Madness, mayhem in Maine explored in Union

Mar 21, 2014

Midcoast physician Dr. Richard Kahn, an enthusiastic medical historian and a UHS charter member, will give an illustrated presentation on early psychiatrists or "alienists" and the treatment of the mentally ill at the Union Historical Society meeting Wednesday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Robbins House on Union Common.

Dr. Kahn writes, "Madness and insanity is the topic of Chapter one of Jeremiah Barker's unpublished manuscript, "Diseases of the District of Maine," written between 1797-1820. The 55-page chapter was found separate from the other eight and was bound with several offprints on the care of the mentally ill, written by Dr. George Parkman.

With the orphan chapter is the following letter to Barker dated, Nov. 25, 1819: "Sir. If your History of diseases is to present anything on the subject of insanity, I should be gratified by the loan of that part of your M.S. which shall be returned without delay.


George Parkman"

Dr. George Parkman, one of America's early alienists, had studied under Philippe Pinel and Etienne Esquirol in France in 1811. He returned to Boston and wrote on and advocated for the care of mentally ill people; his enthusiastic encouragement would in part bring about the establishment of the McLean Asylum in 1818. The "Mass. Murder" in Kahn's title refers to Parkman's death at the hands of Harvard's professor of chemistry in 1849.

This presentation will draw on Barker's unpublished manuscript, casebooks, letters, cited contemporary literature, and the Portland-Parkman link to explore the medical and moral treatment of the mentally ill in the District of Maine from the 1770s to the 1820s.

Educated at Rutgers and Tufts Universities, Kahn has practiced as an internist in Knox County since 1972. Since 2010 he has served as the Senior Services Physician Specialist at Quarry Hill & Knox Skilled Nursing Facilities and Long-term Care Centers. He has a life-long interest in medical history and is a past president of the Maine Society for the History of Medicine and of the American Osler Society. Dr. and Mrs. Kahn were prominent founders of the Union Historical Society in 1972, and in the purchase and renovation of the Robbins House in 1975. In recent years they have lived in Tenants Harbor.

After the meeting refreshments will be served by hosts Sherry Cobb and Jan Cramer. All meetings of Union Historical Society are free and open to the public. For more information, call 785-5444 and leave a message.

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