On this day in 1793, “Philippe Pinel was appointed ‘physician of the infirmaries’ at the Bicêtre asylum, the public hospice for men near Paris, and the site of his later reforms in the treatment of people with mental illness (source: Warren Street’s “Today in the History of Psychology“). Pinel is widely credited with having “struck the chains” from the patients at the Bicêtre, though this oft-repeated legend has been challenged by a number of historians in recent decades. He is also often paired with the English Quaker Samuel Tuke, the founder of the York Retreat, in having co-founded the “moral treatment” of the mad. This odd pairing of a French state-appointed physician and a private English religious reformer who were unknown to each other dates to David Daniel Davis’s 1806 English (and quite eccentric) translation, of Pinel’s major work, A Treatise of Insanity. The aims and methods of the two men were, in fact, quite different from each other.
For some of the best ercent historical work on Pinel, see UCLA historian Dora Weiner’s book, Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) et la médecine de l’esprit (1999). If you don’t read French, fret not. Weiner has written a number of English-language journal articles on Pinel, and she is currently working on an English edition of her book.