Despite the fact that very few people end up committed to a mental asylum, the idea of being committed to a mental hospital still dominates pop culture media. From 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest to 1998’s Girl, Interrupted to 2010’s Shutter Island, all of these films have explored what it means to be committed to a mental asylum in one way or another. So, it's safe to say audiences are fascinated with the idea of being committed.
Nowadays, there are many mental hospitals that no longer commit patients and only help short-term out-patients. But, there are also quite a few hospitals that still deal with involuntary commitment patients, who are committed against their will because they are a danger to either themselves or society, though it is very rare to be involuntarily committed. In the 1800s, however, it seemed like people were being committed for… uh, pretty much totally normal reasons. Like, you could be sent to the mental hospital for tying your shoes the wrong way. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but people were committed for things such a “political excitement” and “novel reading.” Yes, NOVEL READING.
Of course, many of these people were sent to mental hospitals because their spouse wanted to rid themselves of said person. In other words, dudes were totally just having their wives committed all the friggin’ time so they could bone down with other people. Nope, I'm not kidding. That's a thing that happened. And yes, it was nice to be a dude back in 1868.
The following are 15 real reasons people were committed to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane between 1864 to 1889. OH, and all of these reasons are perfectly normal now, so we’d all be in mental hospitals if these rules still applied.
15 Medicine To Prevent Conception
Oh, how times have changed.
Back in the 1800s, people (read: woman) were sent to the mental hospital if they took medicine to prevent pregnancy... y'know, birth control. YES, they were committed to mental hospitals for using birth control.
Now, more times than not, any girl you meet over the age of 18 years old will be on birth control. It’s common practice. In fact, an estimated 10.6 million women are on the pill, and those 10.6 million women would be in mental hospitals if it was 1887. Crazy, right?
Of course, birth control was much different back in the day. Way back in 1850 BC, women would place honey, acacia leaves, and even lint in their vaginas to block sperm. YES, LINT IN THEIR VAGINAS. So, we can all be thankful to be living in 2017, when birth control won’t get you committed to a mental hospital and also won't give you a linty vagina.
14 Novel Reading
This one is just LOL. But, yes, “novel reading” was an actual reason people were committed to mental hospitals. Obviously, this was more frequently a reason why women were committed as opposed to men. Men have always been allowed to read, but women were very much discouraged from reading for quite a long time. To discourage women from reading, it would often be said that reading makes you go blind and that guys don't marry girls who were glasses. (MAJOR eye roll, because books > boys all day.)
Of course, not allowing people to read and thus educate themselves has commonly been used to keep certain classes of people down, as slaves were not allowed to read either. Now that women are no longer committed to mental hospitals for reading, women account for 80% of the fiction market.
13 Political Excitement
Oh, this is a fun one. Apparently, "political excitement" used to be something that could land you in a mental hospital. So you know that one really passionate Facebook friend who makes status after status and shares article after article? (I mean, good for them for being so involved and stuff, but also could they please STFU once in a while?) Well, back in the 1800s, this Facebook friend's political excitement could land them in the ol’ mental asylum.
Again, this was used as yet another way to keep women suppressed, as the Women’s Rights Movement was in full swing. Yep, as a woman, if you spoke freely and loudly about your desire to vote, to have equal pay, to obtain an education, or to own land, you could be put in a hospital because you were mentally ill.
Of course, I wouldn't actually be upset if some of my “politically excited” Facebook friends were checked into a mental hospital for a little bit.
For whatever reason, asthma could land you in a mental hospital. Yes, asthma. Even though this isn’t a psychological thing at all, it could have still landed you in a mental hospital. Bizarre, right?
Asthma is a long-term inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs. The symptoms include wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Many things can trigger an asthma attack, among them being exercise and surprise. There is no cure, but inhalers work to relieve the symptoms.
What’s odd is to throw someone into a mental hospital for something that can’t be cured. Like, they were in there for their asthma… that can’t be cured… so when do they get out? Also, about 8% of the population has asthma, so 8% of the population would have been thrown in a mental hospital in the 1800s.
