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American Medical Biographies/Woodward, Samuel Bayard

Woodward, Samuel Bayard (1787–1850)

Samuel B. Woodward, alienist and advocate of more humane methods in the treatment of the insane, was the son of Dr. Samuel Woodward of Torringford, Conn., where he was born June 10, 1787, and he was a descendant of Henry Woodward, himself a physician, who emigrated from England in 1635, and settled in Dorchester. Massachusetts, afterwards removing to Northampton. Samuel studied medicine with his father and received a license to practise from the Connecticut Medical Society in 1809. In 1810 he removed to Wethersfield, where he remained in active practice until 1832, receiving the honorary degree of M. D. from Yale College in 1822, and being for the last five years of his residence physician to the Connecticut State Prison. He was one of the "examiners" of the Yale Medical School and was offered a position on the faculty, but declined.

His observation of insane convicts, and his knowledge of the miserable existence eked out by the many helpless lunatics and idiots in the various prisons and almshouses of the state, caused trim to take an active part in efforts to provide adequate care for these unfortunates, and it is said that he travelled all over the State in his "gig" urging the establishment of what was later known as the Hartford Retreat for the Insane. In 1880 he was elected to the Connecticut State senate in furtherance of this object, and after the establishment of the "Retreat" was made one of the "visitors" and a director of that institution.

His interest in the subject became by these activities so well known, that, on the advice of Dr. Todd (q.v.), superintendent of the Retreat, he was in 1832 chosen by the trustees of the new hospital in Worcester, of which Horace Mann was the chairman, to take charge of that institution. He remained here as superintendent until 1846, when, broken in health, he resigned and removed to Northampton, where he died as the result of the rupture of an aortic aneurysm, four years later, Jan. 3, 1850, at the age of sixty-three.

The Hospital at Worcester was the first hospital in the State, and, indeed, one of the first in the country built to care for the indigent insane. Established, as the Act read, to care for those "furiously mad," its early patients were truly a select class, gathered from almshouses and prisons, where many of them had remained uncared for during long periods of time. So great was the improvement in these almost hopeless cases, some of whom had been chained for years, others lying naked on straw in unheated rooms, that an enthusiast, like Dr. Woodward, became convinced that practically all insane patients could be cured, if properly cared for, and his reports show an optimism which further experience proved to be too far reaching.

Occupation for institution inmates, the value of which is so thoroughly recognized at the present time, was instituted by him in 1832. His wife taught classes in sewing and knitting, and the spinning wheels used at the time are in the attic of the old building, which is—in 1916—still in use. His methods and manner of control met with general approval.

In 1834, and again in 1840, he was offered the superintendency of the Hartford Retreat for the Insane.

In 1840 he was urged to become a candidate for superintendency of the McLean Asylum, and in 1842, the Trustees of the Asylum planned for Utica, N. Y., offered to build it under his supervision, if he would accept the charge of it when completed. All these offers were declined, although he went to Utica, no small journey in those days, to look over the ground.

While in Worcester, he founded, and was the first president, of the Association of American Insane Hospital Superintendents. With Dr. Samuel Howe (q.v.) he carried on a long correspondence urging the establishment of what became the Massachusetts School for Idiotic Youth, or, as we now call them, feeble minded, and we find appeals to him from other States for aid in passing laws for the education and control of the "idiotic." George Bancroft applied to him for information as to the insanity of George III, when writing his history of the United States, and his services were generally in demand as an expert witness in the courts and for information on all subjects connected with the insane and their care.

A strong advocate of temperance, he lectured on the subject throughout New England; and, with Mark Hopkins and Samuel Hoar, he issued a printed appeal to the people; and at that early day strongly urged the establishment of an asylum for inebriates, of which he would have willingly been the superintendent.

He published essays on diseases of the mind and nerves and contributed much to medical journals. Among his writings were "Essays on Asylums for Inebriates," 38 pp, 1838; "Hints for the Young in Relation to the Health of Body and Mind," 65 pp, 1856; "Fruits of New England."

A man of commanding presence (he was six feet two and one-half inches in height and weighed 260 pouuds), he seemed to many to resemble George Washington, in his later years, "so much so," says Henry B. Stanton, in his book of 'Random Recollections' "that when he dined at the United States Hotel in Boston, as he walked erect and majestic through the long room to his seat, every knife and every fork rested, and all eyes centered on him."

He married Maria Porter of Hadley in 1815, and by her had eleven children.

A popular subscription by the citizens of Worcester provided a portrait by Frothingham, and a marble bust by King, which at the time of his resignation of the office of superintendent, were presented to the trustees of the Worcester Hospital and they may be seen at the hospital today.