Paperwork

July 20th, 2014
Record of Patients at St. Louis Insane Asylum, 1886

Record of Patients at St. Louis Insane Asylum, 1886

Running an insane asylum involved a great deal of administrative work, and it is no wonder that some records were not as meticulous as inspectors and latter-day researchers would have liked. Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, was often accused of poor-record keeping. However, not all of his records were badly kept; the problem lay in where he chose to put his efforts. A February, 1927 journal voucher lists 30 patients along with small sums spent on their behalf. These sums ranged from a few dollars to fifteen cents, yet Dr. Hummer kept track of them for reimbursement purposes. Conversely, he spent almost no time updating patient medical records during the asylum’s later years; he left that task to his attendants who often jotted repetitive, meaningless updates that were useless for diagnostic purposes. Perhaps Dr. Hummer put his energy only into those tasks he thought would benefit himself and contribute to the efficiency of the asylum.

Many asylums have not retained all their patient records (or have deliberately destroyed them), so Canton Asylum’s incomplete patient records does not present an unusual situation. One inadvertent benefit to Hummer’s attention to detail in certain areas is that it is at least possible to cull patient names from these types of documents.

By going through vouchers and reports, researchers can fill in gaps that might exist in the records they would prefer to have, or uncover tidbits of information that present a clearer picture of  their subject matter. For instance, a payroll list from June 1923 shows that Dr. Hummer’s father, Levi, and his son, Harry Hummer, Jr. were employed at the asylum; additionally, a separate letter to the Indian Office that same month shows that Dr. Hummer’s other son, Francis, acted as an escort for patients coming to the asylum from Taos, New Mexico. It would certainly be interesting to speculate or do further research on the dynamics of this family employment.

Death Certificate From Western State Hospital

Death Certificate From Western State Hospital

Patient Record From Nineteenth Century

Patient Record From Nineteenth Century

 

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Reports, Reports

July 17th, 2014
Nurse and Patients at Fergus Falls State Hospital, 1900

Nurse and Patients at Fergus Falls State Hospital, 1900

With perhaps a very rare exception, all insane asylums were inspected on a reasonably regular basis, and inspectors visited the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians a number of times. Visits were usually routine, though the asylum received a number of special inspections brought on by complaints or allegations of misconduct that reached the Indian Office. In 1923, George Vaux Jr., chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, went to Canton on an apparently routine visit and gave his assessment of the institution.

Vaux mentioned that there were 30 different tribes represented there, with the Sioux, Chippewa, and Menominee tribes in greatest number (since they were closer to the facility). Then he said: “Dr. Hummer is a great believer in the out doors for his patients. . . . There are some sun galleries and sleeping porches for those not able otherwise to be out of doors. Their general health is good for such classes of patients, and there is cheerfulness everywhere. This is maintained notwithstanding the naturally depressing atmosphere that one expects to find in such a hospital as this one, where as a rule death issues all of the discharge orders.”

Modern readers might wonder where all this cheerfulness originated, since most patients were quite desperate to return home or couldn’t have been comfortable in a place where they couldn’t speak the language. Many institutions kept their most presentable patients close to the administration offices where visitors would be likely to see them, and perhaps Dr. Hummer ensured that Mr. Vaux saw only the patients he could depend on to present a positive picture. Vaux did say that a few patients were violent–but only occasionally. “. . . so that much freedom is allowed them [the patients]. Now and then some one has to be kept locked up in a protected room, but in the main they are not difficult to control.”

Hydrotherapy, 1936

Hydrotherapy, 1936

Central State Hospital Cannery, mid-1900s, Where Patients Worked as Part of Their Occupational Therapy

Central State Hospital Cannery, mid-1900s, Where Patients Worked as Part of Their Occupational Therapy

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A Divided View

July 13th, 2014
Secotan Indians' Dance in North Carolina, Watercolor by John White, 1585

Secotan Indians’ Dance in North Carolina, Watercolor by John White, 1585

White society saw Native American dancing in two ways: immoral and/or depraved, or as perfectly acceptable cultural expression (see last two posts). Native Americans often pointed out that their dances were not as immoral as white dancing, which included close physical contact as well as uninhibited movements. Many native dancers took care that there was plenty of space between participants, and white commentators appreciated the parody and moral lessons that were included in much of the clown dancers’ pantomime.

