Maybe A Little Bit Human

Reading Circles Did More Than Discuss Books

Reading Circles Did More Than Discuss Books

For people who are familiar with the history of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, its second superintendent, Dr. Harry R. Hummer can seem so indifferent, arrogant, and spiteful, that it becomes difficult to understand how he ever married or made friends. However, even some of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ own inspection reports show that Dr. Hummer could be both a good host and most charming when it suited him.

An item in the February 3, 1914 issue of The Sioux Valley News describes a Reading Circle meeting at Mrs. Hummer’s “apartments at the Hiawatha Asylum on Thursday.” After the business session, the ladies went into “the household laboratory where she had everything in readiness for serving a most tempting three course chafing dish luncheon.”

Craftsman Style Kitchen from 1914

Craftsman Style Kitchen from 1914

Dr. Hummer was already in the kitchen, trying to make whipped cream. “As we came in he announced that the cream would not thicken, of course every housekeeper was going to give him some advice but he quickly handed over his pretty white apron and disappeared and we never saw him again until Mrs. Hummer sent for him and their two fine sons with their little guest, Merle Chraft, to come and partake of some of that whipped cream fixed up with all kinds of good fruit and nuts making a dandy good salad, such a salad as even the men enjoy.”

The Hummers May Have Used a Beater Like This for Their Whipped Cream

The Hummers May Have Used a Beater Like This for Their Whipped Cream

Dr. Hummer later entertained the gentlemen who came to pick up their wives, and everyone apparently enjoyed themselves immensely. Though he was obviously in a different environment than his working one, accounts such as these show another side to Hummer which is difficult to reconcile with his professional character.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

A Powerful Platform

Selection of American Newspapers with Portraits of their Publishers, 1885, courtesy Wikipedia

Selection of American Newspapers with Portraits of their Publishers, 1885, courtesy Wikipedia

Newspaper editors at the turn of the 20th century were powerful opinion-makers who could use their papers to reach and influence a wide audience. Many newspaper articles of the period do not have bylines, but we can assume that few editors allowed writers’ pieces to go through if they did not agree with their own stance on the issues. A story from the April 22, 1904 issue of Canton, South Dakota’s The Sioux Valley News is a good example of the way newspaper editors made their biases plain.

The headline was “Goes Wet,” and began: “With feelings that cannot be expressed THE NEWS is obliged to record the fact that after eighteen years of existence without open saloons Canton has opened her door and invited the saloon to enter.” The writer complimented “the good old Third [ward]”, which had “stood its ground and beat back the friends of the saloon as it did one year ago.”

Editorial Question in New-York Tribute, March 1913

Editorial Question in New-York Tribune, March 1913

The chagrin of the writer is apparent in some of his following words: “THE NEWS is not ready to assert that all who voted for license, did so because they were evil minded.” However, he made it plain that most of the voters had to have been misguided. Saloon supporters evidently had campaigned on the idea that saloons would bring in more business and eliminate some of the illicit hole-in-the-wall establishments evidently in operation in Canton. The paper’s powers-that-be waited sarcastically “for the decrease in drunkenness and the dawn of the promised millennium which we have been assured the saloons would bring.”

An Inflammatory Sketch of a Woman Being Strip Searched Ran in a Hearst Newspaper

An Inflammatory Sketch of a Woman Being Strip Searched Ran in a Hearst Newspaper

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Spinning . . . and Spinning

Carnegie Library in Canton, South Dakota, Built With a 1904 Grant

Carnegie Library in Canton, South Dakota, Built With a 1904 Grant

The editor of the Canton, South Dakota newspaper, The Sioux Valley News, was like many people everywhere and during any time period, a great supporter of his community. The paper printed almost nothing of a negative nature about the city and its projects, and generally had glowing accolades for whatever event or institution it discussed. In an article about the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (“Asylum Needs Larger Quarters”) from 1926, the paper’s writer gave a sanitized and spectacularly positive spin to the creation and ongoing administration of the facility.

