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Report Of Commissioners Appointed To Superintend Erection Of A Lunatic Hospital At Worcester

From: Reports And Other Documents Relating To The State Lunatic Hospital At Worcester, Mass.
Creator:  Horace Mann, Bezaleel Taft, Jr., and W.B. Calhoun (authors)
Date: January 4, 1832
Publisher: Dutton and Wentworth, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries

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"In the prison in which were six lunatics, their condition was less wretched. But they were sometimes an annoyance, and sometimes a sport to the convicts; and even the apartment in which the females were confined, opened into the yard of the men; and there was an injurious interchange of obscenity and profaneness between them, which was not restrained by the presence of the keeper."


"In the prison, or house of correction, so called, in which were ten lunatics, two were found about seventy years of age, a male and female, in the same apartment of an upper story. The female was lying on a heap of straw under a broken window. The snow in a severe storm was beating through the window, and lay upon the straw around her withered body, which was partially covered with a few filthy and tattered garments. The man was lying in the corner of the room in a similar situation, except that he was less exposed to the storm. The former had been in this apartment six, and the latter twenty-one years."


"Another lunatic in the same prison was found in a plank apartment of the first story, where he had been eight years. During this time he had never left the room but twice. The door of this apartment had not been opened in eighteen months. The food was furnished through a small orifice in the door. The room was warmed by no fire; and still the woman of the house said, "he had never froze." As he was seen through the orifice in the door, the first question was, "is that a human being?" The hair was gone from one side of his head, and his eyes were like bails of fire."


"In the cellar of the same prison were five lunatics. The windows of this cellar were no defence against the storm, and, as might be supposed, the woman of the house said, "we have a sight to do to keep them from freezing." There was no fire in this cellar which could be felt by four of the lunatics. One of the five had a little fire of turf in an apartment of the cellar by herself. She was, however, infuriate, if any one came near her. This woman was committed to this cellar seventeen years ago. The apartments are about 6 feet by 8. They are made of coarse plank, and have an orifice in the door for the admission of light and air, about 6 inches by 4. The darkness was such in two of these apartments that nothing could be seen by looking through the orifice in the door. At the same time there was a poor lunatic in each. A man who has grown old was committed to one of them in 1810, and had lived in it seventeen years."


"An emaciated female was found in a similar apartment, in the dark, without fire, almost without covering, where she had been nearly two years."


"A colored woman in another, in which she had been six years; and a miserable man in another in which he had been four years." -- -Second Report of Prison Discipline Society.-


Two facts may be urged in extenuation of a practice so apparently irreconcilable with the benevolent spirit of the age in which it originated. The proper mode of treating insanity was almost universally unknown at the time of its adoption; and the jails and houses of correction were the only places where the strictness of confinement then deemed indispensable, could be enforced.


Until a period comparatively recent, insanity has been deemed an incurable disease. The universal opinion had been that it was an awful visitation from Heaven, and that no human agency could reverse the judgment by which it was inflicted. During the prevalence of this inauspicious belief, as all efforts to restore the insane would be deemed unavailing, they of course would be unattempted. And even at the present day and in communities otherwise highly enlightened, there is reason to fear that a lamentable degree of ignorance prevails upon this subject; an ignorance, which, could it be once dispelled, some of the most painful records in the history of human suffering might be closed, immediately and forever. It is now most abundantly demonstrated, that with appropriate medical and moral treatment, insanity yields with more readiness than ordinary diseases. This cheering fact is established by a series of experiments, instituted from holier motives and crowned with happier results, than any ever recorded in the brilliant annals of science. A few individuals, justly entitled to a conspicuous station among the benefactors of their race, have exploded the barbarous doctrine that cruelty is the proper antidote to madness, and have discovered that skill, mildness and self-devotion to the welfare of the insane, are the only efficacious means for their restoration. Their labors have been hallowed by the spirit of humanity that inspired them; reviving reason, and returning virtue and happiness have been their reward.


These facts are deeply interesting, and, from among many similar statements, the following are selected to remove all doubts concerning their credibility.


The seventh report of the London Prison Discipline Society, published in 1827, shows, that, in the Retreat at York, out of forty patients admitted within three months after the first attack, forty were restored to their friends, recovered. Of those admitted after three, and within twelve months after the commencement of the malady, the proportion of cures was as twenty-five to forty-five; but of those whose disease was of more than two years standing, the proportion of cures was only as fourteen to seventy-nine. The experiments of Doctor Burrows, at his private Asylum in England, exhibit similar results. The last report of the Visitors of the Connecticut Retreat for the insane, shows a ratio of recoveries in the old cases, equivalent to 26 per cent., and out of twenty-four recent cases, twenty-two were recovered, being in the ratio of more than ninety-one per cent. The Commissioners are informed, that, at the "Retreat" last mentioned, when the circumstances of the patient are supposed to require it, a separate attendant is assigned him, whose duty it is to remain constantly at his side, to occupy his attention with pleasing themes, to humor his caprices, and by skillfully adapting his own conduct to the fitful moods of madness, to soothe and pacify that portion of the mind which had been excited to frenzy, and so to allow those faculties whose action remains undisturbed, to gain the ascendancy. The patient is conducted into the open air, the fields and the woods, that the restorative influences of nature may strike some chord in the heart, as yet unbroken in the fatal struggle with worldly disappointments. It is said, that, when the case is recent, attentions of this kind continued for eight or ten days, have scarcely ever failed to subdue the most terrific and fiend-like ferocity. From this systematic practice, it is believed, arises, in a great degree, the unparalleled success of that institution.

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