Dance defenders took the view that Native American dances were religious and should be protected for that reason, particularly those of the Pueblo whose religious freedom was specifically protected by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Other defenders saw ceremonial dances as cultural treasures that ought to be protected in the same way that other customs and folkways were. They also noted that the supposedly “immoral” clown dancer behavior was an important aspect of fertility rituals. (Some Native Americans did oppose dancing because they had become Westernized after attending Indian boarding schools. They rejected much of their native culture, just as the federal government had hoped, and refused to participate in these important social ceremonies.)

By the end of the 1920s, much of the controversy had faded. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier rescinded the bans on dancing with Circular 2970, “Indian Religious Freedom and Indian Culture.” The circular specified that: “No interference with Indian religious life or ceremonial expression will hereafter be tolerated.”

Hopi Cachina Ceremony, 1910

Hopi Kachina Ceremony, 1910

Hopi Basket Dance, courtesy Denver Public Library collection, Library of Congress

Hopi Basket Dance, courtesy Denver Public Library collection, Library of Congress

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Why All the Concern?

July 10th, 2014
Harvest Dance at Santo Domingo Pueblo

Harvest Dance at Santo Domingo Pueblo

The controversy over Native American dancing did not arise all at once, of course (see last post). European settlers were often surprised at the energy and freedom inherent in many ceremonial dances, but unfortunately attributed much of it to the “uncivilized” status of Native Americans. The issue came to the forefront in the 1920s, when Native American dancing caused consternation and shock among certain segments of white society, and rallied others to the cause of Native American freedom of religion. Reformers came down on both sides of the question, with some pursuing “moral” objectives, and others advocating cultural and religious freedom, and feminist goals.

Ironically, the freedom that white women experienced in the 1920s probably had a great deal to do with the sudden interest and concern over Native American dancing, particularly Pueblo dancing. As some of the shackles fell off white women who were enjoying newly-won freedoms like smoking, drinking, driving, expressing their sexuality, and outrageous dancing themselves, tradition-bound women who were horrified by the changes in society wanted to stop them. The “Indian Dance Controversy” became a lightning rod for both groups.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had previously concerned itself mainly with the dancing of Plains Indians. The Ghost Dance, Sun Dance, and other important ceremonial dances were (in their opinion) more likely to interfere with assimilation or to whip up a warlike spirit. It was not until around 1915 that Pueblo dancing came to the BIA’s attention, via a report by P. T. Lonergan, Superintendent of the Pueblo Day schools. He found Pueblo dancing immoral and some “particulars being so bestial as to prohibit their description.” Lonergan, himself, was a target of an immorality probe by reformers, but managed to divert attention from his own actions to those of the Pueblo.

Another Viewpoint on Dancing, 1920

Another Viewpoint on Dancing, 1920

Flappers in the Roaring '20s

Flappers in the Roaring ’20s

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Fear of Dancing

July 6th, 2014
Hopi Clowns Next to a Line of Dancers in the Long Hair Dance, 1912, courtesy Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation

Hopi Clowns Next to a Line of Dancers in the Long Hair Dance, 1912, courtesy Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation

Though the federal government wanted to suppress anything that kept Native Americans from assimilating into white culture, dancing seemed to be of special concern. Dances were central to many traditional rituals and ceremonies, and therefore, suspect. Even worse, Native American dances were not restrained and constrained like the sedate waltzes of polite white society, but instead, exhibited considerable movement and exhibition. The Bureau of Indian Affairs gathered testimony from (white) eyewitnesses of Native American dancing into a Secret Dance File which was considered obscene because of the graphic descriptions it contained. Here is a quote concerning a Hopi dance: “Two clowns dressed as women came into the court. Their skirts were very short, not over eleven inches long. The men clowns would go up to them and try to pull the skirts down a little.”

The passage went on, describing how the clowns appeared to peek under the skirts and so on, without underscoring that all the participants were men.  Other witnesses did describe scenes that seemed to simulate intercourse, which were disturbing to the officials who thought these dances would promote immoral behavior. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke eventually signed Circular 1665, banning these types of dances as well as “any disorderly or plainly excessive performance.”

