Tag Archives: epileptic cottage

Suggested Changes From The Problem With Indian Administration

Patients Seated in Dining Room at Pennhurst, circa 1915, the Former Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic

Patients Seated in Dining Room at Pennhurst, circa 1915, the Former Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic

When The Problem With Indian Administration was delivered to the Secretary of the Interior by Lewis Meriam’s team (see last post), the report made many recommendations for the hundreds of schools, reservations, and hospitals the team had visited. These included increasing salaries of personnel who had direct contact with Indians (to attract better people to the Indian Service), more cubic feet per child at boarding schools, and adopting the standards established by the American College of Surgeons for accredited hospitals to all Indian Service hospitals.

The team recommended several specific improvements for the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians: Increase the personnel; put a graduate nurse in charge of each building with patients; provide additional laborers for the farm and dairy; segregate epileptics, children, and the tuberculous into three groups apart from the other patients; and improve equipment in the hospital, kitchen, and bakery. The team included a call for installing “a system of records conforming to accepted psychiatric practice in hospitals for the insane.”

Cottages 6 and 5, Epileptic Colony, Abilene, Texas

Cottages 6 and 5, Epileptic Colony, Abilene, Texas

Children's Dayroom at Byberry Mental Institution, circa 1938, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Children’s Dayroom at Byberry,¬† Later the Philadelphia State Hospital,, circa 1938, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent at the Canton Asylum, did try many times to get a separate cottage for epileptic patients, but was never successful. However, a later inspector who was a psychiatrist–which no one on Meriam team had been–believed that most of the patients with convulsions were not even epileptic. Meriam’s team likely had to go by Dr. Hummer’s diagnoses, in which he had identified any patient with convulsions as epileptic.

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A Look Inside Hummer’s Home

Front Room of Dr. Hummer's Cottage

View Toward Front Room and Entrance of Dr. Hummer’s Cottage*

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, made sure that he and his family got the choicest rooms in the asylum for their living quarters. His selfishness in the matter of living arrangements contributed to a divisive relationship with his assistant, Dr. Hardin, who had brought a family of his own to the asylum. The Hardins were quartered in patently inferior rooms and Dr. Hummer seemed to almost go out of his way to make their living arrangements as inconvenient for them as possible. After a few months under Hummer’s management Dr. Hardin not only left the asylum, he left the Indian Service entirely.

Entrance to Kitchen

Entrance to Kitchen

This exchange was typical. Dr. Hummer usually won his battles with employees, and was persistent enough to almost always get what he wanted from the government. (The exceptions were his prized epileptic cottage, which was never built, and a few other “desirable” buildings like a chapel.) Hummer was not satisfied with his quarters in the asylum and repeatedly asked for a separate cottage for his family to live in. He eventually won this concession, and must have waited anxiously on its completion. (See last post.) The grounds of the asylum were quite lovely, so it would have been delightful indeed to enjoy his substantial new home, surrounded as it was by trees, bushes and green sweeps of lawn.

View of the Dining Area

View of the Dining Area

Quarters for his employees remained cramped and inadequate. It does not appear from records that Dr. Hummer made any requests to improve their living spaces.

*The furniture in these pictures is not authentic to the period.

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Room for the Shell-Shocked

Main Building, St. Elizabeths, circa 1910-1925, courtesy Library of Congress

In 1917, the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (see last post) canvased various hospitals to see where soldiers and sailors could be treated for mental conditions created by the war. They naturally turned to government facilities like veterans’ hospitals and the government’s two existing insane asylums. The larger of these latter facilities, St. Elizabeths, was already charged with the care of insane military members. Its superintendent, Dr. William White, submitted his thoughts on the matter to the Secretary of the Interior, saying that a large influx of insane patients would require a correspondingly large increase in facilities. The plan in place was to ask for statutory authority “to distribute the overflow from the present organization [St. Elizabeths] to the several State hospitals.” Using caution before commitment, White asked how many patients might be expected, and whether or not the Secretary wanted them housed in temporary or semi-permanent structures.

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent at the government’s other insane asylum, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, offered his own thoughts about the ability of St. Elizabeths to care for mentally unstable soldiers. He wrote to the commissioner of Indian Affairs: “It occurs to me that with the already overcrowded condition at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D. C., it will be impossible for the authorities of that institution to care for the rather sudden accession of cases of mental disease which the present war will necessarily entail. . . . . It is barely possible that the federal government will decide that each State shall care for its own insane. In that event it will be necessary for the State of South Dakota to care for its insane, either at the Asylum at Yankton or otherwise.”

