Alienist and Administrator

Superintendents |  Young Adventurer |  Medical Student and Practitioner
Alienist and Administrator |  Man of Letters |  Philosopher

Dr. R. Maurice Bucke's role as Medical Superintendent of the London Asylum for the Insane (LAI) contained an underlying tension, one reflected in the very naming of the position itself. As both an alienist and administrator, he faced the challenging task not only of providing patient care as a physician, but also of overseeing the day-to-day administrative affairs of the LAI.

Dr. Bucke's duties and responsibilities as an administrator were diverse and substantial, and they ranged from keeping statistical records to managing staffing issues. At the same time, the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities, to whom all Superintendents in Ontario were accountable, exerted considerable influence over the functioning of the LAI. In particular, he emphasized the need for asylums to adopt cost-effective strategies. The letters exchanged between the Inspector and the Superintendent reveal the amount of time which Dr. Bucke had to devote to administrative matters.

Late in the 19th century, these administrative preoccupations drew criticism from other medical professionals, who felt that asylum Superintendents were not contributing to the development of medical science. Alienists themselves recognized the need to legitimate their role as professionals in light of the advancements being made in other branches of medicine.

In the 1890s, Dr. Bucke, along with other superintendents in the province, rallied to have the title of their institution changed from asylum to hospital. Although the official name change did not occur until after Dr. Bucke's death, he and his colleagues were motivated by a desire to emphasize the active role of the alienist as physician, in place of the custodial one, which the term "asylum" had come increasingly to suggest.

Within this context, Dr. Bucke and Dr. Alfred Thomas Hobbs, a surgeon at the LAI, explored the possibility of gynaecological surgeries as a means not only of treating pelvic diseases in female patients, but also as a step towards promoting mental recovery. Between 1895 and 1901, such surgeries were performed on more than 200 women at the LAI.

By drawing on the advancements of modern surgery, Drs. Bucke and Hobbs were attempting to reinforce the legitimacy and expertise of psychological medicine. However, these operations generated controversy among medical professionals, some of whom openly criticized Dr. Bucke's methods. Following Dr. Hobb's retirement in December 1900 and Bucke's unexpected death in February 1902, such operations were largely discontinued.