Pay Matters

Clifford Beers

Superintendents considered their authority and standing important, but they also appreciated a well-paid job with a cash salary. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a superintendent’s salary of (usually) a couple of thousand dollars a year was a tremendous step up from the several hundred that many other doctors made. Outside of cities, doctors often had to accept produce or other goods in lieu of cash, or continually dun patients for payment. As the head of an asylum, superintendents were comparatively well-off and secure.

Good salaries did not apply to attendants. Clifford Beers, who described his own mental illness and stay in an asylum (beginning in 1900) in A Mind That Found Itself, said that his institution employed “the meanest type of attendant–men willing to work for the paltry wage of eighteen dollars a month.”

Beers's Account of His Asylum Experience, courtesy Museum of Disability

Beers spoke of one good attendant who was very kind to him, but of others, said: “[they] did not strike me with their fists, but their unconscious lack of consideration…was torture. Another of the same sort cursed me with a degree of brutality which I prefer not to recall.” Another attendant cursed and spat on Beers when he did not promptly obey an order.

Beers graduated from Yale in 1897; this photo is from 1895 but includes students from 1896 and 1897.

Yale Class Photo, 1895.

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