Historically, issues surrounding psychiatric care in the United States have produced crises of various kinds—perhaps nowhere more so than in the Deep South. Milledgeville, Georgia—featured in the literary works of authors such as Alice Walker, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers—is no exception. The antebellum state capitol, Milledgeville was also home to the state mental hospital, an institution founded in 1842 which eventually grew to become the largest mental hospital in the world. Fellow Mab Segrest, Fuller-Maathai Professor Emeritus of Gender and Women’s Studies at Connecticut College, is currently at work on a project that considers how the history of Georgia’s hospital reveals the intimate relationships between psychiatry and white settler colonialism.
In this podcast, Segrest discusses the social function of mental hospitals in the South. Questions of race, gender, and class underscore her methodology, revealing how psychiatry often was a “handmaiden” to white supremacist practices in the Jim Crow South, including lynching and the eugenics movement. At the nexus of U.S. psychiatry and the emergence of racism, the history of the Milledgeville asylum has broad and urgent implications for today’s mental health facilities and their treatment of patients.