Following a summary concerning the asylum’s creation after Senator Pettigrew became aware of the need for it, the writer briefly described its early years under Oscar Gifford’s leadership. Then he discussed the arrival of its first patients:

“A queer particular about the early admissions was that in-as-much as an asylum was a new experience for the untutored Indian, and there lurked in his mind some misgivings as to the treatment their afflicted ones might receive in an asylum, the whole family, in some cases, came along with the patient to satisfy themselves that everything was honest and above board.

Canton, S.D. Railroad Depot

Canton, S.D. Railroad Depot

“This suspicious attitude gradually gave place to an air of confidence in the good intentions of the government. Those whose fears had been thus allayed, no doubt spread the word of their satisfaction among their brethren, and of late years, these family accompanyings have about entirely disappeared.”

Young Oglala Girl In Front of Tipi, Probably On or Near Pine Ridge Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

Young Oglala Girl In Front of Tipi, Probably On or Near Pine Ridge Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

These latter statements are difficult to believe, since there is no evidence whatsoever that Canton Asylum held a good reputation within the Native community. It is only slightly less difficult to believe that many families had the money to accompany their loved one to the asylum unless they lived nearby.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Suggested Changes From The Problem With Indian Administration

Patients Seated in Dining Room at Pennhurst, circa 1915, the Former Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic

Patients Seated in Dining Room at Pennhurst, circa 1915, the Former Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic

When The Problem With Indian Administration was delivered to the Secretary of the Interior by Lewis Meriam’s team (see last post), the report made many recommendations for the hundreds of schools, reservations, and hospitals the team had visited. These included increasing salaries of personnel who had direct contact with Indians (to attract better people to the Indian Service), more cubic feet per child at boarding schools, and adopting the standards established by the American College of Surgeons for accredited hospitals to all Indian Service hospitals.

The team recommended several specific improvements for the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians: Increase the personnel; put a graduate nurse in charge of each building with patients; provide additional laborers for the farm and dairy; segregate epileptics, children, and the tuberculous into three groups apart from the other patients; and improve equipment in the hospital, kitchen, and bakery. The team included a call for installing “a system of records conforming to accepted psychiatric practice in hospitals for the insane.”

Cottages 6 and 5, Epileptic Colony, Abilene, Texas

Cottages 6 and 5, Epileptic Colony, Abilene, Texas

Children's Dayroom at Byberry Mental Institution, circa 1938, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Children’s Dayroom at Byberry,  Later the Philadelphia State Hospital,, circa 1938, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent at the Canton Asylum, did try many times to get a separate cottage for epileptic patients, but was never successful. However, a later inspector who was a psychiatrist–which no one on Meriam team had been–believed that most of the patients with convulsions were not even epileptic. Meriam’s team likely had to go by Dr. Hummer’s diagnoses, in which he had identified any patient with convulsions as epileptic.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Scrutinizing the BIA

Hubert Work

Hubert Work

Soon after he took office, Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work contacted the Institute for Government Research; he wanted them to take an intensive look at how his organization was managing the Native American population under its control. The Institute gathered a team of experts headed by Lewis Meriam to survey reservations, schools, and other Indian Bureau facilities. On February 21, 1928, they presented Work  with a report called “The Problem of Indian Administration” that didn’t mince words.

Meriam’s report reviewed the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, and found it lacking. By this time, the institution had several buildings, and the report began with a brief description of them: “At Hiawatha (the local name for the asylum) . . . the central portion of the main building contains the administrative quarters and the culinary section on the first floor, and the employees’ living quarters on the second floor.”

Sample Pages From The Problem of Indian Administration

Sample Pages From The Problem of Indian Administration

The bakery was located in the basement of the building and “was in disorder and the oven was in a bad state of repair.” The inspectors noted the sleeping arrangements for patients and said that: “Equipment is confined almost entirely to iron beds.”

It was a dismal picture, and it seemed consistent. “The hospital building is located about fifty yards from the main building. On the first floor is a good sized dining room in great disorder.” It added later, “The dairy barn was very disorderly,” and that “the power plant and laundry are located in a separate building . . . both were in disorder.”

