The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 174
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174 Southwestern Historical Quarterly July
had ranged from flogging, drowning, starvation, leeching, and battering in jail.
The asylum movement resulted from changing notions of mental illness as per-
manent to an optimistic belief that a moratorium from the stresses of daily life
and more humane treatment, such as social contact, exercise, and labor would
The book highlights the "asylum" period, and the other phases appear only in
the last chapter. The reason is an underlying theme: in light of contemporary
repercussions of de-institutionalization, perhaps mental health-care profession-
als should take a second look at the limited but positive consequences of "asy-
lum" care. The middle chapters are arranges topically on superintendents, atten-
dants, and patients. This approach is a bit frustrating for the historian who
prefers to see more change over time, and because the amount of detail is at
times daunting. The overly-positive emphasis on the "asylum" period left ques-
tions about the objections of reformers in both the 194os and 1970s. But the
breadth of sources is impressive: Sitton scoured patient records, minutes to staff
meetings, correspondence, training manuals, legal investigations, newspapers,
other interviews, biographical sketches, private collections, and conducted more
than sixty oral histories.
The asylum functioned like a self-contained plantation, replete with live-
stock, gardens, undertakers, a movie theater, baseball team, beauty parlor, and
a brass band. The superintendent as "feudal lord" (p. 39) presided over a fasci-
nating "caste system" (p. 41). Surprisingly, Sitton dismisses Michel Foucault's
concept of the dispersion of power within institutions because as a "social con-
trol theorist," the asylum's purpose became control instead of healing (p. 3).
However, the theory does not require conscious intent on the part of reform-
ers. Her descriptions of rich, multiple layers of power sounded strikingly like
Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Bzrth of the Prison (New York: Vintage
Books, 1977). The superintendent's power stretched into every aspect of daily
life, and contrary to earlier periods when power manifested through physical
restraints, an elaborate array of rules extended his power in a more human yet
pervasive way. Employees needed passes to leave, were fined for "stealing" fall-
en pecans, worked fifteen hours daily, could not fraternize outside one's occu-
pational status, and needed permission to court or even marry. Patients experi-
ence regimentation and "total lack of privacy" (p. 114), including whistles,
marches, identical "institutional haircuts," communal bathing, and bathrooms
with no doors. Foucault labeled this a "panopticon," or "state of conscious and
permanent visibility that assure [d] the automatic functioning of power." (p.
201). But Sitton observed, like Foucault, that power imbalances did not pre-
At times the tone sounded a bit too idyllic for my taste, such as when she
argued some patients "took comfort in the continual presence of others." But
the book rehabilitates the notion that a structured and human environment
might benefit a certain class of patients.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/182/: accessed October 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.