A BarksBeachesBooks Review
Welcome to my stop on the TLC Book Blog Tour for Administrations of Lunacy by Mab Segrest.
First things first, this book IS haunting. But unlike the title suggests, it is NOT a ghost story except in the sense of drawing out the history of the ghosts of our ancestors and how completely they wrecked psychiatry from the beginning for women and, especially, African Americans.
This is a rough and infuriating read about how the first white settlers in America used psychiatry to control women and people of color by extreme methods in the asylum as well as banning and refusing treatment to those deemed unable to have mental health issues outside of the asylum due to skin color.
Honestly, I was disgusted reading this and that is the entire point. We had so many chances to make a great mental health care system from the *literal* beginning, especially considering the fact that the first asylums were actually copied off the ones in Europe. The problem? The picking and choosing which parts to copied. If it was beneficial to white men (their own mental health, ridding them of wives and family members that were burdening them, power) then it was brought into the American asylum model. Was it beneficial to women and, again especially, to African Americans? Then it was disregarded.
It was a very hard read to get through seeing instance after instance after instance of people being thrown away or killed (because let’s be honest, MANY people died in these asylums) all for the benefit of white men rising to power. That being said, while a tough read, it is an EXTREMELY important read. Talk about history class omissions.
Here’s the thing about the book, the beginning is a lot of guessing about feelings (perhaps she thought, maybe he felt) which I didn’t care for. However, this quickly stops (and does serve a purpose) and as you continue through the book you see how even the smallest, most unlikely character (sometimes without even a name attached due to poor historical recording) ties into the stories of all and to the entire asylum scheme that still bleeds into psychiatry today. This reads like a textbook so don’t expect a fast-paced thriller, but do expect to take breaks because you will need them.
*Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Mab Segrest for providing my copy to read and review.*
About Administrations of Lunacy
• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: The New Press (April 14, 2020)
A scathing and original look at the racist origins of psychiatry, through the story of the largest mental institution in the world
Today, 90 percent of psychiatric beds are located in jails and prisons across the United States, institutions that confine disproportionate numbers of African Americans. After more than a decade of research, the celebrated scholar and activist Mab Segrest locates the deep historical roots of this startling fact, turning her sights on a long-forgotten cauldron of racial ideology: the state mental asylum system in which psychiatry was born and whose influences extend into our troubled present.
In December 1841, the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum was founded. A hundred years later, it had become the largest insane asylum in the world with over ten thousand patients. Administrations of Lunacy tells the story of this iconic and infamous southern institution, a history that was all but erased from popular memory and within the psychiatric profession.
Through riveting accounts of historical characters, Segrest reveals how modern psychiatric practice was forged in the traumas of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. Deftly connecting this history to the modern era, Segrest then shows how a single asylum helped set the stage for the eugenics theories of the twentieth century and the persistent racial ideologies of our own times. She also traces the connections to today’s dissident psychiatric practices that offer sanity and create justice.
A landmark of scholarship, Administrationsof Lunacy restores a vital thread between past and present, revealing the tangled racial roots of psychiatry in America.
Purchase: Bookshop.org Amazon Barnes & Noble
Author, Mab Segrest
Mab Segrest is professor emeritus of gender and women’s studies at Connecticut College and the author of Administrations of Lunacy and Memoir of a Race Traitor (both from The New Press). A longtime activist in social justice movements and a past fellow at the National Humanities Center, she lives in Durham, North Carolina. Photo by Laura Flanders