The Vermont Asylum for the Insane
The
Brattleboro Retreat
By Marge Howe

 

            The Vermont Asylum for the Insane was built in Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont, as an alternative to the harsh and seemingly inhumane treatment of these patients in the past.  The money for the original facility came from the will of Anna Marsh, who died October 14, 1834.  Warm, caring, respectful and moral treatment for the mentally ill was to be the hospital’s main intent.  The vision was to offer both a home and treatment hospital in a beautiful, calming setting.  Through the years, walking paths were created throughout the woodlands, patients were taken on daily outings, a farm was built to serve both as a means of food and work for those patients who could participate.  Dr’s and nurses were sought and hired who were to follow the guidelines of respect as well as the latest humane treatments that could be found.  The first patient was admitted on December 12, 1836.  Within nine months the Asylum had 48 patients.  The new construction built in 1841, was able to accommodate up to150 patients.  In 1886, after fifty years of operation, there were as many inmates as 450 at times. 

            Some patients came for just a few weeks or months, some lived out their lives at the Asylum.  When one looks at the places that the patients came from, through just the years 1836 to 1900, you can see that along with Vermonters, there were people from many places, ethnic backgrounds and all levels of society.  There were rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Americans and non-Americans.  

            As of 2005, the Brattleboro Retreat is still a vital part of the mental health system.  The name was changed officially to the Brattleboro Retreat on May 27, 1893, more suitable and dignified sounding than using the word “asylum.” Through the years the Asylum or Retreat as it is called has grown to be a well known and respected facility for treatment of many types of mental illness as well as rehabilitation.

            Several years ago, in changing with the times and the needs, Linden Lodge, a nursing home run by the Retreat for many years, was closed.  The new vision of the Retreat is more in times with health care today.  Although, still offering services for the mentally ill, they also treat, both as in and out patient, drug and alcohol addiction.  They run an on campus school for children and young adults who are unable for various reasons to attend public schools.  Through the years they have had many other programs such as rehabilitation for those who have been unable to live in society.  One of their visions in the past few years is to offer assisted living housing.  This has yet to happen. 

            The Retreat is still located at 75 Linden Street, it’s beautiful old and new brick buildings centered around lush expanses of lawns, trees and flowers. 

If anyone is interested in reading more about the history of the Brattleboro Asylum they are directed to the book:  Brattleboro Retreat, 150 Years of Caring, 1834 – 1984”  by Esther Munroe Swift and Mona Beach (The Book Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, 1984).  This book has been out of print; however, it can often be found at used book stores or on places like internet used book sites.  Also, contacting the Retreat may be helpful in finding the book.

Weblinks:

The Brattleboro Retreat Website

The Brattleboro Retreat (Vermont Asylum for the Insane)

In an Era of Great Change – The Vermont Asylum

 

            The book “Burials and Deaths at Vermont Asylum Later Known as the Brattleboro Retreat, 1837-1900” compiled by Marge Howe is a listing of known Retreat residents who died there.  It is part of an ongoing project to identify the names and burial locations of those who died at the asylum, many of whom have become lost souls with no burial markers. The book has 55 one-sided pages.  To order this book or contribute information to this project you may contact:   
Marge Howe

The Retreat is now and always was a private non profit organization.  It now works along with the Vermont Department of Health, but is not a part of it or the State of Vermont

 

 

 

BURIAL BASKET FOUND IN STORAGE AT THE BRATTLEBORO RETREAT WAS USED BY THE ASYLUM FOR BURIALS.  IT HAD A LIGHT BLUE PAINT WASHED OVER THE WICKER.  THIS AND ONE OTHER BURIAL BASKET WERE SOLD RECENTLY AT AUCTION.  OTHER BURIAL BASKETS HAVE BEEN FOUND ON WEB SITES.  THEY WERE POPULAR IN THE VICTORIAN ERA IN ENGLAND.

 

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Page Last Updated Friday, July 28, 2007