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Demography and Social Epidemiology of Admissions to the Colorado Insane Asylum, 1879–1899

  • Ann L. Magennis and Michael G. Lacy

This paper analyzes admissions to the Colorado Insane Asylum from 1879 to 1900. We estimate and compare admission rates across sex, age, marital, occupation, and immigration status using original admission records in combination with US census data from 1870 to1900. We show the extent to which persons in various status groups, who varied in power and social advantage, differed in their risk of being institutionalized in the context of nineteenth-century Colorado. Our analysis showed that admission or commitment to the Asylum did not entail permanent incarceration, as more than half of those admitted were discharged within six months. Men were admitted at higher rates than women, even after adjusting for age. Marital status also affected the risk of admission; single and divorced persons were admitted at about 1.5 times the rate of their married counterparts. Widows of either sex were even more likely to be admitted to the Asylum, and the risk increased with age. Persons in lower income/lower prestige occupations were more likely to be institutionalized. This included occupations in the domestic and personal service category in the US census, and this was evident for both males and females. Foreign-born men and women were admitted at, respectively, twice and three times the rate of their native counterparts, with particularly elevated rates observed among the Irish. In general, admission to the Colorado Insane Asylum appears to differ only in a slightly greater admission of males when compared to similar contemporaneous institutions in the East, despite the obvious differences in the Colorado population size and urban concentration.

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Social Science History
  • ISSN: 0145-5532
  • EISSN: 1527-8034
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