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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.
MRS. MARY McKINNEY called and sworn. I reside in Augusta. -- Have been an inmate of the Hospital. Went there when I had a nursing child. Breasts badly swollen and painful. I went out to dinner and saw such a painful sight I could not eat any thing. I called for drink, and a girl brought me water. No supper offered me. I did not know who to call upon. Showed Dr. Bates my breasts, and after he left a girl brought me some porridge and crackers. I soaked the crackers in the porridge, and made a poultice and tore up some of my under clothes and put on the poultice. I had no help from any one. All the treatment I had was done by myself, with nothing to do with. I had to drink coffee, -- which is not good for me, making me nervous and wakeful nights. Do not drink it at home. Told them so. Could get nothing else. One night I was taken from my bed and carried to the cottage -- no shoes on -- long dress. Did not know where I was to be put. Thought it was to be the stable, and asked if it was the stable. When Dr. Harlow pushed me in he said it was where they kept such cattle as me, or where they kept cattle. It was dark, and I felt around, and got hold of the grates, and stood there until morning. I have heard patients threatened they should be showered if they did not do so and so.
CHARLES SAVAGE Jr. called and sworn. I have been an attendant six or seven months. While there saw circumstances of abuse. Have seen a patient, named Howard, taken down and used roughly. Have seen him choked. Have seen Bartlett on his breast with his knees. Have seen him slat him about. Have seen Bartlett take them by the hair and pull them to the floor, and up again. Have seen this done several times. This was done on new patients. Potter used patients rough. He would throw them down, but I do not know of his wounding them. Have remonstrated, and he said it was none of my business. Had heard patients tell Dr. Bates of abuses, when I knew the complaints were true. Dr. Bates would turn it off, and say he 'guessed Bartlett used them well' -- 'guess all right.' Dr. Bates asked no questions. Suppose I have taken patients down when unnecessary. Believe I have told Dr. Bates so. Have seen more instances of abuse than I can state in number. Have heard patients repeatedly complain to Dr. Bates truly, and he "guessed all right," and did not investigate the grounds of complaint. Patients are understood to be showered for punishment. Have known Weeks to keep them in shower box 15 or 20 minutes. John Wheeler was ordered to be showered for breaking crockery. Weeks ordered Wheeler to be showered. Have known patients to be taken out and over worked so as to produce a delirious state of mind, and then showered. Have known patients to die in the night when no one with them. Had four sick in my gallery and three died. Sick patients are not furnished with watchers, as they are at home. There was a difference in the food furnished the galleries. I have known tainted meat furnished lower gallery patients. Have put it on the tables. It was considered that lower gallery patients would not know the difference. It was considered that the Dr.'s table was furnished better than any other in the house. Mr. Bartlett said the officers would not dare to turn him off without giving a reason. If they did he would start their boots. We had rules, and a general understanding that there were to be no tales told out of school. I told Dr. Bates I did not like the food and the way things were managed. Know of no charge made against me. Many patients might have better care taken of them at home than there. Have heard Bartlett say he would not permit a friend to be brought there.
Three years ago in October, Mr. Hunt commenced work. He worked and would go where he chose. I considered him capable of taking care of himself and attending to business. I so stated to Mr. Ballard. Have seen Bartlett take Richards, a patient, and twitch him round and choke him and pull his hair. Think he used more force than necessary.
MRS. HANNAH DENNEN called and sworn. I am employed in the Hospital at present time, as washer and ironer. I hired with Mr. Turner. His treatment to me has always been kind. I was there from Sept. 1847 to 1848. Commenced July 1849, and been there ever since. Think in October when the ground was frozen I went to cottage and saw Mrs. Graves standing at grate, window was up; she had no shoes on -- floor was cold. She had left a child eleven days old. She was brought from cottage the night she died. I saw her. Betsy Parsons requested me not to visit the cottage any more; said Dr. Bates wished it. Mrs. Shaw was pulled from the grate by her neck and hair, and thrown on the floor. She was lame. Her feet were swollen. She dragged her into her room and hit her head against the door. I assisted in undressing the lady and putting her in bed. I mentioned this out of gallery and Miss Weeks said I must not go into the smaller any more I was so nervous. Hersey was an attendant and said Merrill was overworked and made crazy and sick again haying - also, Phillips of Gardiner. I saw Savage thrash a lame man named Everet Howard. Think he choked him. My husband is insane and has been for seven years. I would not consent that he should be put into the Hospital. Bartlett said before he testified that all the lawyers in Augusta did not know how to put questions to witnesses so as to get at the truth. Bartlett said if Dr. Bates would not let him go and do his haying he would go and start his (Bates) boots. Bartlett said he could under oath tell a story that would make Dr. Bates appear one of the best men in the world, or he could tell a story that would make him appear one of the worst, and tell the truth in both cases.