Steam Cabinets in the Hydrotherapeutic Room

All Titles

  • Steam Cabinets in the Hydrotherapeutic Room

Dublin Core


Steam Cabinets in the Hydrotherapeutic Room


Image of two steam cabinets in one of the Hydrotherapeutic rooms at the Reception Hospital.

The use of water in treatment of the mentally disordered probably dates back to its use in Greek temples. In 1902 Emmett C. Dent, Superintendent of the Manhattan State Hospital in New York, read a paper at the APA annual meeting on its benefits to mental patients from hydriatic procedures. In 1912, Henry P. Frost, Superintendent of Boston State Hospital, cited John S. Butler's belief that shower baths benefited the mentally ill. Simon Baruch of New York planned a rational application of tub, spray, and douche in various medical conditions. The treatment became universal in mental hospitals over the next 30 years. Rebecca Wright's Hydrotherapy in Hospitals for Mental Diseases (published by Tudor Press, New York, in 1932) served as a textbook for correct application.
Each mental hospital's hydrotherapy unit had continuous baths in a quiet darkened room (ours at Worcester used a radio that piped in soft mood music). Patients were suspended for a half day or longer in a hammock in warm flowing water. The quieting effect was apparent. There were hot cabinets and steam cabinets in which the patients sat, and for more stimulating and invigorating treatment streams of hot water, cold water, or alternating hot and cold water were directed to the back of a standing patient, or a "needle" spray of water under pressure was applied. For the extremely disturbed and uncooperative patient, the wet sheet pack was used. Sheets wrung out in cold water were carefully wrapped around the patient's nude body, until trunk and extremities were encased and the "mummy" was then wrapped in blankets to retain body heat. The hazard of overheating was real, with fever sometimes reaching lethal heights.
  I was able to say in 1962 that the hydrotherapy suite and the modalities used were obsolete as therapy for the mentally ill.

Excerpt from: The History and Influence of the American Psychiatric Association by Walter E. Barton, American Psychiatric Publishing, Jan. 1, 1987.

See also:
Cranston: National Register of Historic Places, 1984

Report of the Committee of State Charities and Corrections Upon the State Institutions at Cranston, Made to the Senate, at its January Session, 1883

Report of the Joint Special Committee on the State Asylum for the Insane Made to the General Assembly at its January Session, A.D. 1868

Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission:  Statewide Preservation Reports, 1975 - 1982

Article Written by William F. Gleason, M.D....on a State School for Feeble-Minded Children, 1907

Report of State Commission on Public Welfare Institutions, 1943

Special Legislative Commission to Study the Howard Complex records, 1970-1972

External Related Resources:
Rhode Island Historical Society: Rhode Island State Institutions Records, 1839-1968 (bulk 1885-1944)

Missouri State Archives exhibit- Quest for a Cure: Care and Treatment in Missouri's First State Mental Hospital


Accession 2015-28


Rhode Island State Archives


c. 1914


Copyright is in the public domain unless otherwise specified. We reserve the right to restrict reproduction of materials due to preservation concerns.





Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

lantern slides


Rhode Island. Board of Charities and Corrections (1789-1917), "Steam Cabinets in the Hydrotherapeutic Room," in Virtual Exhibits, Item #780, (accessed September 20, 2019).