Canton Asylum’s Second Superintendent

Dr. Harry R. Hummer

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was unusual in that it was a short-lived institution with only two superintendents. Unlike Oscar Gifford (see last post), Canton Asylum’s second superintendent was well qualified to run an insane asylum. Born in Washington, DC and educated at Georgetown University, Dr. Harry R. Hummer was an ambitious young man who desired prominence and prestige.

He worked at the Government Hospital for the Insane ( St. Elizabeths) for nine years before applying for the position of superintendent at Canton Asylum. Married with two children when he moved to Canton, South Dakota, Hummer badly wanted to run his own institution.

It must have been a difficult move for the whole family, since they had no ties whatsoever to the West. Norena Guest Hummer, cousin to the poet Edgar Guest, was used to the nice dinners and servants available as a doctor’s wife at St. Elizabeths. Hummer was used to having his orders obeyed without question, common at authoritarian eastern asylums, and certainly common at the military-style government asylum. It was a shock to both Hummers to arrive in South Dakota among a much more independent type of employee.

Poet Edgar Guest

Georgetown Medical School, circa 1900, courtesy National Library of Medicine

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