The Foxborough Experiment: Medicalizing inebriety at the Massachusetts Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates, 1833-1919

Sarah Whitney Tracy, University of Pennsylvania


This disseration is an historical case study of the late nineteenth-century attempt to medicalize alcoholism in America. The study focusses on the Massachusetts Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates, founded in Foxborough, Mass. in 1893 and closed with the passage of Prohibition in 1919. Foxborough Hospital was the pre-eminent inebriate institution of its day, serving as the model for inebriate reformation programs nationwide. By the end of the nineteenth century, inebriety was seen as a serious social problem. The traditional social welfare institutions that dealt with inebriates, the jail and the insane hospital, moreover, had proven ineffective in helping habitual drunkards remain sober. The inebriate hospital was one of a second generation of social welfare institutions medical and social welfare experts founded to deal with the expanding deviant ranks. The first chapter of the dissertation traces the conceptual transformation from "intemperance" to "inebriety," to "dipsomania," and discusses the policy implications of each conception of habitual drunkenness. The second chapter examines the ways in which doctors at Foxborough operationalized an understanding of inebriety as temporary insanity, or diposomania, and the unintended consequences of their efforts. The third chapter explores the ways in which patients at the MHDI rebelled, objecting to their treatment under such a disease framework. The fourth chapter looks at the hospital's attempts to operationalize a broader medical-social definition of inebriety from the perspective of the hospital's administrators. And the fifth chapter focusses on the patients at MHDI to see how they made sense of their treatment under this new therapeutic rubric. Ironically, the hospital seemed most effective when doctors had the least centralized authority and defined the disease they were treating in broad social and economic terms.

Subject Area

American history|Science history|Welfare

Recommended Citation

Tracy, Sarah Whitney, "The Foxborough Experiment: Medicalizing inebriety at the Massachusetts Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates, 1833-1919" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9308672.