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The Keeley Cure

The Keeley Institute, 1895 Souvenir Book
A sketch of this Home would be incomplete without a reference to the establishment of the Keeley Institute for cure of drunkenness and the use of opiates, as by the aid of this cure one of the most noticeable reforms has been accomplished which has occurred during the existence of the Home.

On February 21st,1893, Governor Wheeler, after having become thoroughly satisfied that this cure was producing most excellent and beneficial results, organized an institute at this branch (under charge of Dr. W. M. Brown, a graduate of the Keeley Institute at Dwight, Ill.), with twenty men in line. The Governor assumed the management of the institute, and has given it his untiring attention, and by personal efforts has kept the club in a flourishing condition until the present time; taking in members of the Home who have suffered from the effects of liquor, morphine and opium habits(many of whom were on the verge of delirium tremens), until its membership has now reached 493, with a loss of only a small per cent., who have relapsed into their old unfortunate ways.

Of those who have graduated, many have taken their discharge from the Home. Many others are absent with leave and filling good positions enabling them to help support their families. Considerably over a hundred of them are making themselves useful in various positions at the Home.

Considering the fact that there are over 40 saloons within half a mile of the Home grounds, 75 at least within a mile, and also that it is within a twenty-minute ride (with a 5-cent fare) of a large city, with its many temptations, the loss ratio is remarkably small.

The influence of the Keeley cure and of the good example of the members of the Keeley club who have successfully graduated, is something quite remarkable. The general demeanor of the members of the Home has so radically changed and improved that it is frequently commented upon by visitors who have been familiar with the Home in the past. The discipline of the Home has improved over 100 per cent., as is conclusively shown by the record of the police court, daily presided over by the Governor. Very few of the members are ever seen upon the grounds noticeably under the influence of liquor, even upon the monthly pension day.

When a member completes the treatment, which requires four weeks, he becomes a “graduate” and is given a neatly printed “diploma.” The graduates have formed a “Keeley Club” (known as Veterans’ Keeley League No. 4 of U. S.) for social intercourse, and now occupy a club room of their own, in a handsome building erected expressly for social purpose.

The members of the League congregate here and besides enjoying each other’s company (in relating many startling experiences with the demon “Liqour”), have games, newspapers, magazines, etc. The main object of this club is to keep the members away from too much temptation, and, by association, help each other. This building was erected from a subscription fund, and is complete and attractive in every way.

Regular meetings of the League are held every Wednesday evening, and besides transacting regular business, they have addresses, recitations, music, etc. – a very attractive programme.

The members of the League wear a handsome gold emblematic button in the lapels of their coats.

Photo Upper Left:
The Saloon of Mrs. Mina Gleiss, West Milwaukee, near the Soldiers' Home

Open Air Pavilion, 1894 Souvenir Book
Archives of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center

Taking the Cure
But the sort of “drama” which is an advertising catch-word—change, excitement, or even absorbing in­terest—was sadly lacking in most of the old soldiers’ lives.

Perhaps that is what explains their drinking. They didn’t all drink to excess; and it should be borne in mind that one perceptibly inebriated veteran would naturally attract more attention than a hundred men who were sober at the time. Nevertheless drunkenness was an ever-present problem; and this too in the nineties and nineteen-hundreds, when hard drinking was in gen­eral very much on the wane, and Prohibition had not yet arrived on the scene to make drunkenness not only respectable but fashionable.…

The Home authorities had tried other experiments, including an enthusiastic backing of the Keeley Cure. Back about 1890 great things were expected of the “Keeley Institutes” which were peppered about the country; and Dr. Keeley’s solemn work, The Non-­Heredity of Inebriety, was on the shelves of the Home Library. (The old soldiers did not wear out their copy.)

Veterans who had “taken the cure” were entitled to wear a little enameled button. A special room in the building known as “Social Hall” was assigned to their organization, “The Keeley Club”; they had regular lodge meetings, and programs.

Sooner or later they all backslid. The efficacy of Dr. Keeley’s therapeutic measures is open to suspicion; his psychology was certainly not sound. A little button and “a program” might set youthful feet in paths of grace. They were weak measures to employ with men of mature years, settled habits, and no strong domestic ties.

Elizabeth Corbett, Out at the Soldiers' Home

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