Friday, December 23, 2016

The Keeley Institute, Dwight, Illinois & Keeley Day at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Dr. Leslie Keeley
The Keeley Institute, known for its Keeley Cure or Gold 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. The Keeley Institute's location in Dwight significantly influenced the development of Dwight as a village, though only a few indications of its significance remain in the village.

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.

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.
The Institute operated out of homes and hotels using a spa-like atmosphere of peace and comfort. All patients received injections of bichloride of gold four times daily. There were other tonics given as well. The medical profession continued criticizing the method, and many tried to identify the mysterious ingredients. Strychnine, alcohol, apomorphine, willow bark, ammonia, and atropine were claimed to have been identified in the injections. 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 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.

After Keeley's death, the Institute began a slow decline but remained in operation under John R. Oughton and, later, his son. The Institute offered the internationally known Keeley Cure, a cure that drew sharp criticism from mainstream medical professionals. It was wildly popular in the late 1890s. Thousands of people came to Dwight to be cured of alcoholism; thousands more were sent for the mail-order oral liquid form they took in their homes' privacy.

The Keeley Institute profoundly influenced Dwight's development as a village. As the Institute gained national and international acclaim, Dwight became 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 a few examples of structures associated with the Keeley Institute still extant in Dwight, Illinois:

The Livingston Hotel once provided housing for hundreds of Keeley patients. 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. With the closing of the Keeley Institute in 1965, the home was transformed into "The Lodge Restaurant."  In 1977, it was purchased by the Ohlendorfs, remodeled and reopened as "The Country Mansion," The carriage house is a public library, and the windmill has been restored and is owned by the Village of Dwight.

The Keeley Institute solidified its place in American culture throughout its 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." Dr. Keeley is remembered as the first to treat alcoholism as a medical disease rather than a social vice.

The Effectiveness of the Keeley Cure
The effectiveness of the Keeley Cure was a matter of much debate at the time, and there was no clear consensus on its efficacy. Some studies have shown that the Keeley Cure may have been effective in some cases, but others have found that it was no more effective than other treatments for alcoholism.

One of the most famous studies of the Keeley Cure was conducted by Nellie Bly, a journalist who went undercover to receive treatment at the Keeley Institute in White Plains, New York. Bly's account of her experience, published in the New York World, was highly critical of the Keeley Institute and its treatment methods. She alleged that the Institute was making fraudulent claims about the cure's effectiveness and that the treatment was dangerous.

Other studies of the Keeley Cure have found that it may have been effective in some cases. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1893 found that 60% of patients who received the Keeley Cure remained sober for at least one year after treatment. However, this study was not without its critics, who argued that the study's methodology was flawed.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the Keeley Cure is challenging to assess. There is some evidence to suggest that it may have been effective in some cases, but other studies have found that it was no more effective than other treatments for alcoholism. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Keeley Day, September 15th, at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
Twenty thousand copies of the call for the third international convention of the Dr. Leslie E. Keeley Institute, to be held in Central Music Hall, Chicago, in September, and seven thousand copies of a call for the convention of the Women's Auxiliary Keeley league, to be held in the Temperance temple on the same date, have been sent out from the national headquarters in Dwight, Illinois. Secretary John M. Kelly was deluged with responses from clubs throughout the United States.

Kelly said that the convention would be the largest of its kind ever held. Temperance organizations of all kinds have been invited, and many have already accepted. The Keeley movement embraced 800 organizations representing 500,000 people.

From some localities, entire Keeler clubs will attend the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Colorado delegates have chartered a special train from Denver, picking up other delegates throughout Kansas, including the Soldiers' Home delegates, a band of Fort Leavenworth, and the Kansas City and St. Joseph contingents.

Some 400 enthusiastic Keeleyites, accompanied by 2,000 of their friends, celebrated Keeley Day at the World's Fair with parades and speeches.

At 9 a.m., the delegates, alternatives and visitors will march to the Administration building, led by the national officers and the brass band accompanying the delegations from the soldiers' homes. Director-General Davis will make the address to welcome, after which the line will march to the Illinois State Building, which will be the headquarters.

At 10 o'clock, a procession of gold-cure graduates numbering between 400 and 500 formed at the Terminal Station and marched to the plaza at the east front of the Administration Building, where the graduates were given a welcome to the grounds by National Commissioner Towsley of Minnesota. Gov. A. J. Smith, President of the National Association of Keeley Leagues, presided and Introduced Judge Charles E. Hamilton of Maine, who responded in an eloquent address. In closing, he said it was an eminently fitting thing for the men who had been rescued almost from the gates of perdition to hold a reunion within the precincts of this White City.

After these exercises, the procession again formed and up to the Illinois State Building, where Benjamin Funk, Chairman of the Board, received it. While there, the principal address of the day was delivered by Lyonel Adams of New Orleans. He was followed by Dr. Leslie E. Keeley, after which the party visited the Colorado Building, where there were more speeches.

At 2 o'clock, the Woman's Auxiliary held a session in the assembly hall of the Woman's Building, which was presided over by Mrs. Helen S. Barber. She read a short paper Mrs. M. Kate Reed prepared and then introduced Mrs. Elizabeth L. Saxon of New Orleans. Mrs. Mary Louise Perrine sang a solo, and Dr. Keeley made a short talk. He said 40,000 drunkards had been cured at Dwight, Illinois, and 160,000 in the United States. He predicts that twenty-five years from this time, seeing a drunken man will be rare.

The remainder of the day was spent sightseeing. 

By Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Very interesting, I had no clue that this ever existed. I'm going to read more about it, now that it has gotten my attention!

  2. Excellent article about the institute, plus coverage of its participation in the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

  3. It’s very interesting cure?? Many came for the cure. Has anyone ever documented the effectiveness of the cure???

    1. Reread the article. I added information about the cures effectiveness.


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