1860 Susan B. Anthony

As I am always searching for historical articles concerning anything having to do with the nineteenth century perspective on mental illness, insane asylums, the patients, and any one who may have been involved, I was very pleased to find this particular passage from Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), involving Susan Brownell Anthony. After reading it, I wanted to know the specifics of the story, and I had to find out who the characters were. Being a life-long resident of Rochester, New York, I am proud to say that Miss Anthony was also a resident of this fine city from 1866 to 1906. She is one of America’s most famous, beloved, and inspirational women because of her strength, dedication, and undying tenacity for the cause of women’s rights. Miss Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts, and died on March 13, 1906 in Rochester, New York. Her most famous quote is, “Failure is Impossible.”

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“While all this was going on publicly, an equally trying experience was progressing, day by day, behind the scenes. Miss Anthony had been instrumental in helping a much abused mother, with her child, to escape from a husband who had immured her in an insane asylum. The wife belonged to one of the first families of New York, her brother being a United States senator, and the husband, also, a man of position; a large circle of friends and acquaintances was interested in the result. Though she was incarcerated in an insane asylum for eighteen months, yet members of her own family again and again testified that she was not insane. Miss Anthony, knowing that she was not, and believing fully that the unhappy mother was the victim of a conspiracy, would not reveal her hiding place.

Knowing the confidence Miss Anthony felt in the wisdom of Mr. Garrison and Mr. Phillips, they were implored to use their influence with her to give up the fugitives. Letters and telegrams, persuasions, arguments, and warnings from Mr. Garrison, Mr. Phillips, and the Senator on the one side, and from Lydia Mott, Mrs. Elizabeth F. Ellet, and Abby Hopper Gibbons, on the other, poured in upon her, day after day; but Miss Anthony remained immovable, although she knew that she was defying and violating the law and might be arrested any moment on the platform. We had known so many aggravated cases of this kind that, in daily counsel, we resolved that this woman should not be recaptured if it were possible to prevent it.

To us it looked as imperative a duty to shield a sane mother, who had been torn from a family of little children and doomed to the companionship of lunatics, and to aid her in fleeing to a place of safety, as to help a fugitive from slavery to Canada. In both cases an unjust law was violated; in both cases the supposed owners of the victims were defied; hence, in point of law and morals, the act was the same in both cases. The result proved the wisdom of Miss Anthony’s decision, as all with whom Mrs. P. came in contact for years afterward, expressed the opinion that she was, and always had been, perfectly sane. Could the dark secrets of insane asylums be brought to light we should be shocked to know the great number of rebellious wives, sisters, and daughters who are thus sacrificed to false customs and barbarous laws made by men for women.” (1)

The following article is reprinted from The Model Editions Partnership Historical Editions in the Digital Age, The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Copyright 1997. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved.

Phoebe Harris Phelps, wife of Charles Abner Phelps of Boston and the sister of prominent New York lawyers and politicians, approached SBA in Albany in December 1860 for help in her flight from her husband. On Christmas day SBA accompanied Phoebe Phelps and one daughter to New York City, where Abby Hopper Gibbons and the writer Elizabeth Ellet concealed the fugitives until they moved on to Philadelphia. Charles Phelps (1820-1902), who graduated from Union College in 1841 and Harvard Medical School in 1844, practiced medicine with his father. A successful political career began with election to the Massachusetts legislature in 1855. Meanwhile, his wife, who worked at the Albany Female Academy before her marriage, raised their three children and published several children’s books on religious themes. By her account, Charles Phelps became abusive and unfaithful before 1858, and when she confronted him, he committed her to the McLean Lunatic Asylum. After seventeen months of confinement, she got away to Albany. In one version she escaped; in another she was released to her brother’s home, and the flight to New York occurred after several months of disputes over visits with the children. In Philadelphia Phoebe Phelps supported herself by writing and sewing until, after ten months of safety, agents of her husband seized their daughter and returned her to Boston. Phoebe Phelps followed and with help from friends found a safe place from which to file for divorce. She published one more religious book in 1865. When Charles Phelps died in 1902, his obituary named his wife but said nothing more about her. Their daughters, both single, lived in Boston. SBA kept clippings about the case in her scrapbooks and identified the principals.” (2)

The following article is reprinted from Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody by Phyllis Chesler.

