Superintendents in the Developing Years of Mental Health Care in London Ontario

Main building,circa 1900. RMHCL

Superintendent’s office sign, circa 1900. RMHCL
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Superintendents were the chief administrators and the senior medical personnel at asylums established in Ontario in the late 1800s. Their responsibilities were immense. The Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities, the ministry to which asylums first belonged, closely scrutinized their work. The Inspector was enormously influential in asylum governance and administration, visiting and assessing the conditions of these institutions and the work of the Superintendents across the province. The surviving archival records indicate that the administration of the institution occupied the greatest percentage of the superintendents' time leaving much less for their professional duties.

In 1927, thirteen duty categories formally established the full scope of the superintendents' responsibilities, thereafter styled Medical Director. As chief administrator and director of the asylum they managed and administrated personnel, medical and dental service, training schools for nurses, occupational therapy, maintenance, dietetics, equipment and facilities, intensive medical study of all patients, medical equipment, and in any matter not under the jurisdiction of the Director of Medical Services, "he shall be responsible directly to the Minister" of Health.

All of the superintendents from 1870 to 1970 were trained medical doctors; thereafter the areas of administration and treatment were separated. Their biographies reflect a time when enormous responsibilities were assumed by the superintendent, of medical leaders seeking solutions to perennial illnesses before the advance of medical knowledge. Their credentials, impressive of themselves, are indicative of their energy and devotion to the cause of mental health. The majority of these men died while serving as superintendents. Vigorous in their pursuit of answers to mental illnes they contributed to their field of medical knowledge, they served their fellow citizens in war and experienced life inside and outside the former asylum. Immersed in the asylum world, theirs was an exceptional experience in medical care giving.

Note: This website represents the history of the London asylum from 1870 to 1940. In total there were eight men who fulfilled the role of superintendent in the first one hundred years of the London Hospital. The biographies of Dr. Archibald McCausland and Dr. Douglas N. Wickware are provided to encompass the first one hundred years of mental health care in London, Ontario

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