Library Collections: Document: Full Text
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 first time that I met Dr. Bates after this, he said: -- "I understand that you are mad with me, Mr. Hunt." "Well," I replied, "suppose I am, you have not got me shut up under your power, and I don't think you will have me very soon." "Ah," says he, "I understand that, but I am told that you think that I had some influence against you in regard to your petition." I then told him what Mr. Farnum had said to me, all of which he acknowledged to be correct, but said that the interview did not take place until after the committee had made up their report, which was made up to the afternoon that I went before them, and said he did not even know Mr. Farnum until he introduced himself. I told Dr. Bates that he knew Dr. Ray would not make a record upon the Hospital books which would be proof enough against him to send him to the State Prison for twenty years, and I should ascertain in the course of twelve months whether the citizens of the State of Maine and the United States would suffer a human being to be abused with impunity, as I had been at that Hospital. He then took up his boots and left me.
Dr. Bates knows that when he took charge of the Hospital, he found me a wild and uncontrollable maniac, no more an accountable being to God, or man, or myself, than an infant child, with the most horrid profanity in every sentence which I uttered, with my head filled, with what he said were the greatest delusions; he knows that it was not in my power to refrain from speaking of them, and that they had been instilled into my mind after I went to the Hospital, as I never had one of them before, and so firmly did I believe them, that I would tell him that what was truth was not a delusion, and he knows that he, on one or two occasions did try to make me think they were true. He knows that my whole system had been completely saturated with the deleterious drugs, which Dr. Ray had given me, and he knows that for two years he gave me large portions of morphine, or opium, to counteract the influence of the other; and he knows that when he did not give it to me regularly, every day, that I was a wild maniac, a perfect mad man, in the strongest sense of the term; as he used to tell me, that I could not sleep at night, or keep quiet by day; that I would do no work, or read, or play at any of the games, of cards or draughts, and that he had to force me, almost, to do so. This is the truth, and the truth will bear its weight.
Some two or three weeks after my petition had been crushed I met Mr. Furlong, and he told me that when it was called up in the House Mr. Williams said that I had no cause to complain of any abusive treatment at the Hospital -- that I was under a great state of excitement when I was carried there, and did not know whether I was abused or not, and besides that I was a crazy man now, and, of course, no notice should be taken of any complaints that I had to make, and he said as to Mr. Hovey, he was a raving maniac. So here we were both chalked out of the pale of civilized society by one sweep of the Representative of Augusta -- the founder of the Inquisition, and the donor of $10,000 to establish it to torture a human being in, who had never knowingly or designedly injured or abused him or any other human being whatever, in person, property or reputation. Yes, he had seen me when I was suffering it all, and then he got up in his seat and made such a statement as that. Well it was worthy of such a public officer as Reuel Williams.
As to Mr. Hovey's being a raving maniac it is false, and Mr. Williams, as a Trustee of that Institution, knew it to be so, for if I had had the power to do so, I would go to the Hospital when Mr. Hovey would be in his highest mood or on his "highest Horse," as Dr. Bates calls it, and take him away from there, and in twenty-four hours we would travel through the length and breadth of the United States, and no person who did not know us, would ever mistrust that he was a raving maniac, or; that I had ever been reported as incurably insane; so there was no man in the Legislature who dared to, or would call for, and demand an investigation of the affairs of that Hospital, against the assertions of Reuel Williams. This testimony would, and did, in the eyes of the Legislature, outweigh all of those whose names were upon my certificates, in regard to my sanity. -- Well, he and Dr. Bates, both knew if they suffered an investigation of its affairs to proceed, that Mr. Hovey and myself, would prove, and substantiate every charge which we should prefer against them, by the testimony of sane men and women, which they could not impeach or repute; by testimony which would be sufficient to hang them, were that the penalty for their mal-administration, mal-practice, hypocrisy, deception and humbuggery upon the public in regard to that institution, so we were both trampled under their feet.
"Man's inhumanity to man,