“In 1860, the year Elizabeth Packard was psychiatrically imprisoned, Susan B. Anthony was visiting her friend Lydia Mott in Albany, New York. A disheveled and sobbing woman was admitted to the parlor. She was Mrs. Phelps, the wife of a Massachusetts state senator and a sister of a U.S. Senator. ‘Please won’t you help me? No one else will. I am a wife and mother. When I finally confronted my husband with proof of his adulteries, he beat me and had me put away in an Insane Asylum. My brother had me freed, but could not obtain permission for me to see my children. Yesterday, after a year, I was allowed to visit one child. I fled the state with her immediately. And now I am a fugitive.’

Anthony agreed to help Mrs. Phelps. She escorted her to New York City and obtained refuge for her there. State Senator Phelps threatened to have Anthony arrested during one of her public lectures. He also enlisted Anthony’s two most cherished abolitionist comrades, Garrison and Phillips, in his campaign against her.

Anthony’s comrades strongly believed that her action endangered the ‘women’s right’s movement and the anti-slavery cause.’ Anthony disagreed with them. She said, ‘Don’t you break the law every time you help a slave to Canada? Well the law which gives the father sole ownership of the children is just as wicked and I’ll break it just as quickly. You would die before you would deliver a slave to his master and I will die before I will give up the child to its father.’

Phelps hounded Anthony for more than a year. She remained firm. Finally, he hired detectives to locate his missing child. One Sunday morning, on her way to church, the young Miss Phelps was kidnapped on the street and ‘legally’ returned to her father.” (3)

Chapter XIII – Reforms and Mobs (Includes the origin of the word “bloomer”): Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Susan Brownell Anthony

Susan B. Anthony Grave, Mt. Hope Cemetery, taken by L.S. Stuhler 7.8.2001

Susan B. Anthony Grave, Mt. Hope Cemetery, taken by L.S. Stuhler 7.8.2001

(1) Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) New York: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898, Chapter XIII. Reforms and Mobs.)

(2) The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Ann D. Gordon, et al. (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 1999). Electronic version based on The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997) Vol. 1, pp. 196-461. On the Web at http://mep.blackmesatech.com/mep/ [Accessed 21 July 2012] Copyright 1997. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved.

(3) Chesler, Phyllis, Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, Second Edition, Chicago Review Press, 2011, pages 7-8.

Susan Brownell Anthony Obituary – New York Times

National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, 17 Madison Street, Rochester, NY 14608

Possible Grave of Phoebe Harris Phelps – Find A Grave

Ira Harris – Find A Grave
Ira Harris may be the brother of Phoebe Harris Phelps. Mr. Harris served as the Senator from New York from March 4, 1861 to March 4, 1867.

Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York

Other articles concerning Dr. and Mrs. Phelps state that when Mrs. Phelps confronted Dr. Phelps about his adultery, he threw her down the stairs and beat her. When she threatened to tell authorities, he locked her up in an insane asylum and would not allow her to see her children. She remained in the asylum for eighteen months. Mrs. Phelps brother, the Senator from New York, freed her but could not get permission for her to see or have custody of her children. She was finally allowed to see one child, a daughter. Dr. Phelps was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1856, and served as a State Senator in 1858. -L.S.Stuhler


