Children at Asylums

An Epileptic Boy, from Criminal Man, 1911

Children lived at insane asylums. They were the children of  patients or children of staff, or sometimes they were the patients. Married staff who lived on the grounds of an asylum had no choice but to raise their children where they were placed. At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, Dr. Hummer’s two boys ran through the wards freely, often aggravating the attendants with their noisiness and mess. Presumably, children at other asylums did the same things, and enjoyed playing in the park-like settings and wide lawns that were such a feature of large asylums.

At Southwestern Lunatic Asylum in Virginia, one patient with a young baby refused to be separated from her child, and the baby was allowed to stay for awhile. Sometimes patients became pregnant at asylums, and their babies were allowed to stay until other arrangements could be made. One child born to a  patient at  the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians stayed until she was four years old.

Canton Asylum took in a few young children; the youngest actually entering as a patient was six years old. A 1958 newspaper article from the Nevada State Journal described how children lived at the Nevada State Hospital (former Nevada Insane Asylum). The paper said the children stayed in a small ward with older [insane or feeble-minded] women, who cared for them. They played outside in fair weather, and played inside otherwise. Children ranged in age from four to seventeen, and usually lived in wards with members of their own sex once they reached age twelve.

Nevada Hospital for Mental Disease, circa 1890, Dr. H. Bergstein with son and Staff, courtesy University of Nevada School of Medicine

Nevada Insane Asylum, circa 1980, courtesy University of Nevada School of Medicine

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