My next few posts will discuss the BIA’s dance controversy in more depth.

Zuni Clowns, courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Zuni Clowns, courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Kwakiutl Noo'nlemala or Fool Dancers, Franz Boaz, 1895, courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives

Kwakiutl Noo’nlemala or Fool Dancers, Franz Boaz, 1895, courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives

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Fourth of July

July 3rd, 2014

Sioux Indians Hitting a Dime at 100 Yards, July 4, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

The Indian Bureau was never culturally sensitive, especially when it came to Native American celebrations. It actively discouraged or forbade ceremonial dances, feasts, and other gatherings, fearing that they might unite tribes or keep them from assimilating into white culture. Most gatherings required written permission. The Bureau didn’t pay as much attention to Fourth of July celebrations, and Native Americans soon discovered that they could get together on that day without written permission. They began to use the holiday as an excuse to gather and perform the dances and ceremonies they enjoyed.

Some tribes had a practice of giving away assets during celebrations, often through a formal ceremony called a potlatch. Native Americans considered it an honor to give their possessions to others, and often gave to the poorest members of the tribe, first. Sioux Indians apparently ramped up this gift-giving practice on the Fourth of July, and the Indian Bureau began calling this “Give-Away Day.” Tribal members celebrated the Fourth with games of skill and strength, feasting, and dancing. They also incorporated their practice of honoring individuals with important gifts, with no thought of reciprocation. Gifts were substantial–horses, fancy bead work, saddles, and other valuable items. Whites seemed to be amazed by the practice, since it often left the giver without any resources.

Fourth of July Celebration, 1891, South Dakota, courtesy Library of Congress

 

Nez Perce Fourth of July Parade, Spaulding, Idaho, 1902, courtesy Library of Congress

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More Rules

June 29th, 2014
Patients Demonstrate Hand Restraints, 1915, courtesy The Burns Archive

Patients Demonstrate Hand Restraints, 1915, courtesy The Burns Archive

The Indian Office provided rules for attendants working at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians which were thorough and explicit; similar instructions were most likely the case in all other insane asylums. Patients were supposed to “preserve order” but only by using the mildest means possible. Rule 20 stated: “No kicking, striking, shaking, or choking of a patient will be permitted under any circumstances. Patients must not be thrown violently to the floor in controlling them, but the attendant shall call such assistance as will enable him to control the patient without injury.”

This rule was broken any number of times, and at least one male attendant was fired for committing unwarranted violence against patients. Mechanical restraints like cuffs and camisoles (straitjacket) were to be used only with the consent of the physician or superintendent, but employees did not follow this rule. Instead, they got restraints from the financial clerk simply by asking for them. Dr. Hummer, who later received very harsh criticism for the asylum’s excessive use of restraints, either permitted their use (though he often said restraints weren’t used) or he abdicated his responsibilities to the financial clerk. Either way, he had to know that employees were using restraints quite freely . . . unless he wasn’t making rounds often enough to catch it. Whatever the reason for all the restraints, Dr. Hummer was responsible for the situation.

Medical Staff at Willard Asylum

Medical Staff at Willard Asylum

Staff of Arizona State Asylum, 1914

Staff of Arizona State Asylum, 1914

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And the Patients’ Side

June 26th, 2014
Patient Dining Room at West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1912

Patient Dining Room at West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1912

Employees at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had clear instructions concerning their duties, including the all-important attendants who were at the heart of patient care. (See last post.) They were charged with keeping rooms neat and clean, attending to their patients’ needs in terms of clothing and personal care–basically what anyone would expect of an institution set up to care for the insane. The reality was often different, and the conditions many patients lived under would have been disheartening.

Though foreign to their own experience on or off a reservation, patients arriving at Canton Asylum when it first opened would have walked into a spacious, light-filled building. Electricity and running water might have been exciting to use, and regular meals supplemented by garden produce would have been tasty and welcome. As the asylum deteriorated over the years, however, patient comfort declined. The early structure had been pretty and airy, with pictures on the walls and nice furniture. As time went on, the pictures disappeared; the floors, clothes, and bedding became dingy and worn; and the nourishing food evolved into a monotonous diet of starches and vegetables. Patients used chamber pots instead of toilets, which allowed human waste to create a stench and promote disease in the midst of crowded rooms.