This one is SUPER broad. I mean, laziness can be cause for concern, but how do you just drop someone off at a mental hospital and say, “I don’t know, they’re lazy. Take care of it.”
Also, how lazy is too lazy? How lazy is lazy enough to land you in a mental hospital? Where is the line, people? I’m really just concerned about the hours of television I binge-watch. Would that be enough to throw me in a mental hospital if it were 1868? Probably, because I binge-watch A LOT of TV.
Though, this reason for committing someone was likely used by men to dispose of their wives. At this time, women didn’t own houses or work. Instead, they cooked and cleaned and bore children. That being said, a woman couldn’t throw her husband in a hospital because she needed his income and stuff. So, this was used by husbands dissatisfied with their wives for not cooking or cleaning enough.
10 Playing With Yourself
Alright, throw us all in a mental hospital, am I right?
Yes, that’s right. Masturbation would land you in a mental hospital, but it was also a very different time in America. I mean, this country was founded by Puritans, who believe deeply in sex only being for marriage and also in sex being an act that MUST be performed in a marriage. In one famous story, a Puritan settlement in Massachusetts banished a man who wouldn’t perform his marital duties with his wife. Yes, he was banished for not banging his wife.
But, this is about masturbation. So, back on topic - People were put in mental hospitals for masturbation and not even “excessive” masturbation. Like, I agree that if someone is masturbating on a subway, maybe they need a few days in a mental hospital. But, in the privacy of your own home, go for it.
With the vibrator being invented in 1869, this may have played into a spike of female masturbation and thus a spike of being hospitalized for masturbation.
Superstition is probably one of the low-key most common things on this list, because we all have superstitions to some extent. It's a belief in a sort of magic. Like, if you wear that special football jersey, your team will win their game or if you step on a crack you’ll break your mother’s back. There’s also the belief that certain things are bad luck, like walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, and crossing a black cat’s path. By the way, I once drunkenly broke FOUR mirrors so if this has any merit, I’m screwed.
Yes, these are maybe irrational things with no basis in science but they aren’t necessarily harmful and certainly not harmful enough to land one in a mental institution. Though, the 1800s were not that far removed from the Salem Witch Trials so there may have been some left over fear of witches.
8 Female "Hysteria"
The biggest EYE ROLL to this one. So, in the 1800s, it was totally cool to send women away for their hysteria, but hysteria was basically just speaking up. In fact, there was a whole thing called “female hysteria” which was reserved just for females. Here are some symptoms of female hysteria: sexual desire, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, irritability, and A TENDENCY TO CAUSE TROUBLE. If you were a trouble maker (read: a woman who thought they deserved to be able to vote) that was a serious issue. Also, heaviness in the abdomen? So basically, if you got fat, you could have been sent to a mental hospital. God forbid you were overweight and wanted equal pay back in 1886.
In some severe cases, women were given a hysterectomy to cure their female hysteria. Yes, women were given hysterectomies for their hysteria. Quite frankly, the idea if a woman spoke up she was then diagnosed with a disorder gives me female hysteria, so there’s that.
Back in the 1800s, you couldn’t masturbate too much and you also couldn’t have sex with other people too much, as it could also land you in a mental hospital. But, how much sex is too much sex? At what point does enjoying sex turn into nymphomania? One person’s healthy sex drive could be considered nymphomania by someone else, right?
Nymphomania is, for sure, an actual disease or a symptom of a number of diseases. People who struggle with bipolar disorder can experience a hypersexual period in their mania. Hypersexuality can also be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder or an impulsive disorder. All that being said, nymphomania and sex addiction are mostly things that can be treated with out-patient meetings or therapy.
Though, we don’t necessarily know what the level of sex someone would have to have to be considered a nymphomaniac in 1879. I’m about 100% sure that the way we use Tinder would be considered nymphomania in 1879.
6 Seduction And Disappointment
I mean, let’s just keep talking about sex. It’s a fun subject.
