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Mental Disability in Victorian EnglandThe Earlswood Asylum 1847-1901$
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David Wright

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199246397

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199246397.001.0001

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The State and Mental Disability

The State and Mental Disability

(p.11) 1 The State and Mental Disability
Mental Disability in Victorian England


Oxford University Press

In Victorian England, the Old Poor Law did not function as a unitary system: its implementation varied according to the problems, priorities, and wealth of each of more than 10,000 parishes. However, by the end of the 18th century certain patterns of parochial care and accommodation were beginning to emerge as officials dealt more frequently with those suffering from mental disability: idiots or imbeciles. By retaining individuals in workhouses, the Poor Law Guardians were saving enormously on the costs of formal institutional confinement. A confluence of cultural, medical, and charitable forces by the early Victorian period left idiot children as a constituency without a home. County lunatic asylums were concentrating their limited resources on violent and incurable adult lunatics, and were being increasingly seen as an inappropriate locus of care for idiot children. Meanwhile, the cultural status of children's charities was on the rise. Orphan asylums had been established in the early decades of the 19th century, and childhood was becoming identified as central to new bourgeois configurations of family.

Keywords:   Old Poor Law, mental disability, workhouses, children, lunatic asylums, charities, idiots, imbeciles

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