1855 Samuel Joseph May

I need to explain who Samuel J. May was because he was mentioned in a previous post about Miss Phebe B. Davis who wrote the pamphlet, Two Years and Three Months in the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica: Together with the Outlines of Twenty Years’ Peregrinations in Syracuse. Miss Davis believed that “Priest May” had a hand in having her committed to the State Lunatic Asylum at Utica sometime between 1848 and 1853. Davis stated, “I have given simply the outlines of what took me to the Lunatic asylum. S. J. May, the great woman’s rights man of Syracuse, pretended that he thought it would be a great benefit to my health; yet he knew all the time that I could take care of myself, if I had any thing to do it with, – and that is more than his women-folks can do, though they are rational, I suppose – for they will not cook their own food after it is given them, while I was obliged to work for what little I did have and then do my own cooking besides. But however, as I could not make a comfortable living by sewing, I thought it best to go, and the more readily, as I had heard so much said in commendation of the institution and of the kind treatment the patients received there. Still, notwithstanding all these good hear-says, as soon as I thought of going there, a feeling of suspicion crept into my mind, which I could not eradicate and did not, that all was not right in that Asylum, and this impression proved to be too true – it was not imaginary, but real.”

Samuel May will also be mentioned in my next post in which Susan B. Anthony helps a mother, with her child, escape from an abusive husband who had her committed to an insane asylum for eighteen months. This story is taken from the book Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897, Chapter XIII, Reforms and Mobs, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Samuel J. May

Samuel J. May

Samuel Joseph May was born in the Boston area of Massachusetts on September 12, 1797, to Colonel Joseph and Dorothy (née Sewell) May. In 1825, he married Lucretia Flagge Coffin and had five children. He was a minister and an influential reformer during the nineteenth century who advocated for women’s rights, better education for children, and the abolition of slavery. He died July 1, 1871, in Syracuse, New York. Abigail “Abba” Alcott (née May) was the sister of Samuel May. Abigail and Amos Bronson Alcott were the parents of Louisa May Alcott who was an American novelist best known as the author of the novel Little Women which was based on her childhood and home life.

According to the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography website: “Samuel Joseph May (September 12, 1797 – July 1, 1871), a Unitarian minister, was one of the greatest social and educational reformers of the nineteenth century. He advocated and organized on behalf of freedom and civil rights for blacks, emancipation and voting rights for women, and just rights for workers. Because he was many decades ahead of mainstream acceptance of the policies he fought for, he was often at odds with his ministerial colleagues, church members, and the public at large.”

“In 1845 May began his longest ministry, at the Church of the Messiah in Syracuse, New York. There, he came to understand the plight of women as similar to that of blacks. In his seminal address, the Rights and Condition of Women, 1846, he asked why ‘half of the people have a right to govern the whole.’ He became a familiar figure in the women’s rights movement, speaking at conventions and accepting committee roles, working closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. ‘Humanity is dual, and yet when perfected it is one,’ said May at the 1850 Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. ‘A perfect character in either man or woman is a compound of the virtues of each.’”

“On the eve of the Civil War the atmosphere in Syracuse became ever more incendiary. In January 1861, when a major antislavery rally was to be held, May and Susan B. Anthony were threatened with violence by an angry crowd that stormed the building. The rally was cancelled, and the mob paraded through the streets of Syracuse with effigies of May and Anthony, finally burning them in the center of town.”

“As war approached, May reluctantly recognized that human rights could no longer be pursued without violent means. He ended by supporting the war, urging the government to prosecute it quickly, and pressing Lincoln to free the slaves. During the war, May did charitable work on behalf of soldiers and prisoners. After the war he campaigned for the rights of workers and championed welfare for the poor, rights for women, and the redistribution of wealth through a graduated income tax. Into his last years he maintained his support of black and female suffrage.”
SOURCE: All material copyright Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society (UUHHS) 1999-2013 From the biography of  Samuel Joseph May, written by Dennis Landis, in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, an on-line resource of the Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society. Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, All material copyright Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS) 1999-2012.

1855 Miss Phebe B. Davis

Names of patients who were incarcerated at state insane asylums 72 years ago or more can be difficult to find; not because they aren’t there but because they are buried in old documents, records, and books. It is rare that one finds a first hand account of the experiences of a person who had lived to tell the story of being locked up at the state lunatic asylum. Miss Phebe B. Davis, wrote and published a pamphlet entitled TWO YEARS AND THREE MONTHS IN THE NEW-YORK STATE LUNATIC ASYLUM, AT UTICA: TOGETHER WITH THE OUTLINES OF TWENTY YEARS’ PEREGRINATIONS IN SYRACUSE, in 1855, with her own money. Her goal was to inform the public about the terrible abuses that were endured by the patients while in “the house.” I read her story with one hand over my mouth for many different reasons, and at times, I could be heard to say, “Oh, Jesus!” and “Oh my God!”