Apparently in the 1800s, you could be committed to a mental institution for “seduction and disappointment.” Um, okay…? First of all, I would love to see a form with “seduction and disappointment” listed alongside bipolar disorder and depression because it doesn’t seem to be on that level. Second of all, who the hell was being sent away for this? I genuinely want to know if it was more a man thing or more a woman thing. Either way, what a blow to the ego. You try to seduce someone, but it doesn’t work. Not only do you not get laid, but you also land yourself in a mental hospital.
Also, now it seems like sexual rejection is everywhere. On Tinder, someone could swipe left on your picture. Hell, you could even sleep with someone and then they could ghost you. GUYS, there are so many new words for sexual rejection these days - swipe left, ghosting, bread crumbing - that should tell you how common it is.
That’s right, greediness could get you sent to a mental hospital, which is extremely odd in a country of capitalism, y’know an economic system that pretty much promotes greed.
Capitalism thrives in a laissez-faire environment, wherein the government is hands-off and allows people to achieve however much success they want through whatever means they want (to some degree). While capitalism is not inherently about greed, it does create an environment in which greed thrives. Or, as Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) from Wall Street once said, “Greed is good.” And, greed is good to some degree, as it pushes you to work harder and achieve more. Though, greed also led to the recession of 2008, so there's that.
It’s just odd that we ever threw people in a mental hospital for greed. Like, isn’t America all about greed?
4 Imaginary Female Troubles
I can hardly deal with all the ways that women were thrown into mental hospitals. I mean, it’s kind of funny now… but, it’s only funny now because we’re beyond this as a society. If the rules of the 1800s applied, women would be thrown into mental hospitals for Facebook statuses, Snapchat stories... and imaginary female troubles? Hell, I’d be thrown into a mental hospital for writing this article.
But, let’s get to the issue at hand. In the 1800s, people were thrown into mental hospitals for imaginary female troubles, though who knows what the hell that means. What even IS imaginary female trouble? Since it’s a broad and vague concept, this was likely used to throw those “trouble making” women away to a mental hospital, where they would be lobotomized or go through electroshock therapy.
Again, let’s all be real glad we live in 2017, especially us women.
3 Fighting Fire
This one is maybe the most bizarre, but it was listed as a reason for admission to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane so let’s talk about it. Yes, fighting a fire could apparently get you put in a mental hospital, which is one of the most confusing and weirdest things ever, especially considering what an honorable job being a firefighter is now considered.
Fire fighting has a long tradition, as the first fire engine company was formed in 1678. So, if a firefighter company was a thing in 1678, why was someone sent to a mental hospital for fighting fire in the 1800s? It’s weird, right? I’m going to guess that maybe it was a woman who was fighting the fire and thus, that made her crazy enough to be committed to a mental hospital. The first female to become a firefighter happened in 1815, so there wasn’t a long tradition of female firefighters in the 1800s.
I just can't imagine why else someone would be put in a mental hospital for fighting a fire other than the fact they were a woman.
2 Ill Treatment By Husband
Not that this should be "common" now, but I had to include it in this list because it’s an odd concept - like, the concept being that if your husband treats you poorly, YOU go to the mental hospital. Um, no. The husband should go to the mental hospital if he’s the one being an asshole, right? That seems fair.
It seems like this is yet another way men would dispose of wives they didn’t want. Quite frankly, men had it made because of mental hospitals. They could be total assholes to their wives and then be like, "Uh, she’s crazy. She needs to be put away. Why is she crazy? I’d say ill treatment by me, her husband. Now, take her away."
By the way, this was only about 200 years ago, which may be the most shocking part of all.
1 Immoral Life
I’m pretty sure that every single person alive right now is living an “immoral life” by the standards of 1869. First of all, our narcissistic society would drive those 1800-ers all insane. They would not approve of selfies or Insta-fame. They would also not be down with Tinder or ghosting. Oh, and don’t even get the people of 1869 started on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Every Kardashian and Jenner would be thrown in the mental hospital. But, are we, as a society, really that much more immoral than the people of 1800s? Maybe on the surface, but we also don’t hospitalize women for reading novels anymore either. So you win, you lose some.
How many of you would have been put in a mental hospital for one of these reasons? If you’re saying "Not me," you’re totally lying because we all know you masturbate, Linda!
Sources: Snopes.com, I-women.org