Tag Archives: St. Elizabeths

More Odd Decisions

Law West of the Pecos Judged Horse Thiefs Harshly, photo taken of Langtry, Texas in 1900, courtesy National Archives

Law West of the Pecos Judged Horse Thieves Harshly, photo taken of Langtry, Texas in 1900, courtesy National Archives

After being accused of horse theft, Peter Thompson Good Boy met an Insanity Commission in South Dakota and was adjudged insane. Oddly, he was sent to the government hospital in Washington, DC instead of the much closer Canton Asylum in SD. Continue reading

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Beyond Reason

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Many patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians did not receive a formal hearing or doctor’s examination before being sent to the asylum. Authorities at least went through the motions with Peter Thompson Good Boy.

He was accused of stealing a horse on the Rosebud Reservation, and spent some time in the Deadwood, SD jail while awaiting trial. Continue reading

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Keeping Up

Outlines of Psychiatry

Outlines of Psychiatry

Like most people, Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, had a number of contradictory traits. Though he was accused of poor record-keeping on his patients and of a failure to institute any kind of mental health plan for them, he was clearly interested in maintaining expertise in his field. Continue reading

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Make it Pretty

Exhibition of Fancy Work, 1908, courtesy Willard

Exhibition of Fancy Work, 1908, courtesy inmatesofwillard.com

Occupational therapy was an important part of patient care in nearly all asylums. Patients were encouraged to do skilled work that got their minds off their problems/issues and produced a tangible object in which they could take pride. Genteel ladies might do fancy sewing while men engaged in woodwork, even in an elite asylum such as the McLean Asylum for the Insane in Massachusetts.

Indian patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians were also encouraged to do crafts like beadwork and basket weaving if they so desired, to help pass time. (Peter Thompson Good Boy spent time “beading” at St. Elizabeths during his stay there beginning in 1913.) Occasionally, patients like Lizzie Vipont earned a little bit of money with their beadwork by selling items to visitors. Necklaces and handbags seemed to be most popular–or at least are mentioned most often. One report mentions that men whittled wooden objects, but went on to say that women were the primarily crafters. The asylum’s second superintendent, Dr. Harry Hummer, also allowed these kinds of occupations, but apparently stopped encouraging it so that the practice fell by the wayside.

This photo appeared in USA Today. Artifacts left over from the Hiawatha Insane Asylum for Indians in Canton, S.D. are displayed at the Canton Public Library on April 23, 2013. Photo: Elisha Page, Sioux Falls, S.D. Argus Leader

This photo appeared in USA Today. Artifacts left over from the Hiawatha Insane Asylum for Indians in Canton, S.D. are displayed at the Canton Public Library on April 23, 2013. Photo: Elisha Page, Sioux Falls, S.D. Argus Leader

 

Occupational Therapy, Toy Making in WWI-Era Psychiatric Hospital, courtesy Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Occupational Therapy, Toy Making in WWI-Era Psychiatric Hospital, courtesy Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

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Matters of Size

Bryan Hall, a Patient at St. Elizabeths Admitted in 1874 and Spent at Least 47 Years There

Bryan Hall, a Patient at the Government Hospital for the Insane, Admitted in 1874 and Spent at Least 47 Years There

In 1903, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians‘ first year of operation, the American Medico-Psychological Association (the main U.S. organization for psychologists) met in Washington, DC.

During opening remarks, visitors were reminded of the city’s many interesting sights and activities available to them, including a association-sponsored general smoker in the Willard Hotel (a smoker was an informal meeting or a recruiting meeting used by men’s organizations) and a luncheon at the Government Hospital for the Insane (later known as St. Elizabeths). Continue reading

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Useful Visitors

Photos Showed What Words Could Not

Photos Showed What Words Could Not

Though many patients felt they didn’t get enough visitors, and others didn’t like being treated as entertainment for the thrill-seeking public (see last blog), certain visitors were supposed to help asylum patients. Most states set up a Lunacy Commission whose job it was to visit and inspect the state’s insane asylums. These appointed personnel were supposed to go through the facilities and ensure that patients were being treated humanely. They were also charged with reviewing the superintendent’s management and suggesting changes for the benefit of the institution; this oversight could include reviewing the asylum’s financial records and expenditures. The Government Hospital for the Insane, later St. Elizabeths, was an exception in that it was overseen by a Board of Visitors who performed much the same function.

Most asylums were not at all afraid or ashamed to have their finances reviewed. Many superintendents were proud of their fiscal management and also grateful for numerous charitable contributions such as newspaper subscriptions, special entertainments, gifts of furniture, and the like. They enjoyed showing off the productivity of their patients in terms of food raised, garments sewed, etc. However, superintendents realized that all patients did not present well, and usually took pains to ensure that visiting officials saw their institutions at their best. Most asylums kept the calmer, better-behaved patients in wards closer to the administrative offices. Recovering patients often moved from ward to ward as they got better, and eventually ended up in one of these more public wards. When visitors saw such patients, who were often nearly recovered or had minor illnesses to begin with, they were reassured. Any cruel treatment, confinement, and restraint generally occurred on wards which were not shown to the public. This is one reason that patient abuse could thrive despite the oversight built into the asylum system.

Montevue Asylum, African-American Ward

Montevue Asylum, African-American Ward

Montevue Asylum in Maryland, 1909, Photographed by the State's Lunacy Commission

Montevue Asylum in Maryland, 1909, Photographed by the State’s Lunacy Commission

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Not Just Patients Suffered

For most of his tenure, Dr. Harry Hummer ran the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians as the only medical person on staff. He resisted trained nurses (probably because they could challenge his own expertise) and immediately undermined and harassed the nurses forced on him by the Indian Service. Grace Fillius reported to the asylum in September, 1928, and her strong personality immediately clashed with Hummer’s.

Fillius had worked as a nurse with the Army during the Great War, and suffered a breakdown in 1918 which apparently required a short stay at St. Elizabeths. When Hummer began his work against her, he brought up this breakdown as a weakness inherent in her character. Though this “cause for concern” was probably produced out of spite, it also fit in with Hummer’s philosophy that a person could never truly be cured of mental illness (see last post).

St. Elizabeths, East and North Facade, courtesy Library of Congress

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An Important Alienist

Alienists Were Considered Experts

Alienists became more important as experts to draw on after psychiatry became more established.

Dr. William A. White, for many years the superintendent of the federal government’s first hospital for the insane, St. Elizabeths, was an especially important figure.

His book, Outlines of Psychiatry, became a classic in its field and was used as a textbook for many years. Continue reading

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Insanity Defense Becomes More Common

Leopold and Loeb Enter Joliet Prison Following Their Convictions

Though President Garfield’s assassin, Guiteau, did not save his life based on an insanity defense, the plea became more common.

In 1924, Dr. William A. White, superintendent of St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane, testified in another sensational insanity-plea trial: that of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb for the kidnapping and murder of a fourteen-year-old boy named Robert Franks. Continue reading

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Compassionate Doctors

Dr. William A. White, Superintendent at St. Elizabeths, courtesy National Institutes of Health

Dr. William A. White, Superintendent at St. Elizabeths

Though many abuses toward patients  were either condoned or ignored by senior staff, some doctors cared very much about patient abuse.

When Dr. William A. White took over as superintendent of St. Elizabeths (the federal government’s hospital for insane soldiers, sailors, and citizens of Washington, D.C.), he immediately issued a terse letter absolutely revoking use of the saddle (a harness fashioned around a patient in bed and tied so that he/she could not raise up) as a restraining device. Continue reading

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