Document Type



The maltreatment of the working class and immigrants was quite prominent throughout the Gilded Age of the United States. The endless capitalist desires of a growing industrial nation often left American laborers at the mercy of corporations and businessmen. Workers endured strenuous labor, hazardous work environments, and unjust management; yet, earned barely enough money to pay for their rent, let alone food and other necessities. Immigrants flooded the country with hopes of securing profit for their relatives back home, only to encounter inhumane working conditions and prejudice from nativists. As the distribution of wealth between laborers and the middle and upper classes grew, so did the belief that several factors other than socioeconomic status contributed to poverty. Increasingly, Americans viewed poverty as a result of ethnic or biological inferiority and coincided with the rising perspective that poverty was an unavoidable destiny for certain individuals—a concept eventually labeled as “Social Darwinism.” This growing acceptance in Social Darwinism played out in many fields, one of which was increasing focus on mental fitness. At the center of this was the emergence of large, state-based mental health facilities, known at the time as insane asylums.



Thesis Comittee

Dr. Brian J. Payne, Thesis Advisor
Dr. Margaret A. Lowe, Committee Member
Dr. Thomas G. Nester, Committee Member