California and the Search for Medical Legitimacy, 1850-1880

The New York Academy of Medicine

Tuesday, August 2, 2022 4:00 pm EDT

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In 1850, just after achieving statehood, California set out to create its first state institution for the disabled and mentally ill. Over the ensuing decades, it built one of the largest statewide system of asylums and mental hospitals in the United States. California embraced mainstream ideas about the care of the mentally ill and disabled as part of a larger quest for legitimacy, driven by the state’s doctors and by California’s need to prove itself a state with enough power and resources to create for its residents the kinds of structures of care seen in older, wealthier states and countries. By replicating the structures of care found elsewhere, the state of California thus simultaneously positioned itself as a major player in American medicine and as the single biggest arbiter on the care of mentally ill and disabled Californians for the next century.