Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to: navigation, search



Coined in 1851 by Samuel A. Cartwright as a mental illness that caused black slaves to flee captivity. Ancient Greek δραπέτης (drapétēs, runaway slave) + μανία (manía, madness).


drapetomania (uncountable)

  1. The desire of slaves to run away, viewed as a mental illness.
    • 1987, Thomas Stephen Szasz, Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences, →ISBN, page 307:
      To prevent the full-blown development of drapetomania, exhibited by the actual running away of the slave, whipping is recommended as medical therapy; in a revealing allusion to its historical origins, the treatment is called "whipping the devil out of them."
    • 1996, Carole Wade & ‎Carol Tavris, Psychology, →ISBN, page 560:
      Over the years, psychiatrists have quite properly rejected many other "disorders" that reflected earlier cultural prejudices, such as drapetomania, lack of vaginal orgasm, childhood masturbation disorder, masochism, and nymphomania (Wakefield, 1992).
    • 2006, Yo Jackson, Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology, →ISBN, page 158:
      Cartwright opined that following proper medical advice prevented drapetomania and its symptom (running away): The recommended cure was to keep slaves in their "natural" position of submission while providing for their needs, along with whipping at the onset of the disorder.
    • 2008, Frederick T. Leong, Encyclopedia of Counseling - Volume 2, →ISBN:
      Forbidding alcohol, eliminating visits to neighbors at night, and withholding adequate food, shelter, and clothing also were measures taken to prevent drapetomania.
  2. (dated) an overwhelming urge to run away (from home, a bad situation, responsibility, etc.)
    • 1857, The London Lancet:
      One of these is a supposed form of mental disease, termed by him "Drapetomania, which, like a malady that cats are liable to, manifests itself by an irrestrainable propensity to run away."
    • 1989, David Pilgrim, Race relations "above the veil": speeches, essays, and other writings:
      I thought I was a hypochondriac because my friends said that I was showing unnecessary concern about my health. Thanks to Dr. Cartwright I now know that I am a diseased man. I suffer from the acute stages of a chronic disease: drapetomania. I have the obsessive desire to run toward freedom. You have the right to know that a diseased man is near you because, and I say this carefully, drapetomania is contagious, and I am glad about it. As a drapetomaniac, I belong at a Freedom Fund Banquet.
    • 1997, Mark Waugh, Come:
      Mark declined and moved into the dark cavern. Strobes and smoke created curtains of imminent light. "You viced up Marky?" said Nick. Faking something close to drapetomania, ...
    • 2010, Summer Hill Seven (Raymond Abdul-Alim Ákbar), Squircular!: An Actor's Tale, →ISBN, page 87:
      I still flee from my home to chase dreams. Sometimes I manage to elude capture and sometimes I do not. Is that Drapetomania? Is that Squircular? What do you call it? No results found for squircle. In 2005, for the first time, I wrote but never publicized my personal experience with Drapetomania (or Squircular, if you prefer) in an essalogue with a seven syllable title: An Actor's Tale In the Crazy House with Christ!

Usage notes[edit]

Today recognized as pseudoscience and an example of scientific racism.