Hummer asked the practical question concerning the number of patients¬† who might need care, and provided his own tentative calculations for the commissioner. Hummer estimated that 20-25 percent of South Dakota’s soldiers and sailors might become incapacitated during the war, and that of that number, ten percent would be mental cases. Therefore, he thought that one-fortieth of the men enlisted from the state would need to be cared for at one of its institutions.

Hummer added: “I am sorry that your Office decided that we should not build the proposed epileptic cottage, as this would have given us additional beds which might have been used for the purpose now in question.”

Insane Asylum at Yankton, South Dakota

Wounded British Soldiers in a Trench, courtesy Library of Congress

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Physical Ailments

Death of Chopin by Consumption

Tuberculosis (TB) was often known as “consumption” during the Victorian era, and novelists conjured up romantic images of beautiful young women wasting away until they offered a last, gentle breath in the arms of their loved ones and suffered no more. The Bronte siblings (Anne, Emily, Branwell, and perhaps Charlotte) died of TB, as did Eugene O’Neill, Dylan Thomas, Henry David Thoreau, Alexander Graham Bell, and Doc Holliday. There was nothing romantic about dying of TB, though. Symptoms could be subtle at first, with coughing, weight loss, and fever very common. Eventually, TB patients developed pockets and cavities in their lungs that could become infected and filled with pus, or bleed. Breathing became extremely difficult and, without intervention, the disease would eventually prove fatal.

Dr. Hummer wanted a separate cottage for epileptics at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, but he really needed to separate TB patients from others. He was faulted as late as 1933 for his staff’s sloppy monitoring of TB and their failure to isolate patients with possible TB from healthy ones. Since a healthy person can catch TB by inhaling bacteria exhaled by an infected person, allowing patients with TB to mingle with healthy patients was a serious matter. Isolating TB patients was such an elementary precaution that Hummer’s failure to do so was inexcusable.

TB Anti Spitting Campaign

TB Sanitorium at Phoenix Indian School circa 1890 to 1910, courtesy National Archives

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Economic Impact

Portion of Building and Grounds of Insane Asylum in Lexington, courtesy University of Kentucky

Insane asylums provided regular payrolls to local economies, and often needed additional labor for special projects. As a government facility, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had to bid out almost all its work and supply needs, but that did not mean that the city of Canton did not enjoy the benefits of those projects. Available records do not show who actually performed all the labor associated with the asylum’s projects, but it is likely that any construction company ended up using local labor for some of its work.

The asylum’s original buildings included the main building, a pump and power house, a horse barn and a cow barn. No specific mention is made beyond “small outbuildings,” but the facility probably included a number of small sheds and storage buildings as well. In December, 1907, Gifford paid a carpenter $3/day for six days, to repair wind damage to a horse barn, cow barn, and carriage house; this would amount to about $431 today. Just a month later, he spent $75 to install window guards on the windows of patient wards, about $1,830 today. From 1900 to 1907, the government spent $80,882.03 on buildings and similar hard structures (versus maintenance)–$1,460,000 in today’s dollars.

As more patients were added, more buildings were needed and constructed. Ironically, each of the two superintendents who ran Canton Asylum wanted special buildings which they never received. Gifford particularly wished to separate noisy and violent patients from quieter ones, feeling that housing them together was bound to be excessively irritating for his quiet patients. Dr. Hummer wanted a separate epileptic cottage.

New Orleans Insane Asylum

Broughton Hospital, North Carolina

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Continued Futility

Cottages 6 and 8, Epileptic Colony, Abilene, Texas

As much as Dr. Harry Hummer wanted to expand the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, he was seldom supported simultaneously by all the people he needed to help him. If he could get a commissioner of Indian Affairs on his side, the Secretary of the Interior wouldn’t help him. If he could get a government inspector to recommend expansion, he couldn’t get the commissioner to go along, and so forth. One of the expansion/improvement projects Hummer most wanted was an epileptic cottage. At any given time, approximately 20% of his patients were epileptics, and they created a great deal of work and need for oversight. Hummer wanted to keep all these patients in a dedicated facility to make their care more manageable.¬† In 1922, Chief Medical Inspector, R. E. Newberne, recommended both expansion and an epileptic cottage, saying that additional land could possibly be paid for “from the sale of alfalfa and hogs.” This suggestion surely came from Hummer rather than his own analysis.

At the time of Newberne’s inspection, from a total of 90 patients, 21 had some form of epilepsy, 25 had dementia praecox, (later called schizophrenia by Dr. Emil Kraepelin) and 22 were imbeciles. Hummer also had three patients under 10 years of age, 9 patients between the ages of 10 and 19, and four who were between 70 and 79. Though it would seem that caring for the children and elderly would also be demanding, Hummer did not seem to refer to their special needs when speaking to inspectors or to the commissioner.

Emil Kraepelin

Dementia Praecox Patients, from Emil Kraepelin's textbook, 1899 edition

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