Keeley Institute

Keeley Institute

The Keeley Institute, known for its Keeley Cure, was a commercial medical operation that offered treatment to alcoholics from 1879 to 1965. Though at one time there were more than 200 branches in the United States and Europe, the original institute was founded by Leslie Keeley in Dwight, Illinois, United States. After Keeley's death the institute began a slow decline but remained in operation under John R. Oughton, and, later, his son. The Keeley Institute offered the internationally famous Keeley Cure, which drew sharp criticism from those within the mainstream medical profession. The Keeley Institute's location in Dwight, Illinois had a major influence on the development of Dwight as a village. There are only a few remaining indications in Dwight that the Keeley Institute was once a major force.


In 1879 Dr. Leslie Keeley announced the result of a collaboration with John R. Oughton, an Irish chemist, which was heralded as a "major discovery" by Keeley.Lion, Jean Pierre. "Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend", ( [ Google Books] ), Continuum International Publishing Group: 2005, p. 231, (ISBN 0-8264-1699-3). Retrieved 30 September 2007.] The discovery, a new treatment for alcoholism, resulted in the founding of the Keeley Institute. The Keeley Company and its Keeley Institute were founded as a collaboration between Keeley, Oughton and a successful merchant named Curtis Judd. The institute's work was pioneering in its field; Keeley aimed to treat alcoholism as a disease rather than as a vice. His work foreshadowed later work that would attribute a physiological nature to alcoholism. He managed to amass a fortune, becoming a millionaire through the institute and its famous slogan, "Drunkenness is a disease and I can cure it."

The Keeley Institute eventually had over 200 branches throughout the United States and Europe, and by 1900 the so-called Keeley Cure, injections of gold chloride, had been administered to more than 300,000 people. The reputation of the Keeley Cure was largely enhanced by positive coverage from the "Chicago Tribune". "The New York Times" also featured coverage on the Keeley Institute as early as 1891, and in 1893 a Brooklyn man's drunken rabble-rousing received coverage which noted he was a Keeley Institute graduate. "The Times" said "it is not everyday that a man from the Keeley Institute for the cure of drunkenness comes to New-York and gets into such a predicament."Anonymous. " [ The Parent Institute; Experiences of the drunkards who go to Dwight to be cured] ," "The New York Times", 18 October 1891. Retrieved 30 September 2007.] Anonymous. " [ The gold cure lost its hold] ," "The New York Times", 14 May 1893. Retrieved 30 September 2007.]

After Keeley died in 1900, the patient numbers lowered, 100,000 additional people took the cure between 1900 and 1939." [,9171,761978,00.html Keeley Cure] ," "Time Magazine", 25 September 1939. Retrieved 30 September 2007.] Oughton and Judd took over the company following Keeley's death, and continued to operate the institute. The organization, which had always drawn some criticism, faded into national oblivion with Keeley, its primary spokesman and defender, gone. By the late 1930s most physicians believed that "drunkards are neurotics ["sic"] and cannot be cured by injections." Keeley Institute director Oughton, Jr. said in a 1939 "Time" magazine article that the treatment program had cured "17,000 drunken doctors".

When John R. Oughton died in 1925 his son took over the declining institute. In 1939 the institute celebrated its 60th anniversary. A ceremony which unveiled a commemorative plaque bearing the likenesses of Keeley, Oughton and Judd attracted 10,000 people. The plaque, designed by Florence Gray, a student of Lorado Taft, is still on the grounds, complete with a time capsule. The Keeley Institute continued to operate until it definitively shut down in 1965.


Treatment at the Keeley Institute has been referred to as pioneering and humane. The institute maintained a philosophy of open, homelike care throughout its history. Little is known of what exactly went on in the many branches or franchises of the Keeley Institute around the world but it is thought that many were modeled after the Dwight institute.Tracy, Sarah W. "Alcoholism in America: From Reconstruction to Prohibition", ( [,M1 Google Books] ), Johns Hopkins University Press: 2005, pp. 114–118, (ISBN 0-8018-8119-6). Retrieved 30 September 2007.]

New patients who arrived at the Dwight institute were introduced into an open, informal environment where they were first offered as much alcohol as they could imbibe. Initially, patients were boarded in nearby hotels, such as the Dwight Livingston Hotel, or the homes of private residents. Later patients stayed in the converted John R. Oughton House.Lehman, John M. " [ John R. Oughton House] ," (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 25 April 1980, HAARGIS Database, "Illinois Historic Preservation Agency", pp. 1–9. Retrieved 30 September 2007.] Regardless of their rooming situation, all patients were required to line up for shots of the Keeley Cure, "bichloride of gold," four times daily. The injections were dissolved in red, white and blue liquids and the amounts varied. In addition, patients would receive individually prescribed tonics every two hours throughout the day. Treatments lasted for a period of four weeks.

Patients at Dwight were free to stroll the grounds of the institute as well as the streets of the village. It has been called an early therapeutic community.


The Keeley Institute offered a "scientific" treatment for alcoholism, something that until then was treated by various "miraculous" cures and other types of quackery. The Keeley Cure became popular, with hundreds of thousands eventually receiving it. From the beginning, Keeley's decision to keep his formula a secret drew sharp criticism from his peers. The Keeley Institute's popularity with the public never translated to popularity with the medical profession. Medical professionals generally approached commercial cures, such as the Keeley Cure, with skepticism. A promotional brochure for one hospital specifically singled out the Keeley Cure in its language.Many individuals and groups, especially those within the mainstream medical profession, attempted to analyze the Keeley Cure for its ingredients and reports varied widely as to their identity. Strychnine, alcohol, apomorphine, willow bark, ammonia, and atropine were among the many suggested chemicals.


The Keeley Institute had a profound influence on Dwight's development as a village. As the Institute gained national and international acclaim, Dwight began to develop into a "model" village. Eight hundred passengers per week were arriving in Dwight at the height of the Keeley Institute. Other developments followed the influx of people: modern paved roads replaced older dirt roads, electric lighting was installed in place of older gas lamps and water and sewage systems were replaced and improved. New homes, businesses, and a railroad depot were all constructed and Dwight became the "most famous village of its size in America."

There are few examples of structures associated with the Keeley Institute still extant in Dwight, and only one is open to the public. The Livingston Hotel once provided housing for hundreds of Keeley patients and a Keeley office building, known as the Keeley Building was first used by the institute in 1920, and now houses private commercial offices. The John R. Oughton House and its two outbuildings remain; the house operates as a restaurant, the carriage house is a public library and the windmill has been restored and is owned by the Village of Dwight." [ Historic sites] ," "Village of Dwight", official site. Retrieved 30 September 2007.] "Welcome to Our Historic Windmill", (Brochure), "Village of Dwight".] The Keeley Institute solidified its place in American culture throughout its period of prominence as several generations of Americans joked about people, especially the rich and famous, who were "taking the Keeley Cure" or had "gone to Dwight."


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