By the time the asylum closed, one inspector likened patient care at the asylum to that of a prison. Patients who had been sent to the institution for mental problems received no mental health care at all–the whole purpose for the asylum. Ultimately, authorities concluded that almost no amount of money could make the asylum function  as it should and decided to shut it down.

Female Ward at Athens Lunatic Asylum, 1893

Female Ward at Athens Lunatic Asylum, 1893

Women's Sewing Room at Spring Grove, 1910s

Women’s Sewing Room at Spring Grove, 1910s

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A Difficult Life for All

June 22nd, 2014
People Seated on a Bench Near Van Deusen Cottage, Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital

People Seated on a Bench Near Van Deusen Cottage, Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital

Though patients undoubtedly had wretched experiences at most asylums, the life of an attendant was also difficult. Even in the first decades of the twentieth century, it was usual for attendants and other staff (including physicians) to reside at the asylum where they worked. In some ways the arrangement was a benefit, since it eliminated commutes and gave employees housing and food; however, it added to employee stress because they could never get away from constant reminders of their job. The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians followed this pattern, and some employees even had to share a room.

Stressful as it was to be an attendant, though, their duties were clear. The Indian Office had provided governing rules and regulations for Canton Asylum’s employees, though its first superintendent had not passed them out. Dr. Harry Hummer did, and the instructions provided were comprehensive:

“[Attendants] will see that the patients are at all times kept as comfortable and clean as their condition will permit. They will keep them comfortably clothed, bathing them and changing their clothing as frequently as required for the purpose. They shall keep their apartments at all times clean and neat, and free from every contamination which is unpleasant and injurious to health. They shall look carefully after every portion of the housekeeping, including bed making, sweeping, dusting, brightening of floors, hardware, plumbing fixtures, etc.”

The preceding is only one small segment taken from several pages of instruction, and it is easy to see that an attendant with 15 or more patients could be easily overwhelmed. Many inspectors found the patients’ quarters woefully neglected, dirty, and disordered; the condition likely came about because attendants had to choose between caring for rooms and caring for people.

One of St. Elizabeths Dorm Rooms, 1905

One of St. Elizabeths Dorm Rooms, 1905

Patients and Staff at Christmas Party at State Hospital, Jamestown, courtesy Historical Society of North Dakota

Patients and Staff at Christmas Party at State Hospital, Jamestown, courtesy Historical Society of North Dakota

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A Patient’s Work is Never Done

June 19th, 2014
Gardner State Colony for the Insane

Gardner State Colony for the Insane

Insane asylums used patient labor for both occupational therapy and cost-containment (see last post). However, that labor didn’t always start after the facility had been completed and simply needed to be maintained. Asylum administrators often brought in patients after only a limited space was ready for occupancy, and then used them to help build the rest of the asylum.

In October of 1902, Governor Crane of Massachusetts declared its newest asylum, the Gardner State Colony, ready to receive patients and admitted five men from the Taunton Insane Hospital. Five more men were transferred from Westborough two months later, and over the winter these male patients worked in the woods to cut down 46,000 feet of lumber. That summer, they worked on the farm and excavated for the asylum’s water supply; in 1904 the institution received 111 patients.

A case can surely be made that patients enjoyed certain types of occupational therapy such as fancy needle-work or light gardening, but tasks such as building roads, chopping down trees, clearing fields, working in hot laundry rooms, etc. were not for their benefit. Though some administrators (and the public) may have seen the practice as simply expecting able-bodied men and women to work for their room and board, there is really no way to know what kind of coercive measures were used to get some of the more difficult and undesirable tasks completed.

Photo of Patients Collecting Maple Syrup from Trees on the Grounds of the London Asylum for the Insane

Photo of Patients Collecting Maple Syrup from Trees on the Grounds of the London Asylum for the Insane

Male Patients at Spring Grove Hospital

Male Patients at Spring Grove Hospital

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