Waterboarding in the Press - 106 Years Ago

The current debate over the use of waterboarding seems new and fresh and relevant. But if working on a digital archive of historical newspapers has taught me anything, it’s that we’ve pretty much already done everything.

I’d never thought to search for waterboarding in Chronicling America, but the post on boingboing this morning led me to do a search for water cure, with some fascinating results.

1902 WaterboardingIt turns out that practice was just as fraught with controversy then as it was now. It prompted a Congressional investigation, and the court-martial of a general (although he was acquitted).

It was even used as a discipline tool in a Kansas mental hospital! The article states that the torture was used on patients who failed to follow the orders of the institution’s head, Miss Houston, who administered the punishment herself. The practice ceased when Miss Houston was replaced as head of the hospital by the ostensibly more gentle Miss Gower. She merely had the problem patients “strapped to a bench and whipped.”