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Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House
In 1851, a former patient at the Maine Insane Hospital published a scathing attack on his treatment by the institutionís attendants and doctors. Isaac Hunt describes all sorts of abuses and mistreatment. His account makes people wonder whether or not the asylum offered conditions better than those uncovered in local almshouses and jails by the investigative reports of Dorothea Dix. Out of Huntís complaints came an investigation by the Maine Legislature into conditions at the asylum. The testimony of three witnesses is included here. As Hunt was writing his exposť, a fire, partially described here, destroyed the institution in Augusta, Maine, with the deaths of 27 patients, many confined and unable to escape, as well as one attendant. This is an autobiographical voice apparently impaired by his disability, but it is valuable evidence on what life could be like in one the institutions favored by Dix.
To the Honorable, the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Maine, in Legislature assembled.
The undersigned respectfully represents to your honorable body that he has been unjustly and unlawfully confined in the Maine Insane Hospital for two years, eight months, and ten days, and that for six months of that time the treatment which he received from Dr. Isaac Ray and his assistants, was barbarous, inhuman, and cruel; by which his natural health has been greatly impaired, and as it is a State institution he respectfully asks you for an adequate compensation for the injury which he has sustained in consequence of such mal-practice and cruel treatment, -- and as in duty bound will ever pray.
Certificate No. 1 -- The undersigned hereby certify that the bearer, Mr. Isaac H. Hunt, was discharged from the Insane Hospital at our request, and we believe him to be a sane man, and capable of doing or transacting business for himself.
Certificate No. 2 -- To whom it may concern. This may certify that the undersigned, citizens of Augusta, and State of Maine, have been personally and intimately acquainted with the bearer, Isaac H. Hunt, for several years previous to his being sent to the Insane Hospital, and we have seen and conversed with him freely and frequently for the past month, since be has been away from the Hospital, and it is our opinion that he is now a sane man, and is capable of transacting business for himself as at any former period of our acquaintance with him. Augusta, June 29th, 1847.
(Signed)-- Joseph H. Smith, Samuel Gill, Martin Carroll, Moses Noble, Thomas C. Noble, J. S. Lamson, Thomas Wadsworth, E. G. Doe, C. B. Morton, Wm. H. Chisam, J. P Dillingham, W. S. Haskell, Abiel L. Getchell, John F. Childs, Charles Brown, James Saffard, Darius Place, A. R. Nichols, George Darby, Wm. Garrison, J. S. Berry, H. Sewall, John H. Hartford, Alex'r Kincaid, Stephen Winslow, Daniel Woodward Jr., James Dealy, L. M. Leland, W. Lyman Clark.
The foregoing Petition and certificates were referred to the Committee on Claims, of which Hon. James H. Farnum was chairman. I will now state what was said in regard to them by different individuals, and what was said by me to the committee. The next morning Dr. Bates presented himself at the State House, and called upon Mr. Farnum and wished to see the papers, which were shown him. Mr. Flint told me that he met him and said, "Well, Doctor, I suppose you have seen by the papers this morning that we are looking after you." "Yes," he replied, "I perceive it, and I think you are setting a dangerous precedent; for if our people know that they can come to the Legislature for damages there will be no end to their petitions," and he further said, "perhaps Mr. Hunt is not a sane man." Mr. Flint said that he thought the certificates were very strong testimony in my favor, and Dr. Bates replied that he did not know as he should be able to dispute or refute such evidence.
On Thursday afternoon I went to the State House in order to give my testimony before the committee, and while in the room waiting for them to assemble, Col. Dumont and one other member of the committee were waiting for the others. The Col. took up the petition and read it, and said to the other person that it was a false representation; that he knew Dr. Ray well, and he knew that he would not abuse a man like that; it could not be true. He either did not know that I was the petitioner, or he pretended not to know me. After eight or ten of the committee had assembled they told me to proceed with a statement of what I had to complain of. I told them that I wanted the privilege of telling them what I had to say in my own plain and simple manner, without interruption, and after that I would answer them as many questions as they saw fit to put to me.
Col. Dumont told them that he knew something about the case -- that he could make some statements in regard to it -- that he thought it would not amount to much, and I was told I might proceed with what I had to say. I accordingly went on to tell them the treatment I had received from Dr. Ray, and others, at the Hospital. I was frequently interrupted, principally by Col. Dumont, and I requested them not to interrupt me; but they were determined that I should answer their questions, with the apparent design of browbeating me so that I could not say what I wished to. Col. Dumont seemed to take the part of an advocate for those I was accusing of abusing me, rather than an impartial committee-man of the Legislature. What, said he, have those whom he is accusing of such things been notified to be here to meet these charges? Where are Dr. Ray, and the others, that they are not here, if charges of this nature are being preferred against them? The chairman replied that no notice had been given them. -- Well, Col. D. would not consent to go on with the investigation with-out they were present. He wished me to answer a few questions. I replied that my petition had been referred to them, and that they might give me an impartial hearing or not; that it was in their power to do as they pleased with it. If they did not wish to bear me any further I was ready to go my way, and would not trouble them again if that was their decision. He said that Mr. Williams was a member of the House from Augusta, and Dr. Hubbard, of his town of Hallowell, were trustees of the Hospital, and he wished me to tell him whether they knew of these charges which I was preferring against Dr. Ray and others. I answered his question with these three words -- they knew them! Well, they did know them, for I had told Mr. Williams of it myself, soon after Dr. Ray left the inquisition, and all the satisfaction he gave me was, "you can't make me believe that you have been abused!" I replied that whether he would believe it or not, it was true. The way that Dr. Hubbard knew it was -- Dr. Bates told him of it in my presence, soon after he was appointed one of the trustees, therefore they both knew it. I should like to ask the citizens of the State of Maine whether it was their duty as trustees of that institution to investigate and ascertain whether such charges are true or false. Well, the committee dismissed me after promising me that I should have a fair and impartial investigation upon my petition. They had evidently expected to hear only a few idle, whimsical stories of a crazy man, which would vanish into mere nothing by one breath of the gallant Col. Dumont, but they learned from me that my grievances were too horrid, and all that my petition represented them to be, and were tantamount to and much worse than actual murder.