Employee Grievances

Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, 1870, Male Staff at Entrance, courtesy Brenner Collection, Brynmawr

Though it is easy to blame attendants for being frustrated and unkind to the patients in their care, attendants were often frustrated themselves. Mary J. Smith (see last post) told an investigator about her workday: “Her work in the morning is as follows, 6 patients to dress before breakfast–2 paralytics, 1 spastic deplegia, and three that are so crazy they do not know enough to put their clothes on; that she has to wait on tables then after breakfast gives medicine to from 6 to 12 patients, four she has to take to closets (bathroom)–that she has to make 11 beds herself.”

In addition to this daily morning routine, on Wednesday mornings, Smith had to scrub 5 small rooms, one large room, one large hall, three short halls, and a pair of steps. On Thursdays, she had to put the clothing from the laundry away. There were 28 patients in the female ward in 1908, and Smith had charge of 15 of them.

Though there could never be an excuse for mistreating patients, Smithwas undoubtedly harried and overburdened. It would have been tempting to just lock up patients so she could give her attention to some of her additional duties. One consequences of the inspection was that the asylum was authorized to add two attendant postions, one female and one male. Unfortunately, to do so, it had to abolish two laborer positions.

Buggy Used at the Colorado Insane Asylum, 1879-1899

Agnew State Insane Asylum (Santa Clara) after 1906 Earthquake




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