Davis Pamphlet 1855

Davis Pamphlet 1855

I have transcribed her pamphlet word for word and bolded the names of all the people she mentioned. This is what I meant in my book when I said: “To believe that all our ancestors were good, kind, law abiding citizens who were literate, owned their own homes, and held steady employment is unrealistic.” Some of our ancestors were down right mean!

The pamphlet is not an easy read since it was written 157 years ago, but all 64 pages are worth the effort. I knew that some words were printing errors but everything else I kept as originally written. If you have read my blog, you will already know Dr. Amariah Brigham and Dr. John P. Gray. In the coming days, I will do more research on Miss Davis, Dr. Benedict, Dr. Nichols, and Dr. CookBub.”

1880 The Treatment Of The Insane by William A. Hammond

“In all ages of the world, the most monstrous abuses have found their defenders among good and noble-minded people; and this is especially true of those acts which a subsequent period regards as outrages against the individual, but which at the time were defended by many on the ground of expediency, the advantage of the country, the glory of God, the progress of humanity, or the ultimate good of the person injured. Thus, the gladiatorial exhibitions of ancient Rome were looked upon as politic amusements, which tended to excite harmless emotions to the exclusion of more dangerous sentiments. The Duke of Alva, and others of his type, professed to be actuated by a laudable desire to put down rebellion; and it is entirely within the range of possibility that they were kind and loving fathers and friends. Witches and heretics were burned at the stake or drowned in the flood at the instigation of tender-hearted women, and by judges of gentle bearing, who honestly thought they were serving God and society; and the insane were loaded with chains, beaten and subjected to many other corporeal sufferings by the orders of learned and humane men, who sincerely believed that they were acting in accordance with the most benevolent instincts, – as in fact they probably were. But as time passes on the acts of those who have preceded us are seen in their true light, and judged by a higher standard. The human nature of to-day is more advanced than the human nature of yesterday, and what were deemed to be great truths then are seen to be vile errors now. It denounces the dungeon, the lash, and the fetters for lunatics, but it clings tenaciously to the strap, the camisole, and the Utica crib. It looks back with horror to the time when the insane were flogged as a therapeutical measure “to beat the devil out of them,” but regards with complacency and even favor the forcible feeding of the poor creatures by ignorant and brutal attendants, and the consequent life-long injury or death of the victims. That those who come after us will regard our conduct in these matters very much as we do that of the mad-house keepers of less than a century ago is not a matter for doubt. Already the revolution has begun.

Holding Chair

Holding Chair – Illustration by Etienne Equirol’s Des maladies mentales considérées sous les rapports médicale hygiénique et medico-legal (Paris 1838), at: Diseases Of The Mind: Highlights of American Psychiatry through 1900. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/debates.html.

Few, even among those who have given some attention to the subject, know the depth of wretchedness to which within a comparatively short period the lunatic was consigned, and which, even at the present day, is in some places scarcely lessened. Dr. Conolly, (1) whose advanced ideas of science and humanity led to the uniform adoption in England of the “non-restraint” system of treatment, speaking only thirty years ago on this subject, says: “Very few physicians of education were to be found, until a recent period, devoting themselves to mental disorders. Those occupied in asylums were chiefly distinguished by an eccentricity and a roughness which, unfitting them for other professional vocations, made them willing to undertake to treat mad people. By such persons, ill-educated, prejudiced, and without any resources but methods of violence, and who had never studied the forms and treatment of mental disorders, all attempts to ameliorate the condition of the insane were bitterly and unscrupulously opposed with every effort and every contrivance of vulgar minds. Meantime, the outside walls of an asylum were regarded with awe; the shrieks issuing from it made night hideous; the frantic creatures enclosed in their dens furnished appalling subjects for the artist or the novelist; squalor and dirt, and famine and ferocity were everywhere to be met with.” And now in the latter half of the nineteenth century we find that the methods which Conolly so vigorously denounced, and to the abolition of which he gave his life, are in full use in almost every asylum in the United States; that the attempts to improve the condition of the insane are opposed, as in his day, by those who have the charge of them; that dens are still in existence, chains still employed, blows still inflicted, systematic flogging still practised, the strait-jacket still used as a means of restraint; and that these agencies of subjection are supplemented by The Utica Crib. , – an apparatus not only inhuman, but one which no person possessing a competent knowledge of the physiology of the brain and the pathology of insanity would venture to introduce into the wards of a lunatic asylum.

