Though the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had many problems throughout its operation, the facility itself had been the subject of much consideration before its construction. When Senator Richard F. Pettigrew, Chairman of of the Committee on Indian Affairs, first proposed Senate Bill 2042 (for the purchase of land and construction thereon of an asylum for insane Indians) in 1897, he asked for “not less than one hundred acres of tillable land” and that the building should be constructed of stone or brick with a metal roof, and “shall be as nearly fire-proof as conditions will permit.”
At the time, a few Indians deemed insane had been admitted to the Government Hospital for the Insane (known as St. Elizabeths) at the rate of $91 per quarter. Payment was through the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The hospital’s superintendent, William W. Godding, noted that he was presently treating five Indians, and that “this number has never been exceeded at any previous date.”
Godding felt that there would be only a small number of Indians who might need psychiatric care, and that to spend $150,000 to purchase land and erect an asylum (Pettigrew’s proposed figure) was unnecessary. He pointed out that even after the asylum’s construction, the government would need to add “an annual expenditure of not less than $25,000 for the equipment and maintenance of the asylum.” Currently the Government Hospital cared for insane Indians at an annual cost of $2,267.
Like many other whites of the era, Godding believed that insanity was actually rare among Indians. He continued, “the additional expenditure [that Pettigrew proposed] might be advisable if there was a prospect . . . the number of insane Indians would be very much increased.” But, Godding stated, “the records of the race do not justify any such expectation, rather the opposite.”
Obviously, Godding’s commonsense objections were ignored.