|Description||The Society for Improving the Conditions of the Insane was founded by Sir Alexander Morison in 1842, with the patronage of the Earl of Shaftesbury. The initial leaflet lists sixteen members, and announces a programme of monthly meetings in London in winter and spring, and an annual essay competition 'on subjects connected with the treatment of insanity, and with the management of hospitals and asylums for the insane.' The Society also aimed to improve the care of the insane by 'increasing the education and raising the character' of these immediately concerned with them: the attendants and keepers who were the equivalent of today's psychiatric nurses. Society members subscribed to a fund to provide essay prizes, and for 'bestowing rewards on meritorious attendants.' It was also proposed to set up an Attendants' Friendly Society, to assist them 'in making a provision for sickness and old age.' By 1844 there were already forty members and seventeen subscribers to the Friendly Society. |
There are records of the Society's annual essay competition from 1843 until 1853. Essays were invited on specific subjects, submitted under a pseudonym, and the best awarded a prize of twenty or thirty guineas. Members also contributed occasional papers which were read at meetings. In 1850 a selection of papers and prize essays was published, including a paper defending the use of moderate and occasional restraint by John Haslam (1764-1844) a prolific writer on insanity. Others are on subjects such as criminal insanity, puerperal insanity and lucid intervals. In 1853, the prize for an essay on 'The progressive changes which have taken place since the time of Pinel in the moral management of the insane and the various contrivances which have been adopted instead of mechanical restraint' was won by Daniel Hack Tuke (1827-1895), great-grandson of William Tuke, assistant medical officer to the York Retreat, later to become a well-known writer on mental illness, an editor of the Journal of Mental Science and a governor of Bethlem.
The Society's papers include a number of reports and brochures for asylums around the country. Other documents, either the property of the Society or Morison's personal papers kept with them, include case histories and notes on patients, some of whom were referred to him for his opinion on their state of mind or advice about treatment, and some miscellaneous notes or reprints of papers on subjects connected with mental illness.
The Society's numbers gradually dwindled. A report of 1858 lists only twenty-seven members and gives the names of nineteen who were then deceased. No essay prizes seem to have been awarded after 1853, although the minutes continued to record awards to attendants. In August 1865 the last meeting was held, unusually, at Morison's Scottish home of Balerno Hill House, near Edinburgh. Many of the founding members had died, and numbers stood at only eight. When the Society disbanded, an investment fund was established and the College took over administration of the awards.
[Source: Papers of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Insane by Joy Pitman, Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 1994]
Contents: Minutes, 1842-1865; rules and reports, 1842-1858; correspondence, 1842-1864; financial records 1842-1939; papers relating to awards to asylum attendants, 1842-1865; papers relating to the essay competition, 1843-1857; legal and medical cases collected by the Society, c1800-1857; papers of Sir Alexander Morison, c1809-1844; reports by various asylums, 1783-1864