The locus of care for mental illness in the United States has traditionally been described as either community based or centralized, asylum based. Most asylum case studies have focused on the inner workings of the institutions. None have studied in asylum in the context of its surrounding community.
This research explores the nature of the connections between asylum and community by way of a historical organizational case study of the Athens Lunatic Asylum from 1867 through 1893 as it relates to the Village of Athens, Ohio. Sources consulted include official documents (government reports and records, census data), personal documents (letters and manuscripts), and popular culture documents (newspapers, atlases, and photographs).
Between 1867 and 1893, the Asylum was connected with the Village of Athens in five areas: money economy, landscape, political and physical infrastructure, family, and social order. These connections were forged by the asylum’s need for goods and services and by the needs of the Athens community for jobs and cash. They were also sustained by community needs for recreation and entertainment, for humanitarian resources for those with mental illness, and at times for a means of social control. The political and physical infrastructure as well as the formal and informal networks that controlled the commitment process served to make possible the connections that met the needs of both asylum and community.
This research documents three aspects of asylum-community affairs receiving received attention from researchers. First, it identifies ways in which the Asylum functioned as customer and employer in the community. Second, it documents how the asylum grounds, as a permeable boundary between asylum and community, functioned as a community resource. Third, it shows how the Athens community used the state and local political infrastructure to advance its interests with regard to the Asylum; it also describes the ways in which the physical infrastructure connected Asylum and community.
This study describes an example of a community’s collaboration with an asylum at a time when care has been thought of as situated within the asylum. It suggests areas for constructing or renewing community connections for those with mental illness.