Dress Camisole - Esquirol Bench

Dress Camisole-Esquirol Bench – Illustration by Etienne Equirol’s Des maladies mentales considérées sous les rapports médicale hygiénique et medico-legal (Paris 1838), at: Diseases Of The Mind: Highlights of American Psychiatry through 1900. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/debates.html.

I do not mean to be understood as saying that all these various measures for punishing and subduing a maniac are sanctioned by those in authority. No superintendent, so far as I know, approves of his patients being knocked down, beaten, or put in irons; but, nevertheless, these things and even worse are perpetrated in American institutions for the insane, either through the ignorance, the negligence, or the indifference of their superintendents; and others equally bad are done with their full knowledge and approval. Doubtless many of the outrages against humanity which are committed in our asylums are the direct result of the system by which their officers are appointed. But this only makes the matter worse. If it were individuals only with which those who have undertaken the task of ameliorating the condition of the insane had to contend, the contest would be neither long nor doubtful; but there are trustees and commissioners, and legislatures and political parties to meet, who have an interest – one which appeals with great force to the average American mind: the love of patronage – in keeping things as they are.

Now let us see what kind of atrocities are permitted by the system which prevails throughout this country. In this survey, it will not be necessary to go back farther than two or three years, or to refer to more than a few examples of the number which have been unearthed by legislative committees, casual visitors, and newspaper reporters, or which have been revealed by mere accident.

Within about a year four homicides occurred in the New York City lunatic asylum on Ward’s Island. In one of these a patient was beaten to death by an attendant; in another, an attendant was killed by a patient; in the third, a patient was thrown off the wharf and drowned by another patient; and in the fourth, one lunatic was ordered to give a hot bath to another, not only insane, but paralyzed. After getting him into the bath-tub he turned on the hot water and walked away leaving the poor wretch actually to be boiled to death. In the asylum at St. Peter, Minnesota, a patient who refused to eat had his mouth filled with food by a nurse, and the mess pushed down into his stomach with the handle of a knife, while another nurse held him down. On one occasion he ran away, yelling that they wanted to kill him. He was caught and laid on a bench; one attendant held his hands, and sat across his body; another attendant and a patient helped to hold him; his mouth was plugged to prevent his closing it. The food (soup) was poured in from a pitcher; his breath was heard to “gurgle” as the soup went into his windpipe, and in five minutes he was dead.

Force Feeding

Force Feeding

Owing to an erroneous idea that the food is poisoned, to some other delusion, or to a determined intention to commit suicide, it frequently happens that lunatics refuse to eat. The operation of forcible feeding is a delicate one, requiring anatomical skill; and yet it is one which in American asylums is often left to be performed by ignorant and brutal attendants, a physician not even being present. Thus, at the Bloomingdale Asylum in New York, a lady while being fed by a nurse had the soft parts of the roof of her mouth torn away by the spoon being rammed violently down her throat. From the testimony taken in this case, preliminary to a suit for damages, and which has not yet been published, I make the following citations:

Mrs. Cochran says she saw both Jane Eaton and Jane Gordon, nurses in Bloomingdale, forcibly feeding a patient. They had a wooden wedge which they put into her mouth, and then they fed her with a spoon (folio 93). Dr. Choate says it is done by attendants in asylums (folio 119). Jane Eaton, a nurse, puts on the camisole without instructions from the physician (folio 125). Was told to use force in feeding (folio 127). Used a spoon or a wedge to force open the mouth. “The most difficult person I ever had to feed” (folio 132), – and yet the duty was left to a nurse; the doctor was never present when she was fed (folio 133). The nurse does not always report to the physician when she uses the camisole. Has seen blood come from Mrs. N’s mouth when she was feeding her (folio 138). Was taken naked from her room to the bath-room (folio 146). The doctor says forcible feeding is delegated to an attendant (folio 150).

