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Memorial Of Miss D. L. Dix To the Senate And House Of Representatives Of The United States
For years, Dorothea Dix collected information on the abuse and neglect of people with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities. Her efforts resulted in the construction of numerous insane asylums at the state level, but she began to believe that the states needed help in financing these projects. Beginning in 1848, Dix used this information to submit a memorial to the United States Congress seeking federal support for the maintenance of insane asylums. Her proposal called for the distribution of five million acres of federal land to the states. This land was to be sold as a means of raising the necessary funds to care for the indigent insane. Her memorial, excerpted here, was successful in persuading Congress to pass a law in 1854 by which the federal government would provide ten million acres according to Dix’s plan. It would have been the first time that the federal government assumed responsibility for its destitute citizens. Because of President Franklin Pierce’s veto, Dix’s plan was never put into effect, and it would be over a century before the federal government would be involved in the care of people with mental disabilities.
In 1842-'43, of 439 cases, there were from religious excitement 12 men, 9 women, -- total 21. In 1843-'44 of 592 cases, religious excitement produced of men 17, of women 11 -- total 28. In 1844-'45, in 769 cases, religious excitement in men 19, in women 16 -- total 35. In 1846, of 936 cases, of men were, through religious excitement, 22; of women, 20 -- total 42. In 1847, of 1,196 cases recorded, 26 men, 24 women -- total 50, through religious excitement.
Dr. Brigham's first annual report upon the New York State Hospital shows, of 276 cases within the first year, there were through religious excitement, of men 29, of women 21-total 50; besides 5 men and 2 women (total 7) insane through "Millerism."
Of 408 patients in 1842, 57 became insane through ill health, 32 through intemperance, 54 through religious anxiety, 50 through trouble and disappointment, and 55 through various minor causes.
Of 179 cases received at Bloomingdale in 1842, 19 were from intemperance, 15 various causes, 15 puerperal, 14 religious excitement, 14 love, 13 trouble.
Of 122 cases received in 1842 at Staunton, Va., 33 were ill health, 20 intemperance, 14 religious anxiety, 12 domestic afflictions, 10 pecuniary troubles.
Of 1,247 patients received at the Hartford Retreat, 103 became insane through intemperance, 178 through ill health, 110 through religious anxiety, 65 through trouble and disappointment, 46 puerperal.
Irreligion, and the abuse of religion, are frequently the cause of insanity and suicide. Pure religion, more than any other power, tends to arrest, and assists to cure insanity. Of this fact there is constant evidence and illustration abroad in society, and within the limits of every well-organized asylum.
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Abroad, discontents in Scotland, both civil and religious; agitations in Wales, social and civil; wide-spread disturbances in the manufacturing and agricultural districts of England; tumultuous and riotous gatherings in Ireland -- all have left abiding evidence of their mischievous influence upon the records of every hospital for the insane. France, too, unfolds a melancholy page of hospital history. Subsequent to the bloody revolution which marked the close of the eighteenth century, the hospitals for the insane were thronged, showing that where the effect of exalted mental excitement failed to produce insanity in the parents, it was developed in the children and children's children -- a fearful legacy, and sure!
The political disturbances which convulsed Canada several years since, were followed by like results.
In law, idiots are ranked with the insane. I have remarked, throughout our country, several prevailing causes of organic idiocy; of these the most common, and the most surley traced, is intemperance of parents, and the marriage and intermarriage of near relatives and kindred. Abounding examples exist on every side throughout the land.
In calculating the statistics of mental aberration, from the best authorities, it is found impossible to arrive at exactly correct results; approximation to facts is all that can be attained.
There is less maniacal insanity in the southern than in the northern States, for which disparity various causes may be assigned. Two leading causes, obvious to every mind, is the much larger amount of negro population, and the much less influx of foreigners in the former than in the latter. While the tide of immigration sets towards the north Atlantic States with almost overwhelming force, one cannot witness the fact and not note its sequence.
Our hospitals for the insane are already receiving a vast population of uneducated foreigners; and most of these, who become the subjects of insanity, present the most difficult and hopeless, because the least curable cases. Take for example the following records, which are gathered from the city hospitals for the insane poor, passing by for the present all the State and incorporated hospitals.
In 1846, the Boston City Hospital for the insane poor received 169 patients; 90 of which were foreigners, 35 natives of other States, and 44 alone residents of the city. Of the 90 foreigners, 70 were Irish. The New York City Hospital for the insane poor, on Blackwell's island, which went into operation in 1839, had, in the autumn of 1843,about 300 patients. Of 284 admitted the following year, 176 were foreigners, viz: 112 Irish, 21 English, 27 Germans, and besides these were 38 natives of New York. On the 1st of January, 1846, there were in the institution 356 patients, of whom 226 were foreigners. In January, 1847, there were 410 insane patients, 328 of whom were foreigners. The cost to the city of supporting this institution in 1846 was $24,179 67.
In the Philadelphia poorhouse hospital, at Blockly, there were received in one year 395 insane patients; at the present time there are actually resident more than 350 idiots, epileptics, and insane. At the Baltimore city almshouse, there are at the present time more than 85 individuals in various stages of insanity, the whole number of inmates reported being 1,726; of whom 873 are Americans, and 853 Europeans. In the Charity Hospital at New Orleans, in 1845-'46, were above 73 insane; in 1847-'48 there were above 80, chiefly foreigners, and presenting mostly chronic cases. The whole number of patients received at this institution the past year was 8,044: of these, 1,773 were Americans by birth, 6,150 were foreigners, and 121 were not recorded.