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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.
The next afternoon Mr. Farnum met me in the street, and told me that he had seen Mr. Williams, and he had told him what I had stated to the committee, and said that Mr. Williams had said that he did not know that any one had ever been abused there; that he was only there occasionally, and had not much opportunity to know whether the patients were abused or not. Mr. Farnum said that if there were abuses there, he, for one, wished to know it, and seemed to speak in a very feeling manner in respect to it, and made an appointment for me to go to his room at his boarding house that evening, to make some preliminary arrangements for the investigation, which I accordingly did. I told him that I was poor and thought the State, under the circumstances, ought to summon my witnesses for me. I told him that I wished Dr. Bates for a witness, and if he would agree to come forward and testify to the truth in regard to the situation in which he found me, and to the situation which I was in during the time I was under his charge, and to some conversation that had passed between us, that I would never prefer any charges against him farther than I was obliged to allude to him to make out my case. I had previously told the same to one of the attendants of the Hospital, who had told Dr. Bates what I had said about it, and he said that the Doctor seemed to think it was very fair in me to make such an offer; but I suppose that upon reflection he knew that he was invulnerable, as he had told me before I left the Hospital that any charges I could make against him would be of no avail. I suppose that he was somewhat like Potiphar's wife in some respects, not only pure but above suspicion, as no one immoral act could be brought against him -- he was well known and established in the community. But with his private character I have nothing to do.
Soon after my petition was presented to the Legislature I received a paper from Mr. Samuel L. Hovey, a patient at the hospital, which he sent to me by his private express, with the request that if I thought it was correct I would forward it to the chairman of the committee on the Insane Hospital, and I complied with his request, believing and knowing it to be correct. He requested the committee to investigate the affairs of the Hospital, in regard to its maladministration by the present officers, and requested them to examine the laws for its regulation, passed by the previous Legislature, and see if they ought to be amended, as they were arbitrary and unjust.
The next week after this Mr. Furlong, the chairman of the committee on the Hospital on the part of the House, came to see me, and said that he was instructed by the committee to give me an invitation to meet them one week from that afternoon and explain every thing that I knew about the mismanagement of the institution, saying that if there was any thing wrong the committee wanted to know it. I replied to him that there was much that was wrong, and but a very little that was right. I asked him if they had received a paper from Mr. Hovey. He replied that he had, and that they had had it under consideration that afternoon, and that it was a very well written document. I parted with him with the understanding that I would meet at the appointed time, unless notified to the contrary. I accordingly went to the State House at the time agreed upon, and when I saw the two chairmen of the committees they told me that there would not be any session of the committee that afternoon, and that it they wanted me at any other time they would notify me. I was then satisfied that my friend Hovey or myself could not he heard. All was crushed under foot by some unseen power behind the throne.
While I was waiting to see Mr. Furlong, Mr. Farnum, the chairman of the committee on claims, came up and spoke to me, saying, -- "well, Mr. Hunt, have you ascertained whether you can get any more evidence in regard to your case?" I replied that I had evidence enough that was strong as Holy Writ, to substantiate all of the charges that I should prefer against those that I accused of abusing me, and if the committee would give me a hearing I was ready to meet them, and if the committee would not summon my witnesses for me at the expense of the State, I had a few dollars, and could summon the principal part of them at my own expense. He then told me that he had seen Mr. Williams and Dr. Bates, and that they were both against me, and he did not think any thing could be done about it. I replied that I expected they would be against me, and was prepared to meet them and all others, if I could have the privilege of so doing. So there was an end of the investigation that they had promised me -- crushed by the influence and money of Mr. Williams and Dr. Bates. He told me that he went to the Hospital to see Dr. Bates, and related to him what I had stated to the committee, and that Dr. Bates said he did not think Dr. Ray would abuse any one: that his reputation stood very high in the community, and he did not think he was such a man, and took down the records of the Hospital and showed him what medicine was given to me by Dr. Ray, and there was none of a deleterious nature.