Last winter, rumors in regard to the bad management of the Longview Asylum, in Ohio, became so prevalent that the legislature appointed a committee to investigate them. From the report made on the subject I make the following extracts: –

According to the testimony of several eye-witnesses, a punishment frequently and sometimes gleefully resorted to by attendants in this asylum is one known as “taking down.” “Taking down,” in the words of the testimony, consists in tripping or throwing the patient to the floor, holding her down (for “taking down” is a female punishment; the men being usually knocked down) with the knee on the chest, while another employé gags the patient, and still another holds the patient’s hands. The patient is held down till she is quite weak and exhausted, becomes purple in the face, and the breath is almost gone.

Another punishment is to make a “spread eagle” of a patient. This consists in stripping a patient to nakedness, and making attendants whip him with wet towels. This is a punishment inflicted for a refusal to work. It is described as very painful, and is practised because it leaves no marks.

There is testimony as to ducking, kicking, beating, black eyes, and other marks of cruelty. It is in evidence that weak patients are overworked, and all inmates have not been properly fed and cared for. Hard work has been needlessly compelled in a room in which the mercury stood at one hundred and twenty degrees. The use of “cribs” and the “strong room” is shown. Loathsome vermin in loathsome numbers have been allowed to accumulate upon the bedding, the apparel, and the person of patients. All of these things and others told with a painful plainness is the testimony that is made part of this report.

The report then goes on to speak of the profanity of the attendants; that “the superintendent has been guilty of inattention to his duties and gross neglect;” and that the evidence “seems to the committee to destroy entirely the suggestion that the various hideous things were done without his knowledge and consent.” The Ohio legislative committee appears to have performed its work thoroughly; and it is the more to be commended for this, inasmuch as the superintendent was appointed on political grounds, and the majority of the committee was of the same political faith as this official.”

1880 The Utica Crib

It is so interesting to read original documents from the nineteenth century. It gives us a great insight into how people viewed the “insane.” The following articles feature Dr. William A. Hammond, who fought to remove all mechanical restraints, including the infamous “Utica Crib,” from New York State Insane Asylums. The first article was written by Dr. Hammond in March of 1880 and was published in The International Review. The second article from the Utica Morning Herald and Daily Gazette published on November 25, 1879, argues that Dr. Hammond was making “reckless and wholesale charges,” it also refers to the inmates as “unfortunate creatures” as if they were not human beings. What I discovered was that the Utica Crib was invented by Dr. M.H. Aubanel, of the Marseilles Lunatic Asylum in 1845, and was introduced at the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica in 1846 by Dr. Amariah Brigham, the first Medical Superintendent.

On November 29, 1886, Dr. John P. Gray, died. He had held the position as Medical Superintendent at Utica for several years. On December 14, 1886, Dr. George Alder Blumer was appointed as the new Medical Superintendent. On September 30, 1887, Dr. Blumer proudly reported: “Mention should be made in this connection of the so-called ‘Utica Crib,’ generally known in this hospital under the less suggestive euphemism of ‘covered bed.’ I am happy to report that we have been able to dispense with these restraint-beds, and that on January 18, 1887, all that remained of them were removed from the wards.”

