Trenton Psychiatric Hospital: the “madhouse of horrors” in New Jersey
Founded on May 15, 1848, It was called New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, then it was renamed Trenton State Hospital and, after a few years, it took on the simplest name of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.
It is located in Trenton and Ewing, New Jersey, and this last name leaves no room for doubts about the intended use: it was a madhouse, but with lot of peculiarities surely not nice.
Not an asylum like many others in the world, it was the first structure built in the USA according to the guidelines studied by psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride, according to which the architectural conformation of buildings should have been the first element to ensure effective care. The main building consisted of accommodation for the staff, offices, chapel, kitchens, six female wards, six male wards and rooms to treating patients. The state decreed that no patient could stay any shorter than 6 months.
Under the Hospital’s first superintendent, Dr. Horace A. Buttolph, the hospital admitted and treated 86 patients, although it was subsequently expanded.
As often happens (and as the saying goes) the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This hospital, in fact, built with the specific intent to treat the mentally ill in the best possible way, has ended up going down in history as a madhouse of horrors.
In 1907, Dr. Henry Cotton became the medical director.
He tried an experimental program of care that, on the one hand, foresaw measures such as the employment of a greater number of nurses instead of means of constraint like the straitjackets, on the other, it was based on the mistaken belief that mental illness derived from some form of infection. So, believing that infections were the key to mental illness, he had his staff remove teeth and various other body parts that might become infected from the hospital patients.
According to this perspective, he removed also stomach parts and other internal organs, but in the worst cases also the uterus or the testicles. The means of time, with regard to surgery, determined the death of many patients, but Cotton continued to claim that his method was very effective….
In image below, Henry Cotton, at the top left corner, with the ice hockey team of the University of Maryland during the 1896–1897 season. Public demain.
A last curiosity: Cotton’s legacy of hundreds of fatalities and thousands of maimed and mutilated patients did not end with his leaving Trenton in 1930 or his death in 1933, because removal of patients’ teeth at the Trenton asylum was still the norm until 1960!