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Care and Custody: Past Responses to Mental Health

A traveling exhibition from the National Library of Medicine, hosted at the Warren Alpert Medical School, May 8 - June 17 2023

Mental Health History in Rhode Island



A tension between custody and care has marked the landscape of mental health treatment in Rhode Island from the colonial period into the very present moment.

Rooted in deep disparities based on race and ethnicity, social class, gender and sexuality, citizenship status, disability and other forms of difference, the systems and institutions that have proclaimed to offer respite and treatment to people with mental health challenges quite often replicated the very harms they sought to remedy.

Explore the links and resources below to learn more about some of the key people, places, and events that comprise this complicated history in Rhode Island. 

Rhode Island History Journal Articles + Special Issues

History of Butler Hospital

History of Dexter Asylum 

History of the Ladd School

Dorothea Dix (Mental Health Reformer)

R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals

  • Our History,” Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals, April 10, 2023. 

Care & Custody Presentation, Brown University Library, May 10, 2023.