The Wisconsin system, and a few sketchy notes.

24th October, 2021

The Wisconsin System, and a few sketchy notes.


I’ve started listening to ‘Innocent Blood’ by P. D. James last night/this morning…. I’ve listened to eight chapters, very enjoyable (and educational ) so far. I’m slowly absorbing the first Lord of the Rings book.

As I’ve been slowly becoming  familiar with the history of Belgium I’ve noticed that there is a village in Wisconsin called Belgium. It led to a few online searches, I didn’t really find what I was hoping to.. I won;t drone on about that.

Much Insanity reform was taking place around the world during the middle-to- end of the nineteenth century, several doctors refer to the ‘Wisconsin system’ when looking at ways to deal with the problem of the insane in the most cost-effective way without resorting to the increasingly frowned upon methods which include manacles, chains etc..

I’m going to spend a few minutes copying from the twenty page booklet, paper or whatever it’s called:

‘Wisconsin County Asylums For The Chronic Insane: A paper read at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections.’  (1896)

by James E. Heg.


Certain facts have been established beyond a doubt in what is known as the “Wisconsin system,” or county care of the insane under state supervision. They rest upon no hypothesis nor course of reasoning. They have gone into history and no attempt is made by any fair-minded or well informed man to contradict or question them even. It is upon these that we must rely, rather than suppositions, or theories, or wishes and the like.. No clever hypotheses, no imposing array of venerable opinions, no plausibly constructed arguments, no abstruse scientific deductions may serve as a substitute for actual knowledge.

Disclaiming any professional knowledge in the care of the insane, and therefore unable to present plausible arguments or dogmatic theories on the subject, it will be all the more necessary for me to confine my statements entirely to facts that I know and about things I have seen. I shall speak only of the county care of the insane as understood in Wisconsin. Whether its success in Wisconsin is due to special laws or other causes not found elsewhere, I do not feel qualified to say, but its success has been demonstrated by fifteen years and the system is now a permanent institution of the state, which few would want to change.

The most humane and generous care of the insane, compatible with that economy rightly due to the tax payers, is the problem vexing the philanthropic mind nearly everywhere to-day and if county care as exemplified in the  Wisconsin system is not a complete solution of the question, it comes nearer to it than any plan yet devised and proved.

This system rests upon two principles, Economy and Humanity, the true basic principles for the care of all our defective, delinquent and dependant classes. The present Wisconsin method of managing the insane was devised sixteen years ago by the State Board of Charities, now called Board of Control. In 1880, that board found its jails and poorhouses scattered throughout the state, 533 insane, crowded out of the hospitals, through the large northern hospital hospital had been built only six years previously. The state hospitals were so overfilled that a new case could be received only by sending away an old one. Reports from many states show that the same condition of affairs exists to-day in nearly every state in the Union. Insanity increases much more rapidly than the ability of people to pay for the erection of the expensive and pretentious palaces in which from 500 to 2,700 unfortunates can be herded and which cost from $1,000 to $2,500 per capita for the accommodations provided. Legislatures generally find so many needed avenues for the people’s hard earned money that they cannot be blamed for not realizing as acutely as those who have immediate care of the insane, the great increase of people with minds diseased. In every state is heard an urgent cry for more hospital capacity, but alas, in how few of them is the cry heeded and relief given!

In the report of the Indiana conference of charities for 1895, the statement is made by Dr. S. E. Smith, in an argument for the state care of the insane, that there are about 700 insane in that state, “worthy of hospital care and treatment, yet denied this aid because the state has not made its accommodations keep pace with the needs.”   In a recent report of the Ohio board of charities the statement is made that in November 1895, there were 1,422 insane in the county infirmaries or poor-houses of Ohio, the condition of whom was reported as truly pitiable. From a late report from New Jersey, made by the able secretary of the state board, Mrs. Williamson, we notice that 189 insane are kept in almshouses and a loud call for a reform in this line is made. The report of nearly every state we have been able to examine is of similar character or even worse, and this shows that state care of the insane does not mean the care of all the insane.”

I will leave that there.. I think this paper contains an abundance of useful information… and I’m confident that in the future, once I’ve become acquainted with the history of the insane in Wisconsin, Belgium, and a few other states/countries I haven’t decided upon yet, I will have digested enough knowledge to comfortably tackle the ultimate task of making sense of the history of the insane in the Britain, Ireland and the British Empire .. I want to become particularly well read on the period of time roughly  1830 to 1969. This might take many years… This is a sort of hobby I suppose, something that will simmer under the surface of every thing I do or fail to do for the rest of my life.

I have read enough in recent times to be certain that the closing down of asylums was a massive error of judgment. If the asylums had been maintained, and *reformed* at least once in a generation, then ideas like care in the community or whatever could have been incorporated alongside established institutions…

I think similar thoughts about schools.  I have had a very patchy smd incomplete schooling experience in my youth,  as I look at the modern history of education in Britain, I can’t work out yet if my lack of a formal education is going to be an advantage or not. The fact that I didn’t reach further than fourth year might not be such a bad thing. It could be because my mind has not been polluted by bad teaching methods, ideologies etc that I’ve heard are rife in sixth forms and universities etc.. it means I might have fresh eyes to be able to see things that the well educated might be blind to. On the other hand I am bound to be at a massive disadvantage because my youthful mind was not enriched by the brilliant poetry and literature and all the other fantastic things a young pupil and student has access to.

From my very limited knowledge so far about schools, I cannot understand why the idea of Grammars, Technical and Modern secondaries were abandoned. I think that the idea  comprehensive schools could and probably should have been added to the options available. Or at least (I can’t remember the right terms off the top of my head).. Multi-lateral schools .. or bi-lateral schools might have made sense in some areas of England and Wales…

Things could have “evolved” by now, some grammars could have been twinned with the moderns or the technical schools.. Maybe sports academies could have been created in most towns, where the best at sports in all the schools could have got together at the weekends, or a couple of times a week after school.. So lots of pupils with different academic abilities could mix together in a healthy way.. Something similar with musics and the arts.. These thoughts are all a bit sketchy.. I am just absolutely gobsmacked when I look at the state of things today .. I obviously don’t really know all that much.. but it seems to me that the supposedly most intelligent people in England , or at the least the leaders, the most powerful people, the most influential people have really messed things up in the last 50 years or so. What were they thinking?  Have the intellectuals, and intelligentsia in general in England got a long history of being stupid?

I don’t claim I’m not stupid. But the more I learn, the less  anything makes sense.


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