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New York State Asylum For Idiots, First Annual Report
FOR THE YEAR 1851
State of New York.
FIRST ANNUAL REPORT
To the Legislature of the State of New-York:
In compliance with the act passed July 10th, 1851, entitled "An act to establish an asylum for Idiots, and making an appropriation therefor," the subscribers, trustees of the said institution, respectfully submit this their first REPORT.
The Board of Trustees met and organized in July last, and appointed committees to look out for a proper building in some desirable locality, and also to select a competent superintendent teacher. As all the trustees but one were residents of the city of Albany, it seemed to the board indispensable, in order to secure the necessary supervision, that the institution should be so near that city as to permit the trustees and their committees to visit it frequently. Four of the trustees being State officers, would be wholly unable to perform this duty, at any considerable distance from their offices. And as the enterprise was experimental, there seemed great propriety in its being conducted so near the capital, that the members of the Legislature might from time to time examine it and become acquainted with its nature and success. It was believed also; that a suitable location could be found in the vicinity of the State capital, on terms as favorable as at any other part of the State, and that the expense of its maintenance there, would be no greater. These views and expectations have been verified by the results. After having spent some time in searching for such a building as was required and in such a place as should be adapted to the peculiar necessities of the institution, the committee recommended and the board adopted the large, spacious, airy, well arranged building on the Troy road, about two miles from the capitol, belonging to Stephen Van Rensselaer, Esq., who with great liberality agreed to lease it to the State for two years at a rent, not more probably than one-half the actual annual value. The building required very little repair; but some alterations were necessary to adapt it to our purpose, and it was deemed indispensable to supply it with pure water, in large quantity for the laundry, and for bathing. These occasioned some expenses. We think, however, that no one can visit the establishment without being struck with the fitness of all its arrangements, and the supply of every thing required for the health, comfort and convenience of the inmates, and for the course of training to which the system of education subjects them.
A part of the committee appointed to select a superintendent teacher, repaired to Barre, in Massachusetts, where a private school for the training and instruction of idiots had been maintained for more than three years, by Dr. Hervey B. Wilbur. Their object was to become acquainted with a subject so novel to us, in order to qualify them to decide on the qualifications necessary for the principal teacher. They found the school in such admirable condition, they had such evidence of the great capacity of Dr. Wilbur, of his devotedness to a wearisome and trying labor, from which most men of education and refinement would recoil, and of his great success, that they determined on an effort to induce him to leave his very profitable school, and take charge of the proposed asylum for this State. Personal interviews between him and the other trustees, induced the latter to concur heartily in the views of their committee. After some negotiation, a proposition, intended to be liberal was made to Dr. Wilbur for the services of himself and his family, including his medical care of the pupils, and accepted by him. With his advice the building was selected, and by his assistance and direction it was put in order, the necessary furniture and school apparatus provided, and the asylum opened for the admission of pupils in the month of October last.
The act establishing the asylum limited the number of State pupils to twenty, to be selected from those whose parents or guardians are unable to provide for their support, some of them from each of the judicial districts of the State.
Considering the nature of the enterprise is experimental, it was deemed by the trustees of importance that the selection of pupils should be made with the greatest care, so as to secure those who were proper subjects, who were of an age to be moulded and trained, and who should exhibit a fair average of the great varieties of idiocy. The board determined to select two from each judicial district in which proper subjects could be found, and to distribute the remaining four according to the number of applications throughout the State at large. A judicial district was assigned to each trustee, (excepting the Governor) who dispatched circulars to gentlemen in each county of his district, requesting them to seek out idiot children under 12 years old, in the condition required by the law and possessing the requisites specified in the circulars. These were extensively circulated, with others sent out by the Governor generally. From the returns made, and from applications made by individuals, selections have been made from time to time, of which a list is appended. There are now sixteen State pupils in the institution, two selected, but who have not arrived, one application that will be granted and one vacancy, and seven pupils whose parents or friends pay different sums, according to circumstances, for their support.