Disability historian explores 'mad' people's history
Not until he was 27 did Geoffrey Reaume come out of the closet. The York critical disabilities and health ethics professor, now 44, disclosed to his thesis supervisor that he had been in a psychiatric hospital during his teens. It added credence to his proposal to do a PhD on life in a Toronto asylum – from the patients’ perspective.
Until Reaume came along, historians had documented life in asylums in Canada based solely on doctors’ points of view. Doctors’ accounts of patients "were grossly stereotypical," says Reaume, who also took offence at fellow historians who dismissed patients’ accounts of their asylum experience as rambling and semi-literate, who ignored their humanity. "It was insulting to call them that when they were just trying to express themselves," says the Faculty of Health professor. "That’s why I felt it was important to tell their stories."
He applied under the Freedom of Information Act for access to patients’ records at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane between 1870 and 1940. As he combed the medical files, he began unearthing the authentic voices of "mad" patients from snatches of conversation doctors and nurses had recorded in their notes, and patients’ letters confiscated by asylum staff. Gradually, he formed a picture of what daily life in an asylum was like from patients’ points of view. It was groundbreaking research and Oxford University Press Canada published his PhD thesis as a book, Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940, in 2000.
- Excerpt from article - York U.
Photo - Professor Geoffrey Reaume
Listen to an interview here
Chapter from one of his books
Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto
The Secret Handshake group (schizophrenia)
Mad Pride Week
Mad Pride Toronto