Utica Crib 1

Utica Crib 1


“Now let us take a brief review of the treatment of lunatics as regards mechanical restraint in this country. While it is certainly true that there are lunatic asylums, the superintendents of which are actuated by a desire to keep the number of restraint cases at a minimum, there is not one in which mechanical restraint in some form or other is not employed, and in some the proportion equals that at Hanwell before Dr. Conolly instituted his reform measures. In the New York City lunatic asylum on Ward’s Island, for instance, there is a daily average of over twenty patients kept in mechanical restraint, and twenty-five in seclusion. The means employed are strait-jackets or camisoles, muffs for the hands, some kind of contrivance to restrain the motion of the legs, chairs in which refractory lunatics may be confined, and last, but by no means least, the “Utica crib.” The object in view in using most of these contrivances is readily apparent from their designations; but the crib probably requires a brief description. It is constructed somewhat after the manner of a child’s crib, having like it barred sides and ends; but in addition it is furnished with a lid also of bars or slats on hinges, and fastening with a spring or lock. It is so arranged that the inmate is unable to open it when it has been closed upon him. The space between the body of the lunatic imprisoned in this cage and the lid does not exceed twelve inches, and is probably less. The consequence is that he must lie at full length, and this sometimes for many hours at a time. For those maniacs whose cerebral bloodvessels are full to repletion, the enforced position of recumbency is in the highest degree prejudicial; for those whose brains are anaemic it is not required, as they will lie quiet enough without being thus imprisoned. It is a matter of experience that patients who were previously maniacal while in the crib, dashing themselves with violence against the bars like a wild lion in its cage when first confined, have become entirely quiet and composed when taken from the cage and allowed to sit or stand; and yet its use is held to tenaciously by many superintendents, and long papers are written in its defence. It is true that it is not found in some institutions. There has never been one at Willard, none at Flatbush; and since the agitation for lunatic-asylum reform, it has been discontinued at Bloomingdale, Poughkeepsie, and perhaps other asylums; and even at Ward’s Island the lids have been taken off.”
(SOURCE: The International Review, The Treatment Of The Insane by William A. Hammond, Volume VIII, March 1880, New York: Barnes & Company, Page 236).

Utica Crib 2

Utica Crib 2


“Some notion of the utter wantonness of DR. WILLIAM A. HAMMOND’S statements regarding the lunatic asylums of this state may be obtained from the report of the senate committee, elsewhere published this morning, and the letter of SENATOR GOODWIN, the chairman of that committee, addressed to the editor of this journal. In respect to HAMMOND’S assertion that the investigation SENATOR GOODWIN conducted was one-sided and unfair, it appears from this document – in which all the evidence taken is published in full – that DR. HAMMOND and all the physicians who signed his petition were invited to appear before this committee, and furnish all the evidence in their possession regarding their alleged abuses in the conduct of the state asylums. It is their own fault – the fault more especially of DR. HAMMOND – if they did not make a case; and their failure to do so was admitted by themselves in the testimony here published. The evidence of DR HAMMOND, who makes these reckless and wholesale charges in the New York Herald, is especially noteworthy, as showing his total ignorance of the management of our insane asylums. He was asked if he had ever visited any of the insane asylums; yes, he had visited the Utica asylum twelve and eight years ago – on which latter occasion he merely entered the office; the Po’keepsie asylum four years ago – which was before it was fairly in operation; the Blackwell’s Island asylum – but not during the day of the present superintendent there; and the Bloomingdale asylum, but not since DR. NICHOLS has been in charge there. This was the basis of his personal knowledge of the asylums – and it of course appeared in the investigation, that he knew nothing at all. DR. HAMMOND was not able to make a single allegation, either upon personal knowledge or hearsay, which indicated any basis for the investigation he then demanded. His nearest approach was his denunciation of what he called the “Utica crib” – a contrivance or the confinement of violent lunatics which was invented by AUBANEL, the superintendent of the Marseilles insane asylum in France, and introduced into the Utica asylum, among others, in 1846, by DR. BRIGHAM, and which has been fully described by DR. GRAY in his annual reports to the legislature – notably in the eighteenth report. Even in respect to this crib, so-called, DR. HAMMOND was compelled to admit that the question whether this method of restraint was more objectionable than others was “a matter of opinion.”

