The History of the Vodskov Asylum 1915-1940

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Allan Skou Kristensen
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
This Master thesis concerns itself with the history of the Vodskov Asylum 1915-1940. The main reason for the selection of the paper’s field of study is that this particular asylum has not seen a previous source-based study. The thesis statement is “Overall, the objective of this thesis is to examine the history of the Vodskov Asylum in the period 1915-1940 and to shed light on this history in the context of the general history of Danish mental healthcare in the same period”. From this statement, three sub-sets of themes are then erected for individual examination. The first theme is the history of the asylum, the second theme is the patients and treatments, and the third and final theme is the doctors and the development in medical science. This thesis places itself methodically and analytically in the center of three central directions within the historic research, relevant for its themes. Borrowing from the methodical approach from the studies of the history of the handicapped, history of eugenics, and the historical application of the term deviant, this thesis analyzes material records from the regional archive “Landsarkivet for Nørrejylland”.

In the study of the history of the Vodskov Asylum three themes were dominant. The first one was the organizational and political reasoning behind the establishment of the asylum. Here the history of mental healthcare in Denmark was examined and it was found, that in spite of several expansions of mental healthcare institutions in the years preceding the founding of the Vodskov Asylum, there was need for a another asylum, and particularly one in North Jutland. Following a parliament debate, which mainly was concerned with the financial strain of building another asylum, legislation passed for the creation of a smaller asylum than was wanted by the mental healthcare organization although it was expected. This was the focus of the second theme. Expectations and promises for rapid annexes to the asylum were to be disappointed. Although both the doctor-warden and the board of directors clearly expected expansions, such were only built sporadically and small in size. Not until the end of the examined period were the 25 year old expectations met. The third theme concerned itself with the asylums operation. The doctor-warden and board had different areas of responsibility. While the board handled economical, administrative and logistical issues, the doctor handled the everyday operations of the asylum. They were both affected by prominent figures and ministerial decisions.

The second themed sub-set concerned itself with patients and treatments. Through scrutiny of several records the patients’ background was found to be almost entirely from the asylum’s designated hinterland. Age wise the majority were adults and the gender distribution was initially mostly female. With the expansion of the farm and children’s home, men and children caught up in numbers. Admission to the asylum was by way of a nomination to the board and approval by the doctor. Three different ways of admission into care were found: Placement in the asylum itself, family-care and home-care. Work tasks for female patients were predominantly of a domestic and nursing kind, while male patients worked mostly at the farm or in the surrounding woods. For all patients where the ever-present risk of contracting infectious diseases and death was not an uncommon sight. Doctors designated two types of patients: The able-bodied and the care-demanding. Treatment of the patients lied primarily in upbringing the able-bodied patients in such a manner that they recognized their placement in society and so reliable in their work, that they could be released into family-care. This was common practice both nationally and in Vodskov due to the 1933 Social Reform law, which pressured an already strained asylum-system with more patients than it could handle. The prerequisite of release was sterilization, which the third sub-set is about.

The last theme was the doctors and the development in medical science. Through an examination of the mentality towards mentally handicapped and legislation of eugenics in Denmark in the period, it was found that the asylum’s doctors all were trained and operated in an era of eugenics. The doctors’ backgrounds all originated from other Danish asylums and all had an interest in eugenics. In the patient records it was found that the primary focus was on the patients’ mental constitution and their ability to perform manual tasks. With manual tasks in focus and an ultimate goal of release to family-care for the best functioning patients, sterilization came into practice after the 1934-legislation. In the scrutiny of sterilization cases from Vodskov it was found that in some cases only eugenic reasoning was given, although most cases drew in a mixture of social, economic and societal factors. Especially feared was the lack of sexual moderation doctors reckoned patients had. When compared it was found that the Vodskov sterilization cases had a large resemblance to national results.

The Vodskov Asylum was a small asylum in a national context, but for the inhabitants – patients, staff, doctors and board - it was the center of focus for their lives.
Publication date1 Aug 2014
Number of pages78
ID: 201892810