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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


In nineteenth-century America a new approach to treating insanity was adopted. This approach was called moral therapy. Physicians who practiced moral therapy tried to create an ideal, curative environment for the disordered mind through landscape and architecture but fell short because reality demanded they use restraints and medicine to limit the behavior of their patients. This paper and accompanying online exhibit explores the conflict between moral therapy's utopian setting and its dystopian reality from the 1830s through the 1870s. By 1880 most American asylums had become centers for custodial rather than curative care but an enduring legacy of moral therapy has continued to the present day.

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