Details, Details

Dairy Farm at Colorado State Insane Asylum, courtesy CMHIP Museum

Though Dr. Harry Hummer, like most insane asylum superintendents, had almost unlimited authority, he was also subject to countless petty annoyances that had to be handled in the course of the day. One of them involved accounting for equipment and supplies. Like many facilities, a certain amount of loss and breakage occurred at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, due in part to the nature of the patients who worked there and normal human oversight and carelessness. Because Hummer ran a government facility, however, he had to inventory and report all these losses (over $1.00 in value) and have the items formally deleted from his account. One typical letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs began with an acknowledgement that a government inspector named W. R. Beyer had explained that the asylum’s inmates, “on account of their mental condition are irresponsible . . . and many of these items are lost, mislaid, and cannot be located.” Beyer had advised the Indian Office to “drop items such as shovels, etc., as soon as they leave the warehouse, and are placed in the hands of the inmates.”

The assistant Commissioner, E. B. Meritt went on to say: “The Office holds, that though the inmates are irresponsible on account of their mental condition, they are under the supervision of employees whose duty it is to see that the shovels are taken care of, therefore does not see its way clear to grant a blanket authority for dropping said items.”

Though the Indian Office granted Hummer considerable leeway in the asylum’s management, it was adamant that he account for every penny they gave him.

Patients Working in Laundry Room at Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1898

Nebraska State Lunatic Asylum

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