Tag Archives: Indian service

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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Jobs for Indians

Pueblo Indians Working in the Indian Service School, Taos, New Mexico, courtesy Library of Congress

When Dr. Harry Hummer found himself understaffed as a result of the manpower shortage created by WWI, he asked the Indian Office to approve higher wages to help him fill positions. (See last post.) Otherwise, he would have to look at hiring Indian workers. For him, Indian staff was a last resort; for the Indian Service, hiring Native American workers was becoming much more commonplace. One of the most important reasons for hiring Native Americans was the hope that it would make the process of assimilation (submerging Indians into white culture as a way of “killing the Indian” without actual bloodshed) quicker and easier. Indians’ employment within the Indian Service itself seemed a perfect way to give Native Americans a stake in white culture and for them to serve as role models for others on their reservations.

Before the Civil War, not many positions were filled by Native Americans, but the government pushed employment for them after the war. Employment within the Indian Service’s education department went from 15 percent in 1888 to 45 percent in 1899. By 1912, Native American employees made up nearly 30 percent of all regular employees in the Indian Service, not just in its education department. (There aren’t statistics that break down employment in every job category for this period.) Teachers were still mainly white, but the number of Native American teachers had risen from 0 in 1888 to 50 in 1905.

Yakama Indian Employees and School Children, Fort Simcoe, Washington, circa 1888, courtesy Library of Congress

Hospital Staff, Tulalip Indian School, circa 1910, courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division

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Who Oversees the Asylum?

Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Cato Sells

Asylum superintendents were very powerful, but they were (theoretically) denied free rein. Most asylums had a board of directors or a board of commissioners to give oversight to the entire asylum, including the superintendent. Boards were often composed of local men who might be assumed to know what was going on, though sometimes board members had to travel from a distance to meet. Not all boards had direct hiring and firing authority, however, and could run into problems controlling or disciplining a superintendent protected by appointment.

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, superintendents reported directly to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on the other side of the country. No boards met on a regular basis to supervise the asylum, though visiting doctors within the Indian Service occasionally stopped by to inspect and report on the facility. Because they weren’t trained in psychiatry and therefore not competent to discuss patient treatment, most inspectors concentrated on the physical part of the institution, commenting more on its buildings and farming operation than anything else. Sometimes the inspectors were not even doctors, but merely field agents who happened to be in the area. Because of this situation, it was generally easy for superintendents Gifford and Hummer to explain away any problems inspectors might bring up.

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A Range of Responsibilities

Hubert Work (center), 1928, courtesy Library of Congress

Hubert Work (center), 1928, courtesy Library of Congress

The Indian Service, or later, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) fell under the department of the Interior. The Interior department had a wide range of responsibilities, including the provision of medical services for various groups under its control.

In 1927, Secretary of the Interior, Hubert Work, tried to show the range of  just the Interior’s medical services:

— It had a floating hospital on the Yukon in Alaska (a territory at the time) and supported territorial Boards of Health in Alaska and Hawaii.

— It safeguarded the health of visitors within the National Park system.

— Trained nurses and field matrons went to remote areas of the country, teaching hygiene and sanitation.

— The department’s Geological Survey investigated ground water supplies.

— Its Bureau of Education investigated the status of physical education and hygiene in colleges and reported on the health of teachers

— Through its Bureau of Pensions, conducted physical exams and medical rating boards for veterans.

The department supported more than 100 hospitals providing over 2 million days of hospital care; the Indian Bureau maintained 91 of them. More than 30,000 Indian patients were treated in these hospitals in fiscal year 1926.

BIA Health Officer

BIA Health Officer

Tulalip Hospital, Tulalip Indian Reservation, 1910, courtesy Library of Congress

Tulalip Hospital, Tulalip Indian Reservation, 1910, courtesy Library of Congress

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Drowning In Data–Not

St. Elizabeths, N-building, courtesy Library of Congress

St. Elizabeths, N-building, courtesy Library of Congress

Senator Richard Pettigrew’s suggestion for an insane asylum just for Indians created a flurry of activity within the Indian Office. The acting commissioner of Indian Affairs, Thomas P. Smith, was certainly open to the idea. He wrote to the secretary of the interior in favor of it, saying in a (July 2, 1897) letter that the establishment of an insane asylum would materially advance the Indian service.

Furthermore, he said such an asylum would relieve the overcrowding at the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths). He finished his letter by saying: “Without having very much data on the subject, easy of access, to regulate its judgment, the opinion of this Office is that an asylum that would accommodate fifty patients would be ample.”

As it turned out, the Indian Service could only discover seven insane Indians, and only five of them were at St. Elizabeths.

St. Elizabeths, 1909, courtesy Library of Congress

St. Elizabeths, 1909, courtesy Library of Congress

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