IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH sets several chapters of the novel in the infamous Craig Colony. As difficult as it is now to believe, New York State institutionalized or ”warehoused” its citizens with seizure disorders at the Craig Colony from 1894 until it was finally closed in 1968. Men and women who had committed no crime were essentially held like prisoners.
Dr. Frederick Peterson was the founder and first President, the Craig Colony. Although the Colony Hospital bore his name, the Colony itself was named for a lawyer and major benefactor, Oscar Craig.
Nevertheless, it was Dr. Peterson who was principally responsible for the Colony’s creation and the novel treatment of its “residents.” The Craig Colony was, by design, home to patients suffering from a variety of seizure disorders. The fictional events in IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH occur over three months in 1926. At that time, seizures were all lumped under the “same” diagnosis, Epilepsy.
Craig Colony “residents” mainly received the same medical treatment, known as the “Colony Care Plan”. Dr. Peterson first conceived this treatment plan while he was a physician at the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane. Dr. Peterson had studied the Bethel Colony in the Westphalia region of Germany. While visiting the Bethel Colony, Peterson noted that people with Epilepsy lived in a self-sufficient community where special attention was paid to diet, proper health habits, and a therapeutic environment. Peterson theorized that these healthy life habits, coupled with strenuous physical labor, would greatly reduce the energy available to patients when in the throes of an epileptic seizure. Upon returning to the United States, Dr. Peterson convinced the New York State Board of Charities to fund a Colony based on his novel ideas.
The Craig Colony was born in 1894 with Dr. Peterson serving as its first President. He resigned in 1902, although he remained on the board in various capacities. Following his time at the Craig Colony, Dr. Peterson had a prestigious career as a New York-based psychologist and professor of psychology at Columbia University.