a somewhat rambling style, things like how he was locked up against his will, sometimes forcefully medicated, and coerced to do hard physical labor out in the cold. He told how he disliked the asylum food and the staff behavior, and described in great detail how after his discharge he lodged formal complaints, trying to get financial compensation.

Well, the asylum will surely not have been a paradise. But to be honest, to me Hunt’s complaints come across as a bit over the top.

When Hunt arrived in the asylum, he clearly was not a healthy person, as he maintained himself. From his own account it is obvious that he suffered from some kind of paranoid psychosis: for example, he thought that when meat was served at the table, the staff let him eat the flesh of patients they had killed.

So while he may have seen himself as a victim of totally unjustified abuse, it’s also a fact is that he arrived ill and that when after three years he was released, he had recovered well enough to write a book about his complaints…

Three Years In A Madhouse

A Patient Profile

Near the end of Hunts book is a truly fascinating chapter where he vividly characterizes several of the patients he had encountered in the asylum between 1844-1847. As a random example, here is his sketch of one of them:

Visitor, do you see that tall old man, with his iron bound “specs” across his Roman nose? Yes, he has been hanging about me ever since I have been here, and begged some tobacco of me. Hanging about you, has he? Well, then, you had better look after your handkerchief. Had I? Well, it is gone.
Ah, is it — well he is crazy, and has a natural propensity to accumulate, as they call it here when a person appropriates the property of another to his own use, without giving an equivalent for it; and that is the old man’s propensity, or, in other words his insanity, which principally develops itself in that manner.
If any thing is lost you will be pretty sure to find it in his possession, and besides that he is the doctor’s fool or puppet, for when visitors come in he is always in the way, and the doctor uses him to gammon his visitors, by asking him some question concerning his malady, which he is always ready to answer, and in that manner the doctor obtains a notoriety for attending to the wants of his patients, and so the game of deception is played upon the public, perhaps 20 times a day.
Besides that, the old man has another propensity which is as natural to him as the other. He is dirty, filthy, and is always squirting his tobacco juice in every place but the spittoon. For weeks he has squirted out of a patient’s window, who never uses the filthy weed, and wishes his room to be kept clean. He has been threatened with violence if he does it.
It is the Sabbath — the attendant has gone to meeting — the old man has besmeared the window, and is told to clean it. He refuses to do it, and is told if he repeats it he will rue it. He replies, “I ain’t afraid of you” — and in a few minutes he has repeated the operation and the deed is hardly done before his “specs” are minus a glass, the claret runs in a stream from his nose, and for weeks he wears the sores upon his proboscis, and thus, by legal suasion, is taught to cause no more trouble to that patient.

Hunt’s criticizing conditions in the Augusta asylum was successful, to some extent: he got state officials to launch an official investigation of how the asylum was run. But it looks like they found no cause to take his more extreme complaints about barbarous or even murderous abuse very seriously.

Remembering the Dead

former Maine Insane Hospital, AugustaRecent photo of the abandoned old asylum building

Fast forward to the year 2000. Karen Evans, who about 1960 had been a young patient here, remembered how after the suicide of another young girl in the hospital her body had just seemed to disappear: no ceremony, no known grave.

Evans started an investigation. The archives told that in the 165-year history of this asylum, 11,647 patients had died there. Some were probably buried by their families, but many others may have been buried in unmarked graves on the hospital grounds or in paupers graves across Maine, without a tombstone or a grave marker.

Evans’ investigation led to the Augusta Mental Health Institute Cemetery Project, with several people who want not just to locate some of these lost graves. They are in fact raising funds for building a proper memorial for the thousands of forgotten patients who died here.

As explained by one the people involved, while standing among some of the unmarked graves:

“They are absolutely lost souls. It boggles my mind that we just threw people away. Having a permanent memorial will help put to rest the shame and stigma associated with mental illness.”



1874: Abraham Brill

October 12, 1874 – Birth date of Austrian-American psychiatrist Abraham Brill. He did not help people to quit smoking: he helped getting them to start smoking.

Abraham Brill

Brill was one of the first very Freudian psychoanalysts in the USA: he opened his New York practice in 1908. In the next years, he worked actively to introduce the work of Freud to the American public: the first American editions of Freud’s books were translations by Brill. And when in 1911 the American Psychoanalytic Association was founded, Brill was one of people behind the initiative.

While working as a clinical psychiatry professor at New York University, for many years he remained a staunch defender of professionalism in psychoanalysis. By this he meant that psychoanalytic therapy – the orthodox Freudian “couch therapy” – ought to be practiced only by people who (like Freud and Brill himself) were qualified physicians.


Edward BernaysUnfortunately, today Brill is remembered mainly for his background role in the 1928-1939 publicity campaign by the American Tobacco Company that successfully changed the public image of women smoking cigarettes. As an adviser for this campaign, Brill introduced Freudian principles in mass communication.

The cigarettes campaign was set up by innovating marketing expert Edward Bernays (1891-1995, photo right) who himself happened to be a nephew of Freud. Bernays had asked Brill to advise him.

Until the 1920s, smoking by women – and especially smoking in public – was considered almost indecent, a sign of vulgarity. Smoking was seen as not feminine; as something for men. The tobacco sellers wanted to change this: getting more women to smoke would bring them a lot of new customers.

Feminist Smoking

Smoking woman, 1929 Easter ParadeIt was Brill who came up with the idea of having women call cigarettes their “Torches of Freedom”: as an almost feminist symbol of women’s emancipation.

Bernays then followed up with the brilliant idea of making several fashionable women, while walking the street in New York’s 1929 Easter Parade, smoke cigarettes in an ostentatious way. The photo here shows one of these smoking women during the parade.

This provocation by cigarette-flaunting women drew much attention right away. Several of them spoke to the press about their “torches of freedom”. Many newspapers wrote about it, generating free publicity. They quoted one of the Easter Parade participants, Bertha Hunt (who actually was one of Bernays’ secretaries) as saying:

“I hope that we have started something, that these torches of freedom will smash the taboo on women smoking and our sex will go on breaking down walls.”

The whole thing helped create an image of modern, emancipated women loving their cigarettes as a way of expressing freedom and enjoying themselves. A subsequent advertisement campaign helped to further spread that image. Here is an example:

Women Are Free (by smoking)

Note how this ad smartly connected two completely different prejudices: the old prejudice against women, who now were “legally, politically, and socially [...] emancipated from those chains which bound her” and the prejudice against cigarettes: “Gone is that ancient prejudice against cigarettes – Progress has been made.

Put bluntly, from today’s perspective what they did here was selling nicotine addiction as if it was a kind of feminist liberation.

Phallic Symbol?

Back to psychiatrist Abraham Brill. From his own Freudian perspective, he advised about details of the campaign.

Marketing man Bernays later remembered how Brill criticized the concept of a cigarettes poster showing two men and one woman. Brill had said to him:

“Two people should appear, one man and one woman. That is life. Nor should a woman offer two men a package of cigarettes. The cigarette is a phallic symbol, to be offered by a man to a woman. Every normal man or woman can identify with such a message.”

Lucky Strike Couple

Bernays took Brill’s advice to use a couple; he later thought this may have been the first instance where psychoanalytic principles (making use of subconscious impulses) were applied directly to advertising.

Abraham Brill died in 1948, aged 73. I don’t know if he used to smoke himself. We do know, of course, that Freud did.


  • The Project Gutenberg has four books online that are early Freud translations by Brill, see here: Books by Brill, A. A.
    Abraham Brill also wrote a couple of books himself but as far as I know, his own books are not online.
  • Here is a Wikipedia link for a little more info about the Torches of Freedom idea.



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