Main Conent


Loss of autonomy and self-determination could be extreme in institutions.

thorazine photograph disability history america

In the 1950s, over half a million people with disabilities lived in institutions. The movement to release people into group homes or their own homes, begun in the 1970s, continues and is still controversial.

Physical restraint of disruptive and rebellious people and as punishment included straight jackets, shackles, and confinement in cells. Physicians used surgical interventions as well. Destruction of the prefrontal lobe, using a lobotomy knife, was a common procedure in the mid-20th century. Doctors also tried mechanical and chemical ways to “quiet” or re-direct brain activity, such as electroconvulsive shock and the repeated induction of insulin comas. Antipsychotic drugs, such as thorazine, developed in the 1950s radically changed treatment of people with mental illnesses. Thorazine and dozens of other pharmaceuticals slowly replaced older therapies and led to the closing of asylums in the 1970s.