Much of Meriam's Report Dealt With Indian Boarding Schools Like This One at Fort Spokane

Much of Meriam’s Report Dealt With Indian Boarding Schools Like This One at Fort Spokane

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Many Asylums Have Stood the Test of Time

Dr. Isaac Ray, First Superintendent of Butler Hospital

Dr. Isaac Ray, First Superintendent of Butler Hospital

Though the medical era they represented is usually dismissed as inferior nowadays, the actual physical structures where treatment for the insane took place retain respect. Many asylums from the 1800s still stand, and represent a type of architecture which is impressive, interesting, and, for the most part, unlikely to be duplicated. Anyone who has enjoyed the grandeur of older public buildings like banks, capitol buildings, libraries, and the like, know that modern architecture is all too often merely utilitarian rather than beautiful or majestic.

Efforts to keep old asylums intact, or to restore them, are constant. A nomination form to place Butler Hospital on the National Register of Historic Places discusses the institution’s buildings in detail. The hospital had been expensive to build because its supporters wanted spacious, uncrowded rooms with good ventilation and heating–unlike the prison atmosphere so prevalent in facilities for the insane up to that point. One of the structures on the premises was the Richard  Brown house, built circa 1731, and one of the first brick homes in Providence, Rhode Island.

Butler Hospital, courtesy City of Providence

Butler Hospital, courtesy City of Providence

The hospital grew and added structures over the years, and some the architectural detail the writer discussed included: frontal gables with glazed carriage entrances, octagonal columns, and a “three-story crenelated stairtower.” Building styles included Tudor, Colonial Revival, and Gothic Revival, set within beautifully landscaped grounds.

Description of the Butler Hospital for the Insane, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Description of the Butler Hospital for the Insane, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Though few people would willingly go to an asylum, Butler Hospital’s original champions seemed to have made every effort to ensure the building was as beautiful and comfortable as its patient population would allow.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Asylums and Public Inspections, part 2

Pamphlet for Visiting Board Members

Pamphlet for Visiting Board Members

When Drs. Billings and Hurd created a short pamphlet with suggestions for Boards of Hospital and Asylum Visitors (see last post), they were anxious to help these independent “eyes and ears” of the public understand what they should look for during their inspections. Though they urged these visitors not to come in with preconceived ideas or to be excessively judgmental, the doctors did urge them to take their responsibilities seriously and really look at conditions.

One detailed admonition was for visitors to “rub or press a surface [such as the tops of cabinets and shelves or the valves of fresh air registers] with the tips of the fingers, or with a white handkerchief,” to see whether the surface had been actually cleaned, rather than merely dusted. Visitors were to take note of odors and try to discover what caused them: “. . . iodoform or some other drug; to a recent discharge from the bowels; . . . or is it merely a vague, slightly dusty odor, which gives a sense of oppression, indicating insufficient ventilation?” The authors asked them to note whether rooms were neat and clean, if bedside tables were in the proper position, whether dishes or clothes were ever rinsed in the bathroom tubs, etc. First-time offenses should be brought to the attention of the superintendent so he could have a chance to correct them, rather than immediately to outside authorities.

Dr. Henry M. Hurd

Dr. Henry M. Hurd

When Billings and Hurd moved on specifically to asylums, their concern for the well-being of patients was evident. Many questions concerned attendants. Besides asking if they were well-trained, tactful, and respectful, the doctors asked: “Do they have the manner of nurses upon the sick, or of guards in a house of detention?”

Boards of Visitors Were Created to Prevent Scenes Like These at Byberry Farms in 1938, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Boards of Visitors Were Created to Prevent Scenes Like These at Byberry Farms in 1938, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The answer to this question would have likely made all the difference in the world to patients.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Asylums and Public Inspection

Staff at the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane, 1903

Staff at the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane, 1903

Public insane asylums and hospitals were monitored in part by committees whose members inspected the facilities and made recommendations for changes and improvements. These committee members were laypeople who took an interest in a particular institution and volunteered their time to visit and inspect it.

Sometimes outsiders get a different sense of a situation than people who are immersed in the field, and can be useful in pointing out conditions professionals have gotten used to seeing. However, asylum and hospital professionals were wary of these public “visitors” simply because they didn’t understand institutions and their limitations. In 1895, two physicians (Dr. John S. Billings and Dr. Henry M. Hurd) created a short pamphlet with suggestions for hospital visitors. They urged these laypeople to come “in a friendly spirit”–not to find fault or with preconceived notions, but with an open mind that sought to understand what was going on.

