Mental Health & Alcoholism in the 1880s

One of the important themes to look at in this week’s discussion is psychology. The mental state of Harrison may be an important factor in this case. It is important to know some background on psychology in a global perspective of how it was viewed and how advanced it may have been at the time. This murder took place in the 1880s and at this time in history there were many advances in psychology happening. At a slightly earlier point in history during the 1840s a woman by the name of Dorthea Dix began research in the Boston area on the treatment of mentally ill patients in mental hospitals, where she discovered many were chained to their beds and kept in filth (DM Bourneville). She goes on to fight for improvements in the system for the mentally ill and improving the conditions in which they live and the treatment they receive. In 1879 Wilhem Wundt created the first lab dedicated solely to psychological research in Leipeg, Germany (History of Psychology).  Dix and Wundt can be seen as pioneers when it comes to further improvements and discoveries being made to help the lives of those with mental illness. A man named Emil Kraepelin was in 1883 also making large advances in diagnosing mentally ill people. He was the first to label people and diagnose them with what is today known as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Science Museum). This is important to note in how people may have been being newly diagnosed with these disorders and then also being treated with psychiatric meds after Kraepelin founds pharmaco psychology (Science Museum). People during the 1880s at this time in history could now be diagnosed with these labels and treated with psychiatric medication if deemed necessary.

Psychology is an important aspect of this case, Harrison, the killer, may or may not have been ordered to be sent to a mental hospital of some sort. This information can be supported by article six in the first section of our dossier, in one of the Hartford Courant articles. The article states, “Harrison has had four wives die in Hartford” (Hartford Courant). The article also then goes on to state that, “in 1881 Harrison himself was receiving aid from the town, and was given as an order to go to the hospital, but he failed to report to that institution” (Hartford Courant). These facts are interesting to note after it has been shown after the murder of Ada Brown that he clearly is a violent man, and the cause of his wives deaths may be related to this anger he has, which may be the symptom of a mental illness that he may be dealing with. Harrison could be more of a serial killer with previous reasons to go and an order to go to a mental institution. According to a separate article from the Hartford Courant from June 10th, 1873 the causes of most people in mental hospitals in Connecticut was things such as tobacco, physical illness, issues with money, and religious causes (Mental Insanity in Connecticut). This same article also says that men and women have been sent to the hospital for matter of the heart and insanity connected with affections (Mental Insanity in Connecticut). This idea of men and women sent to the hospital over matters of love and affections may lead to the idea that Harrison kills women in crimes of passion, as one could conclude that the murder of Ada Brown was over jealousy issues.

Research shows that in the late 1800’s, alcoholism was shown more in the working class and the upper class than the lower class (Philips 173-174). Although it is not sure which class consumed more, it is apparent that alcohol consumption was becoming a regular thing for those who could afford it (Philips 177). Since the upper class had more money and could afford healthier meals, those who were heavy drinkers could “avoid binge-drinking” (Philips 177). The working class on the other hand, did not always have the money for healthier foods and were found to have more “likely to manifest… diseases of the liver” (Philips 177). Mental illness has also been linked to over consuming alcohol (Hartford Courant). According to Dr. Simmons, “alcoholism was first touched on, associated, as it always is, with nervous conditions” (Hartford Courant). This shows that alcoholism is linked with mental illness. In the case of Harrison, I believe that his alcoholism had worsen over time, which may have led to the death of his previous four wives. I also believe that since Ada had a fling with Gregory, Harrison was very jealous so he killed her out of rage, leading to this crime of passion taking place that night.


-Jess & Brenna


Phillips, Roderick. Alcohol: A History. N.p.: U of North Carolina, 2014. Print.


“History of Patent Medicine.” Hagley Museum and Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.


“Mental Treatment in Nervous Cases.” ProQuest. Hartford Courant, 14 Aug. 1902. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.


“History of Psychology.” – New World Encyclopedia. New World Encylopedia, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

By D.M. Bourneville and P. Régnard [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons. “History of Mental Health Treatment | Dual Diagnosis.” Dual Diagnosis. Foundations Recovery Network, 2016. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

“Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine.” Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926). N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

MENTAL INSANITY IN CONNECTICUT. (1873, Jun 10). Hartford Daily Courant (1840-1887)

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