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Isaac Ray Edit Profile

Hospital administrator , Psychiatrist

Isaac Ray was an American psychiatrist, one of the founders of the discipline of forensic psychiatry.


Ray, Isaac was born on January 16, 1807 in Beverly, Massachusetts, United States. Son of Isaac and Lydia (Simonds) Rea.


Doctor of Medicine Medical Department, Bowdoin College (Medical School of Maine), 1827.


In 1838, he published A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity (Boston), which served as an authoritative text for many years. A native of Beverly, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Phillips Academy (class of 1822), Ray received his medical degree in 1827 from the Medical College of Maine (Bowdoin College) and attempted to establish a general practice in Portland, Maine. When this venture failed, he moved to the coastal village of Eastport, where he practiced, taught, and wrote his "Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity," published in 1838.

After several years in Eastport, he was appointed Superintendent of the State Hospital for the Insane in Augusta in 1841. In 1845 he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, to supervise the building of the private Butler Hospital and became its first Superintendent. Prior to Butler Hospital's receiving patients in 1847, Ray toured the asylums of Europe, reporting his findings in the "American Journal of Insanity." In 1867, he moved to an active retirement in Philadelphia.

The Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity was very influential and was deployed effectively by defense lawyer Sir Alexander Cockburn in the English trial of Daniel M'Naghten in 1843. At the trial, Cockburn quoted extensively from the book which rejected traditional views of the insanity defense based on the defendant's ability to distinguish "right from wrong" in favour of a broader approach based on causation. Between 1828 and 1880, except for one year he published at least one article every year, mainly dealing with insanity and its legal implications.

Ray also published several important monographs, including Mental Hygiene (Boston, 1863) and Contributions to Mental Pathology (Boston, 1873). In 1868, the Superintendents’ Association adopted his "Project of a Law," which recommended statutory enactment to secure the rights of the mentally ill and define the civil and criminal relationships of the insane.


  • Other Work

    • Author: A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, 1838. Observations on the Principal Hospitals for the Insane in Great Britain, France, and Germany, 1846. Mental Hygiene, 1863.

      Contributions to Mental Pathology, 1873. Ideal Character of the Officers of a Hospital for the Insane, 1873.


One of the founding members of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, he served as President from 1855 to 1859.


Married Abigail May Frothingham, 1831.

Isaac Rea

Lydia (Simonds) Rea

Abigail May Frothingham