Keeley Institute

Substance abuse and addiction affected thousands of miners, middle-class female consumers, prostitutes, Chinese workers, and other citizens of bourgeoning nineteenth-century Comstock communities. As a result, the Keeley Institute, a privately owned and nationally franchised addiction treatment center, set up at least two drug and alcohol dependency treatment centers in Northern Nevada in the 1890s.

The Keeley Institute was founded in 1879 by Dr. Leslie Keeley in Dwight, Illinois, and it eventually expanded to thirty-three branches across the nation. A forerunner of franchised addiction treatment, Keeley's sanitariums catered to middle- and upper-class men and women and claimed to have successfully alleviated the craving for drugs and alcohol. In 1893, the institute opened offices in Reno and Carson City; both were logical locations because of their proximity to the Comstock where opium addiction had become a major problem.

More references to the institute soon began to appear in local newspapers. Immediately after the opening of the Carson City facility, interviews of Keeley's doctors ran in the July 12, 1893 Morning Appeal. In "A Chat with Dr. Sussdorff and W.C. Watson," one doctor noted that the institute had "selected Carson because of its elevation and fine climate." He added that the cost of the cure would be about thirty-five dollars while "board is extra and is graded to the wish and purse of the patients." The doctor reiterated that the treatment was especially successful with women who suffered with the morphine habit and that the Keeley institute had treated a variety of patients from the Comstock and cities in California.

Soon thereafter, Virginia City newspapers began to advertise the curative powers of Keeley's "health sanitarium." According to these ads, the cure involved injections of the "Double Chloride of Gold Remedy" whose "secret" ingredients were not disclosed for fear of competition.

Public lectures concerning the wonders of the Keeley Institute served as another publicity tool. In 1895, an announcement for a lecture in Reno noted that Dr. J. M. Bryne had just returned from an engagement at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City where he had spoken to "an audience of six hundred for nearly two hours" on the effects of drugs and alcohol. The article included the assertion that "250,000 persons have been cured by the Keeley treatment."

The institute was even mentioned in the journal of noted Comstock writer Alfred Doten: "[this] evening I attended free lecture of Dr. John M. Bryne on the Keeley Institute of Carson, from whence he is a recent graduate. He also treated on the tobacco and opium habits." But the most telling evidence of the popular recognition of the Keeley Institute was an 1895 field trip of the senior class of Virginia City High School to the state legislature, prison, and Keeley Institute in Carson City. Presumably, educators sought to impress students with the horrors of opium by having them visit the institutions that served as symbols of the law and the repercussions of drug use.

There is no doubt that drug addiction was a serious problem in nineteenth-century Nevada. Drug addiction had become a cultural crisis in and around the Comstock, and concerned citizens sought solutions. The Keeley Institute arrived in Nevada to fill this void, at least for a few years.

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