Tag Archives: Dr. Hummer

Hard Decisions

Cato Sells, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1913

Cato Sells, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1913

Many people cared about the insane in their midst and tried to do their best by them. Though there were certainly abuses, many of the family and friends who sent their loved ones to insane asylums thought they were doing the right thing or acting in the patients’ best interests. Even after asylums began to lose their initial glow and were seen for the imperfect places they were, many people still felt mentally ill people were better off in them simply because they could receive consistent, professional care.

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was representative of its times in this matter. in 1913, the superintendent of the Shoshoni [sic] Indian Reservation asked the commissioner of Indian Affairs to admit Meda Ensign to the asylum. At the time, this asylum was overcrowded, as most were. The asylum’s superintendent, Dr. Hummer, still replied that he would admit her once authorization was given. Many would question this decision, since another patient would only lead to greater overcrowding.

Shoshone Encampment, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, Photographed by W. H. Jackson in 1870

Shoshone Encampment, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, Photographed by W. H. Jackson in 1870

Dr. Hummer did need his headcount to go up so he could supervise a bigger, more prestigious asylum, and typically did not like to discharge patients or reject new ones. However, that consideration very likely wasn’t the only thing on his mind. In his letter to the commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hummer points out the overcrowding, but adds: “If the conditions under which she is living are as bad as portrayed by Superintendent Norris, this authority (to admit Ensign) should be sent me without delay.”

Crowded Ward at Hudson River State Hospital

Crowded Ward at Hudson River State Hospital

More patients led to overcrowding, which worsened patient care but could justify more money and more buildings so that more patients could be admitted and helped. Superintendents at asylum everywhere juggled these issues, just as Dr. Hummer did. It had to be difficult not to accept patients when it was obvious they would be very poorly cared for elsewhere.

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Reports on Many Subjects

St. Vincent's Institution for the Insane, near St. Louis, Mo., circa 1910

Many people involved with “Indian Affairs” made reports to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who then consolidated them into a report to the Secretary of the Interior. These people might be inspectors, superintendents of schools, reservation superintendents, Indian agents, and so on. Though my own research was largely confined to the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, I found interesting material adjacent to the entries I actually needed to see. A 1907 report from the Indian Inspector for the Indian Territory provided this information:

The act of April 28, 1904 . . . provided that insane Indians should be sent to the Government asylum at Canton, S. Dak. In accordance with this act a contract was entered into with St. Vincent’s Institution for the Insane at St. Louis County, Mo., . . . providing for the care, maintenance, and support of insane persons from Indian Territory, not Indians, at the rate of $300 per annum, which includes all necessary medical attendance, nursing, treatment, medicines, clothing, washing, and board and care for the insane persons in a proper and humane manner.”

Per annum cost at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was $366 in 1907, and an extraordinary $394 in 1908. This may not seem like much today, but the overage was almost 20-25 percent higher than the government allowance for non-Indians at St. Vincent’s. In 1910, the average annual cost for the institutionalized insane throughout the country was $175–which makes the figures from Canton seem especially high. Dr. Hummer, Canton Asylum’s superintendent, knew his figures were high and struggled constantly to get them down.

Three Shoshone Women and A. Fred Caldwell, Superintendent of the Fort Hall Agency, courtesy Idaho State Historical Society

Indian Agent Heinlein Issues Blankets, Tents, and Clothing to the Paiutes in Exchange for their Land, courtesy Benton County Museum, Oregon

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Attendants Also Drown in Detail

Hospital Staff, Tulalip Indian School, 1912, courtesy Library of Congress

Dr. Hummer found it difficult to keep good help at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Though part of the problem resulted from Hummer’s bad temper and difficult personality, another part lay in the nature of the work. Attendants in particular had a hard time. They were supposed to be on duty from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., though on alternating nights they were allowed to leave at 6:00 p.m. However, they couldn’t leave the premises without Hummer’s permission.

Attendants had a detailed list of 36 specific duties, though they were supposed to do just about anything required of them. A new patient always presented additional work. Attendants were to  conduct new patients to their wards and search them for valuables and weapons, make a note of all their clothing, mark the pieces, and then take on the care of the patients’ clothing. They were also to bathe the new patient upon admittance and examine him or her for vermin, marks, or bruises.

The next post will discuss attendants’ daily duties.

 

Staff of Arizona State Asylum, 1914

Stewards and Nurses, Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, Detroit circa 1890-1901

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Lighter Jobs

McLean Asylum for the Insane

Work was considered essential for patients’ well-being and cure in insane asylums. For patients to get well, they needed peace, an unvarying routine, and light tasks that would occupy their minds. Though much of patients’ work helped the institution itself by defraying labor expenses, most superintendents also believed in its therapeutic value.

Often, patients could work on projects they actually enjoyed, and sometimes earn money from them. Since a goal of treatment was to enable an individual to rejoin society, working for money was not discouraged. At the McLean Asylum, women did plain sewing, but also fancy work that they sold. At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, female patients did beadwork for money. A man named M. B. Viken wrote to Dr. Hummer in 1927 to ask if he could get a beaded belt that he had bought at the asylum years earlier, repaired. By that time, however, Hummer had no occupational therapy at the asylum other than chores. He sent regrets that he could not accommodate the request.

Psychiatric Patients Making Toys, circa WWI

Shoshone Women Doing Beadwork, courtesy Princeton University Digital Library

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What a Day

Canton Asylum

Canton Asylum

Life in most insane asylums was highly regimented, and the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was no exception.

During the day, patients had a number of chores: They performed labor in the gardens, cleaned their rooms, helped in the kitchen or dining room, or assisted in the general maintenance of the asylum. For leisure, those who were able walked outside, played ball, fished, or even went into town if an attendant could go with them. Since attendants were also very busy, outdoor activities and town visits were not as prevalent  as reports made it sound–many patients spent most of their time indoors, doing nothing.

The asylum eventually got a moving picture machine that played (preferably) 7-reel comedies in the dining room once a week. Dr. Hummer also purchased playground equipment, such as swings and a see-saw, which were very popular; the swing set is visible in most pictures of Canton Asylum. On Sundays, those who desired sang hymns and recited the Lord’s Prayer–again, in the dining room–if there were no visiting clergy to give a more formal service.

Canton Main Street

Canton Main Street

Staff at Athens Lunatic Asylum

Staff at Athens Lunatic Asylum

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