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Ten Days In A Mad-House

Creator: Nellie Bly (author)
Date: 1887
Publisher: Norman L. Munro, Publisher, New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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"I like to go down in the wagon," she said to the invisible party on the inside. "It helps to break up the day." He answered her that the open air improved her looks and she again appeared before us all smiles and simpers.


"Come here, Tillie Mayard," she said. Miss Mayard obeyed, and, though I could not see into the office, I could hear her gently but firmly pleading her case. All her remarks were as rational as any I ever heard, and I thought no good physician could help but be impressed with her story. She told of her recent illness, that she was suffering from nervous debility. She begged that they try all their tests for insanity, if they had an and give her justice. Poor girl, how my heart ached for her!


I determined then and there that I would try by every means to make my mission of benefit to my suffering sisters; that I would show how they are committed without ample trial. Without one word of sympathy or encouragement she was brought back to where we sat. Mrs. Louise Schanz was taken into the presence of Dr. Kinier, the medical man.


"Your name?" he asked, loudly. She answered in German, saying she did not speak English nor could she understand it. However, when he said Mrs. Louise Schanz, she said "Yah, yah." Then he tried other questions, and when he found she could not understand one word of English, he said to Miss Grupe:


"You are German; speak to her for me."


Miss Grupe proved to be one of those people who are ashamed of their nationality, and she refused, saying she could understand but few words of her mother tongue.


"You know you speak German. Ask this woman what her husband does," and they both laughed as if they were enjoying a joke. "I can't speak but a few words," she protested, but at last she managed to ascertain the occupation of Mr. Schanz.


"Now, what was the use of lying to me?" asked the doctor, with a laugh which dispelled the rudeness.


"I can't speak any more," she said, and she did not.


Thus was Mrs. Louise Schanz consigned to the asylum without a chance of making herself understood. Can catch carelessness be excused, I wonder, when it is so easy to got an interpreter? If the confinement was but for a few days one might question the necessity. But here was a woman taken without her own consent from a free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape? Mrs. Schanz begged in German to know where she was and pleaded for liberty. Her voice broken by sobs, she was led unheard out to us.


Mrs. Fox was then put through this weak, trifling examination and brought from the office, convicted. Miss Annie Neville took her turn, and I was again left to the last. I had by this time determined to act as I do when free, except that I would refuse to tell who I was or where my home was.


"NELLIE BROWN, the doctor wants you," said Miss Grupe. I went in and was told to sit down opposite Dr. Kinier at the desk.


"What is your name?" he asked, without looking up.


"Nellie Brown," I replied, easily.


"Where is your home?" writing what I had said down in a large book.


"In Cuba."


"Oh!" he ejaculated, with sudden understanding -- then, addressing the nurse:


"Did you see anything in the papers about her?"


"Yes," she replied, I saw a long account of this girl in the Sun on Sunday." Then the doctor said:


"Keep her here until I go to the office and see the notice again."


He left us, and I was relieved of my hat and shawl. On his return, he said he had been Unable to find the paper, but he related the story of my debut, as he had read it, to the nurse.


"What's the color of her eyes?


Miss Grupe looked, and answered "gray," although everybody had always said my eyes were brown or hazel.


"What's your age?" he asked; and as I answered, "Nineteen last May," he turned to the nurse, and said, "When do you get your next pass?" This I ascertained was a leave of absence, or "a day off."


"Next Saturday," she said, with a laugh.


"You will go to town?" and they both laughed so she answered in the affirmative, and he said:


"Measure her." I was stood under a measure, and it was brought down tightly on my head.


"What is it?" asked the doctor.


"Now you know I can't tell," she said.


"Yes, you can; go ahead. What height?"


"I don't know; there are some figures there, but I can't tell."


"Yes, you can. Now look and tell me."


"I can't; do it yourself," and they laughed again as the doctor left his place at the desk and came forward to see for himself.


"Five feet five inches; don't you see?" he said, taking her hand and touching the figures.


By her voice I knew she did not understand yet, but that was no concern of mine, as the doctor seemed to find a pleasure in aiding her. Then I was put on the scales, and she worked around until she got them to balance.

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