“A Gentleman would not like it”: The History of Restraint in Mental Health Care

at Exeter Hall, Kidlington

by Sarah Chaney; this talk commences at 8:00pm. If Exeter Hall is not open, the talk will take place via Zoom.

When we picture a Victorian “Lunatic Asylum”, an image that tends to spring to mind is that horror film staple, the strait-jacket. Few people are aware that the “non-restraint” movement in England and Wales meant that all restraining garments, straps or chains largely disappeared from public asylums for a half-century. By the early 1850s, all asylums in England and Wales were claiming to follow the non-restraint system. This development is significant, because it complicates the widespread assumption that changes in mental health care must necessarily be progressive: if you encounter a strait-jacket in a museum collection, it is more likely to be a twentieth-century garment than a Victorian one. The arguments raised throughout the debate also highlight other issues in mental health: the changing role and status of mental health nurses, concerns about “chemical restraint” with drugs and the legal status of the mentally ill. In this talk, the speaker outlines the history of restraint in Victorian asylums, along with associated ideas such as moral treatment and care, and explores some of the myths and misconceptions that remain widespread today.

Sarah Chaney is a part-time researcher on the “Living With Feeling” project in the Centre for the History of the Emotions, exploring compassion and nursing. She completed her PhD at University College London in 2013, focusing on self-injury in late Victorian asylums. Her background is in public engagement, and she also works as exhibitions and events manager at the Royal College of Nursing.

We hope to meet at the Exeter Hall, Oxford Road, Kidlington, OX5 1AB, with the talk starting at 8:00pm. Doors open at 7:15pm, when there will be advisors offering computer and genealogy help. Tea and coffee will be available. Non-members are very welcome, though we have a charge of £2 as an entrance fee for them to contribute towards the hire of the hall and the costs of speakers.

If this is not possible because of COVID-19, the talk will be conducted via Zoom. OFHS members will be contacted in advance if this is the case.

A summary of most talks will appear after an interval in the Members area of the OFHS website. Summaries of previous talks are also available in the same place. If Zoom is used and the speaker agrees, the talk will be recorded and placed in the Members area of the website.

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