John Shaw Billings, circa 1896

John Shaw Billings, circa 1896

The authors explained that any visitor would find shortcomings. “No hospital, however wealthy it may be, has means sufficient to furnish the best known means of treatment and the best care to all who apply to it for relief,” they acknowledged. Few, if any, hospitals (or asylums) had all the medical equipment its doctors wanted, or served the best food, and so on. With these limitations in mind, the authors asked visitors to go through the institution with the idea that they could help its administrators improve its function.

Patients Playing Billiards at Bryce Hospital in Alabama, 1916

Patients Playing Billiards at Bryce Hospital in Alabama, 1916

Though Drs. Billings and Hurd may have begun their pamphlet sounding as though they wanted to protect medical institutions from hard scrutiny, they made it plain that visitors were to examine the place thoroughly. Some of the things visitors were to look out for will be mentioned in my next post.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

Attempts at Christmas Cheer

Christmas Tree in Wisconsin State Hospital, 1895

Christmas Tree in Wisconsin State Hospital, 1895

Even when overcrowding and underfunding began to eat away at the effectiveness and relative comfort of asylum care, superintendents often went to great lengths to create a festive atmosphere during Christmas and other major holidays. These efforts eased the monotony of asylum life for patients as well as for staff.

 

Ward Decorated For Christmas, Fulton State Hospital, 1910

Ward Decorated For Christmas, Fulton State Hospital, 1910

 

 

At Northern Hospital for the Insane, staff decorated the chapel with a Christmas tree and placed evergreens and candles throughout the room. Many patients had received presents from their friends and family, and the superintendent, Dr. Wigginton, and his staff had purchased additional gifts to place under the tree so that no one would be forgotten.

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, patients also celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree, special meals, and stockings filled with edible treats. In 1927, the asylum received additional holiday help from the Chilocco, Oklahoma YWCA; its girls gathered (and likely contributed) gifts like dolls, games, and books to the asylum’s patients as a service project. These were delivered on Christmas Eve, to the delight of the patients. Hummer asked the coordinator to continue with the service project, and the girls evidently did so, since there is record of the asylum receiving gifts again in 1932 or 1933.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.

A Deadly Fear

A Comforting Advertisement

A Comforting Advertisement

Doctors’ competency during the 1800s was not always comforting to patients facing a dire illness, and Victorians developed a great fear of being buried prematurely. Though a well-known device called Bateson’s Revival Device or Bateson’s Belfry, is actually a fictional account (by author Michael Crichton in The Great Train Robbery) of a device to rescue patients buried during comas and so on, many “safety coffins” did exist.

Dr. Johann Gottfried Taberger in Germany invented an elaborate system of ropes that linked a corpse’s limbs and head to an above-ground bell. Theoretically, if the “corpse” woke from a coma or similar state, he or she could alert the living to come to the rescue. One problem with this device was that decomposition and the bloating that accompanied it would shift the body and cause the bell to ring. Rescuers were undoubtedly horrified with these false alarms, and Taberger’s invention fell out of favor.

Dr. Taberger's Safety Coffin

Dr. Taberger’s Safety Coffin

A system that made more sense had already been invented by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in the late 1700s. He incorporated a window and air tube in his coffin, along with a lid with a lock (rather than one nailed shut) that included a key to keep in the pocket of his shroud. This was a private device for his own burial, but it must have provided good ideas to others.

Franz Vester of Newark, New Jersey invented an improved coffin that included a tube which allowed an interested person to see the corpse, and through which the revived “corpse” could climb to escape. It also included a bell in case the victim was too weak to climb the provided ladder.

Franz Vester's Burial Case

Franz Vester’s Burial Case

Though modern fears are not as pronounced as in the Victorian era, they still exist–a U. S. patent for a portable alarm system was filed January 7, 2013. The system includes a signal-transmitter secured in the coffin or tomb and a light source to keep the victim from panicking; a receiving device is monitored by security or other personnel. After a predetermined period, the system can be removed from the coffin for reuse.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

Click here to order "VANISHED IN HIAWATHA: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians" by Carla Joinson.