Library Collections: Document: Full Text
Modern Persecution, or Insane Asylums Unveiled
The faces of many were frightfully blackened by blows, received partly from each other in their internecine conflicts, but mostly, I subsequently discovered, by their attendants!
One very fat old woman who could not speak English, was sitting on the floor with a perfectly idiotic expression upon her face. One pale girl sat weeping bitterly, and shivering upon a bench with very thin clothing. Several were silent and appeared to take no notice of anything. These were melancholies in nearly the last stages of despair.
One, in quite the last stage as I inferred, was tied to her hard bench with her arms and chest tightly confined by a straight-jacket, and attempting to commit suicide by fiercely beating her head back against the wall. The sight of this poor young female, in her frantic attempts to rush from an obvious hell into the untried scenes of an undiscovered future, was too appalling for me to gaze upon. I turned away my eyes with a sick horror, but still heard her pounding her bruised head.
No one here was working, for all capable of being made to work, were at this time engaged in some of the numerous toil-ing departments of the establishment. Some were lying on the floor, exhibiting the most indescribably indecent appearances.
The windows were all open; I was shivering with cold, being at this time in the incipient stages of fever and ague.
This disease was probably acquired by inhaling the mephitic exhalations of the Eighth ward.
I drew my woolen shawl closely about my person, covering my head and eyes from these terrific sights and sounds, and sat in dumb amazement.
"Is this," I silently ejaculated, "the destiny to which I am doomed for an indefinite period?"
Oh, the insufferable anguish of those moments of horror! Language cannot portray it; it is utterly powerless. Every faculty of mind was intensified to the utmost, in those few moments of dumb tearless agony. It seemed as if my palsied heart must cease its beating.
But these contemplations were soon interrupted by the coarse voice of Bonner, screaming loudly from the opposite end of the long hall. She was obliged to scream very loud, in order to be heard above the rest of the screamers.
"Miss Coalspit, come here!"
Not supposing myself addressed, I did not move from my seat; she repeated:
"Miss Coalspit, I tell ye come here!"
Still I moved not, and began to wonder that neither did any one else, in obedience to this imperative mandate. Ob-serving me still motionless, she yelled out yet more furiously:
"You woman that's a sittin there with yer shawl all over yer head, I tell ye come here this minute!"
This last was a "trumpet" with no "uncertain sound!" I rose immediately, walked down the hall to where she was standing, and said in a low voice:
"Excuse me, Miss Bonner, I did not know you addressed me, as my name is not Miss Coalspit, but Mrs. Olsen."
"We call folks anything here, jest as happens; we don't stan about bein polite here to any on yees," she replied in a stormy voice.
"So I perceive, but for myself, you will please excuse me from following this fashion. I have no more politeness than I need, I cannot dispense with any, but must use all I have, as I perceive politeness is rather needed here; what do you wish of me, Miss Bonner? "
"I wish ye to take off that are shawl, ye don't need it here; the rest on em don't wear shawls, un you shan't."
"I am very cold -- have taken the fever and ague, the chills are upon me now, and I fear sitting still with the windows open, as you say I must, would in this very damp air, cause me to take cold; I should prefer to keep my shawl upon me for the present, if you please, Miss Bonner."
"I don't want any of yer talk; take it right off this minute, ur I'll save yees the trouble -- folks have to mind here, I tell ye, -- so be quick."
Seeing her fiercely approaching me, I immediately gave her my shawl, walked once more to my seat, and again sat down still, as she had ordered me to do.
In this prison was exacted the most immediate and uncom-promising obedience to rules and requirements which a slave holder would have blushed to inflict upon his human chattels. Our own preferences were never consulted.
"You must do this because I want ye to," was all the rea-son given.
Does the public think this a good way for lost sanity to be regained?
Alas, what has the public hitherto known about it?
There is absolutely no escape from obedience here, no matter what is required. I have many times, seen even tardy or re-luctant obedience punished with fearful severity.
I have seen the attendant strike and unmercifully beat her patients on the head with a bunch of heavy keys which she carried fastened by a cord around her waist; leaving their faces blackened and scarred for weeks.
I have seen her twist their arms and cross them behind the back, tie them in that position, and then beat the victim till the other patients would cry out, begging her to desist.
I have seen her punish them by pouring cold water into their bosoms, a pailful at the time, leaving it to dry without chang-ing their wet clothing, the remainder of the day, several hours.