1864 Dutchess County Poor House

“The poor house of Dutchess county with a population of one hundred, contains twenty-four lunatics, or about one fourth of the whole number; eight of whom are males and sixteen females. Thirteen are supposed to be native, and eleven of foreign birth. Nothing definite can be obtained relative to the date of their admission, there being no special record or care for such particulars. Six of the number have been at some time under treatment at Utica. Eleven of the cases are mild, eight violent, and two filthy. Three of the males are capable of labor, and five of the females. The remainder have no occupation, amusement or employment. Six are destructive and tear off their clothing, two require constant restraint, either with the straight jacket or with straps for the wrists and belt.

The house has a full supply of water, but no bathing tubs, most of them however, wash hands and face daily. The building is heated by stoves and ventilation is only by the windows, it being of wood two stories high, with seven feet ceilings. The rooms are severally 6 x 6, and 8 x 6 feet. Two sleep in basements with other sane inmates. Iron bedsteads fastened to the floor are used, on each of which only one sleeps. The beds of straw are changed “as often as seems necessary.” The diet is for breakfast, bread, hash of meat and potatoes, coffee; dinner, bread, fresh or salt meat, fish; and for tea, beans and potatoes, and water. Mild patients go to the table with the sane inmates, and others receive the food in their cells.

There are no accommodations for the various grades of the insane, four are confined in some of the cells. A man and his wife care for the female insane, no other than paupers are employed in the care of lunatics. This institution assumes to take charge of recent cases! The lunatics are visited by a physician the same as the other insane paupers, whenever they are known to be sick. There is no attention paid even to recent cases with a view to their recovery. Two were without either shoes or stockings during the winter.

Dr. E.H. Parker, who collected these facts, observes: “It is impossible to ascertain anything concerning them (the pauper lunatics) more definite than is here given viz: that they are fed, clothed and kept tolerably decent. No thought is given to curing them. In fact it is no place for one to attempt to do so, a proper insane asylum is required to effect anything in that way with constant medical attendance. The city of Poughkeepsie and the rest of the county, are about to divide the paupers, insane and others between them, and for this purpose a new building has been erected in the town of Washington. This does not seem to have been very wisely arranged but attached to it is a building 22 x 34 feet, intended for the insane.

It is to contain 18 cells in its two stories (9 in each,) will have a walk (or hall) between the rooms of cells of about four feet, has large windows to be protected I understand by oak bars, and is altogether so far as I can learn, about as unfit a place for the insane, as could be arranged. It involves their continual confinement in small cells, unless they are very mild, it does not admit of a proper separation of the sexes, or of the violent from the mild, or of proper provision for out of door exercise for either. It is about 20 feet from the main building, and is to be heated by the same steam apparatus that warms that. It is incredible that the authorities whoever they are that have had charge of this building, should have consulted any one familiar with the care of the insane, in arranging its plan. Necessity will undoubtedly compel them to build anew or to modify this. I should add that although I have repeatedly visited the county house, I have not had the good fortune at any time to find the superintendent at home, and am indebted for all my information to his assistant.” What language can more explicitly point out an evil, at which common humanity must blush with shame?”

SOURCE: Documents of the Assembly Of The State Of New York, Eighty-Eighth Session, 1865, Volume 6, Nos. 199 to 112 Inclusive, Albany: C. Wendell, Legislative Printer, 1865, Pages 190-191.

New York State County Poor Houses.

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