psychologically minded colleagues. The
emphasis on luxury combined with
the availability of the popular somatic
treatments, even in an institution created
by an “advanced” thinker like Sidis,
suggests that wealthy patients expected
a traditional, medical approach to
Sidis’s writings point to another
reason for physicians’ reluctance to
adopt a psychological approach to
themselves from any psychological
therapy because of its link to treatment
offered by the clergy, who had no
medical training. Sidis addressed this
issue in an article about his institute.
“Psychotherapy … is diametrically
opposed to the superstitious and anti-
scientific practices of lay healers and
non-medical practitioners. This point
cannot be too strongly emphasized,” he
Compared with the public hospitals,
where the gender ratio was almost even,
the small, private asylums, at least in
New England, cared for many more
women than men.
psychiatric disorders. At the end of the
19th century, psychology was linked to
the popular “mind cure movements,”
as William James called them, such as
the Christian Science Church and the
Emmanuel Movement. Mary Baker Eddy
founded the Christian Science Church,
which advocates prayer for healing
disease. The Emmanuel Movement also
had religious origins. Elwood Worcester
started that movement, offering lectures
for nervous patients. In an era when
medical practitioners were struggling
to establish a scientific footing for their
treatments, doctors may have distanced
Rich vs. poor
As the Sidis Institute illustrates, life in
the small, private asylums contrasted
sharply with conditions in the late
19th-century public institutions.
Patients at public hospitals were usually
involuntarily committed, and they
typically displayed violent or suicidal
behavior before their hospitalization.
The public hospitals were overcrowded
and dirty, with bars on the windows.
The staff was poorly paid and frequently
treated patients harshly. Given these
terrible conditions, well-to-do patients
used their wealth to take shelter in a
physician’s home and escape the fate
of the poor. Not surprisingly, the cost
of a private hospitalization was steep.
Sidis, for example, charged $50 to $100
and “upwards” a week ($50 would be
equivalent to roughly $1,000 today).
“Bills are payable in advance,” he
informed his prospective patients.