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Alcoholism in America

From Reconstruction to Prohibition

Sarah W. Tracy

Publication Year: 2005

Despite the lack of medical consensus regarding alcoholism as a disease, many people readily accept the concept of addiction as a clinical as well as a social disorder. An alcoholic is a victim of social circumstance and genetic destiny. Although one might imagine that this dual approach is a reflection of today's enlightened and sympathetic society, historian Sarah Tracy discovers that efforts to medicalize alcoholism are anything but new. Alcoholism in America tells the story of physicians, politicians, court officials, and families struggling to address the danger of excessive alcohol consumption at the turn of the century. Beginning with the formation of the American Association for the Cure of Inebriates in 1870 and concluding with the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, this study examines the effect of the disease concept on individual drinkers and their families and friends, as well as the ongoing battle between policymakers and the professional medical community for jurisdiction over alcohol problems. Tracy captures the complexity of the political, professional, and social negotiations that have characterized the alcoholism field both yesterday and today. Tracy weaves American medical history, social history, and the sociology of knowledge into a narrative that probes the connections among reform movements, social welfare policy, the specialization of medicine, and the social construction of disease. Her insights will engage all those interested in America's historic and current battles with addiction.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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pp. ix-xvii

There is a personal story behind my choosing to study the history of alcoholism, but it does not involve alcohol. At times I have wished that I had a more direct connection, rationalizing that I might have finished the book earlier had I been propelled by the immediacy of the problem in my own life. But the truth is that the more I have learned about the history of alcoholism—and its present state—the more...


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pp. xix-xxiii


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pp. 1-24

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1 Disease Concept(s) of Inebriety

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pp. 25-62

On the eve of the U.S. Centennial, the American Medical Association convened in Philadelphia, where founder of the American temperance movement Benjamin Rush had signed the Declaration of Independence. It was 6 June 1876, and members of the AMA Section on Public Hygiene and State Medicine gathered at the Horticultural Hall of the Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park to discuss, among...

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2 Cultural Framing of Inebriety

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pp. 63-91

The physicians who described habitual drunkenness in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era wrote about it in cultural as well as medical terms. They saw inebriety as a disease of modern civilization, much as George Miller Beard had described neurasthenia or modern nervousness. Modern industrial society’s frenzied pace, urbanization, immigration, and changing gender roles all posed obstacles to sobriety...

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3 Institutional Solutions for Inebriety

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pp. 92-121

In mid-September 1913, reformed inebriate Thomas Rand returned to New York City from a three-day excursion to Massachusetts. On his trip, Rand had stopped in to see his remaining friends and staff members at the state inebriate hospital in Foxborough. He had also visited his old hometown of Randolph. Upon his return to Manhattan, Rand penned a letter to hospital superintendent Irwin Neff...

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4 Public Inebriate Hospitals and Farm Colonies

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pp. 122-146

New York City, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Minnesota all chartered hospitals and farm colonies for inebriates. In California, however, a rapidly growing population with no shortage of mentally ill citizens led the board of trustees of the new Southern California State Asylum for Inebriates and Insane to change the institution’s charter to accommodate only the insane even before the facility...

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5 The “Foxborough Experiment”

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pp. 147-195

On the sixth of February 1893, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts opened its Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates at Foxborough. Situated on eighty-six acres of farmland just twenty-five miles southwest of Boston, this new medical facility was to provide a more humane and effective alternative to the unsatisfactory solutions already in place for the Bay State’s habitual drunkards: the jail and the...

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6 Building a Boozatorium

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pp. 196-225

From his room in the State Hospital for Inebriates at Knoxville, businessman and patient Ed Harris penned his request for “parole” to Iowa governor William Harding. It was January 1917, and Harris, who had spent several weeks in the state “jaghouse,” claimed to have “finished taking the treatment.” As evidence for his rapid...

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7 On the Vice and Disease of Inebriety

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pp. 226-272

Throughout the nineteenth century, scores of habitual drunkards wrote about their experiences with alcohol and their return to sobriety through various means. Published as temperance tracts, these narratives constituted a popular literary genre. As Elaine Parsons recently observed, “All Americans, not just those who particularly cared about temperance reform, knew the standard generic elements of the story of the drunkard’s...

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pp. 273-291

In 1945, a quarter of a century after the Norfolk State Hospital had closed its doors and a dozen years after the repeal of national Prohibition, the Special Commission to Investigate the Problem of Drunkenness in Massachusetts reported: “It may seem ironical that at the conclusion of this study our thoughts and recommendations finally have become crystallized along the same general trends which repeatedly have...


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pp. 292-346


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pp. 347-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891670
E-ISBN-10: 0801891671
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886201
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886201

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2005