Title page for ETD etd-06082006-110005

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Goldsmith, Ursula Irene Anna
Author's Email Address ugoldsm@lsu.edu
URN etd-06082006-110005
Title Escape to Utopia: Mental Illness, Veterans, and Gowanda State Hospital (l946-1952)
Degree Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (M.A.L.A.)
Department Liberal Arts (Interdepartmental Program)
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
William A. Clark Committee Chair
Brannon W. Costello Committee Member
John R. May Committee Member
  • youth gangs
  • gangs
  • Collins correctional institution
  • utopias
  • veterans
  • Seneca
  • Gowanda correctional institution
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • state hospital history-New York state
  • state hospital history
  • Helmuth
  • New York
  • minorities
  • Gowanda state homeopathic hospital
  • anthropology
  • Gowanda state hospital
  • World War II
  • homeopaths
  • psychiatry
  • psychiatrists
  • mental illness
Date of Defense 2006-04-18
Availability unrestricted
This study will cover the history from 1946 to 1952 of a state hospital located in Helmuth, New York, known as Gowanda State Homeopathic Hospital (GSH). It describes the community, physical campus and the surrounding area where it is located. The experience of treating military personnel suffering from combat-related mental illness during the 1940s led many psychiatrists to emphasize the social dimensions of mental disorder and to hypothesize that mentally ill civilians and veterans may best be treated outside of traditional mental institutions in their hometowns. This theory was implemented with the discovery of psychotropic drugs in the mid 1950s. By the early 1950s about 100,000 patients were housed in these asylums in New York State alone.

Since the 1600s, Seneca Indians occupied this region in western New York State. Farmers, tanners, fur trappers, and blacksmiths came to found the village of Collins in 1821. In 1894 the state of New York took back the title to 500 acres to construct a state hospital as a refuge for the "insane." About 100 buildings were erected. The GSH was completed because doctors thought that mental illness was the result of environmental factors and that disease, which was preventable, could become more serious without intervention. These beliefs gave rise to the Mental Hygiene Movement. The concept of mental hospitals also meant an escape from the larger society to farm animals, grow victory vegetable gardens, make wicker furniture and various folk arts and to return to a previous period that was totally agrarian. From 1946 to 1952 the census showed that a 4,000-bed capacity was filled at Gowanda. The doctors were Americans and immigrants with and without licenses to work in state hospitals. Several were from Germany and were themselves casualties of the war. The neighboring farmers, villagers, and Seneca were hired to work with patients as staff or orderlies. Therapy consisted of talk therapy, hydrotherapy, occupational therapy and other timely and available treatments for the mentally ill. All patients able of body and mind worked various jobs to support the whole community.

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