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New State Asylum For Idiots, Third Annual Report Of The Trustees

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Date: February 1, 1854
Source: Steve Taylor Collection

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State of New York.


No. 54.


IN ASSEMBLY, FEB. 1, 1854.




To the Legislature of the State of New York:


In obedience to the provisions of the act passed July 10, 1851, to establish an asylum for idiots, the undersigned trustees of the institution respectfully submit this their third annual report.


The asylum was opened for the admission of pupils in the month of October, 1851, and at the time of the annual report in January, 1852, eighteen children had been received; at the time of the second annual report, January, 1853, the whole number of State pupils allowed by law, thirty, were in the institution, and also twelve, whose parents or friends contributed wholly or in part to their support. There are now forty State pupils and ten pay pupils. What was deemed an experiment has therefore been fully tested by more than two years' experience, and those of the undersigned who have had an opportunity of comparing the present condition of those children with that which they exhibited at the time of their admission, do not hesitate in expressing our thorough conviction that the experiment has been entirely successful. Those of us who, from the recent assumption of our duties as trustees, have not had such opportunity, are satisfied of the same result from the information we have received.


It is not to be expected that those members of the present Legislature, whose attention has not been particularly called to the subject, should be acquainted with the history of the asylum, or with its peculiar objects and system. To enable them to form an intelligent judgment of its merits, and of the urgent considerations for its permanence, the undersigned will present a brief narrative of its establishment and progress, and an account of its purposes and the modes adopted to accomplish them.


Although a few schools for the training of imbeciles had been established in Europe, they were unknown or unnoticed in this country until in January, 1846, a member of the Senate of this State, in a report from a committee to which the subject had been referred, furnished full, authentic, and most interesting information of what had already been done, and invoked the action of our Legislature to follow the noble example. During that session a bill for that purpose passed the Senate, but failed in the Assembly. In 1847, the effort was renewed by the same member, when the bill again passed the Senate, by a very large majority, but failed in the Assembly, mainly from the want of time for its consideration, and perhaps from other temporary causes. Governor Fish warmly recommended the measure in both of his annual messages in 1849 and in 1850. In 1851, Governor Hunt, in his message, specially and emphatically called the attention of the Legislature to the necessity of some provision on the subject, and by his recommendations, officially and personally, the act already mentioned was passed in July, 1851. By that act, six thousand dollars annually, for two years, were appropriated to establish an asylum for idiots; five trustees were directed to be appointed by the Governor and Senate, and the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State, and Comptroller were declared ex-officio trustees. The board was authorized to select twenty pupils from each of the judicial districts of the State, and to receive such additional number as could be accommodated, on the payment of such sums as the trustees should deem just.


The Board of Trustees organized in July of the same year, and immediately sent a committee to examine a private school of the like character with that contemplated, which was in operation at Barre, in Massachusetts. The principal of that school, Dr Harvey B. Wilbur, was ultimately selected as superintendent of the asylum. He soon repaired to this city, and with his advice and assistance, a building well adapted to the peculiar necessities of the institution was temporarily engaged at a very moderate rent, and was fitted up for use. Circulars were distributed to gentlemen in every part of the State, who where likely to take an interest in the subject, requesting them to seek out idiot children and communicate their names to the trustees. From the information thus obtained, selections were made upon a rule adopted by the board, of taking two pupils from each judicial district, and the remaining four from the State at large. The institution opened in October, 1851, with sixteen State pupils and seven pay pupils.


The trustees adopted a series of regulations for the government of the asylum, and for a strict accountability for all monies received, and for all property in charge of its officers. They appointed an executive committee of three of their number to take immediate charge of the institution, visit it, and draw all monies for its expenditures.


In their report of 1852, the trustees advised that the experiment should be continued for the two years, with only a limited number of pupils, not exceeding forty, in order to subject the plan to the test of experience, before involving a large expenditure: and they recommended an appropriation of $1,500 for ten additional State pupils, making the whole number thirty. They also suggested the propriety of measures being taken to ascertain the number of idiots in the State. A law for that purpose was passed. In their report of 1853, the trustees stated the imperfections of the returns received under the act thus passed but from the materials furnished, and by comparing them with the State census in 1825, in 1835, and in 1845, and with the United States census in 1850, and the returns in England, they were of the opinion that there was in the State one idiot to every 1,070, inhabitants; that the number of that class was then about 2,800, and that of these, one-fourth (700) were under the age of fourteen years, and capable of being trained and instructed.

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