The answers of DR. HAMMOND to two questions put to him in this inquiry will be interesting to our readers in Utica. To the question – “How long were you at the Utica asylum?” he answered, “I don’t think I should be warranted in making any observations upon that institution.” – and again, “Utica is the asylum I know least about.” To the question that he knew that the two asylums of which he made the loudest complaint were under the control of the board of charities of New York city, DR. HAMMOND answered: “I believe they are; my personal views do not concern any of the state asylums; I only believe in a general way that this matter ought to be investigated.”

Utica Crib 3

Utica Crib 3

 THE UTICA CRIB. The Covered Bed at the State Asylum for Restless Patients – A Herald Reporter Comfortable within what Dr. Hammond declares a “Barbarous Device.”

The unfortunate creatures who become insane suffer but little or nothing within the walls of humane state institutions when compared with the great anxiety and pain of loving parents and friends over their afflictions. Justice to the friends of the insane in the New York state asylum located in this city demands that nothing be added to their trouble by permitting unfounded reports regarding the care of the insane to go uncontradicted. Such sensations are cruel and unjust, whether they are prompted by malice or ignorance of facts. DR. WILLIAM A. HAMMOND, of New York, in an interview with a reporter of the Sunday Herald, of that city, took occasion to refer to what he is pleased to call “the Utica Crib,” the covered bed in use in the state asylum for the insane in this city, and in what are known as model asylums of America and Europe. When asked to describe the “Utica crib,” DR. HAMMOND said:

“It is a bed like a child’s crib, with slatted sides, eighteen inches deep, six feet long and three feet wide. It has a slatted lid which shuts with a spring lock. A lunatic put in it can barely turn over. There is not as much space between the patient’s head and the lid as if he were in a coffin. He is kept in the crib at the will of an attendant, the key being in the possession of the latter and not of a physician. Patients have sometimes died in these cribs. DR. MYCERT, who is an authority, says the crib is a most barbarous and unscientific instrument because there is already a tendency to a determination of blood to the brain in excited forms of insanity which is increased by the horizontal position in the crib and the struggles of the patient. The crib was introduced by the superintendent of the Utica asylum. The padded room could always be substituted for the crib.”

Following this is what purports to be a cut of the Utica crib. Any one of the thousands who visit the state asylum every year and are shown the covered bed in use at that institution will bear us out in saying that the picture looks as much like the bed as a peach crate does like a cradle. The cut looks like a chicken-hatching machine, and is simply a burlesque upon the truth, for which there is no possible excuse.


A reporter of the Herald visited the asylum, yesterday, and requested permission to examine one of the cribs which he had frequently seen in visits to the asylum. DR. GRAY cheerfully gave the permission, and the reporter had an opportunity of selecting one of five or six of the covered beds or “barbarous devices,” for actual experiment. Simply removing his outer coat he got into the crib, which was in condition for use, and the lid was closed down upon him. As the reporter is nearly six feet in height, and weighs two hundred and seventy six pounds, and larger in every respect than any patient in the asylum, it will be admitted that this test was a fair one. When the lid was closed the occupant laid with perfect comfort upon either side and upon his back. When lying upon his left side the position was sufficiently easy to permit him to write his description of the covered bed if he had chosen to do so. The hands and arms could be put between the smooth wooden rounds which formed the slatted top, and there was a perfect circulation at the sides and top. The bed was easy and comfortable and there was an abundance of room for lifting the head from the plump pillow so that the lower end of the bed could be seen with ease. In short the reporter found that he could roll and toss about at will as easily as he could in his own bed at home, but he could not get out of it – and this is the humane plan of the device which is styled “barbarous” – as will be seen hereafter.


The covered bed or “Utica crib” is simply an ordinary hospital bed to all intents and purposes. It is made of smoothly finished and varnished wood with a woven wire bottom and slatted sides, like a child’s cradle. The one tested contained a mattress thicker than the ordinary ones, a plump soft pillow, clean and comfortable sheets, blankets and counterpanes. In the sides there are twenty wooden rollers, in the ends eight and in the cover seven rollers of smooth hard wood. The cover is attached to hinges which permit its entire removal at any time. The beds are frequently used without the cover by patients and attendants. A few months ago a venerable Utica patient got into one of these covered beds and permitted a reporter of the Herald to close it tightly to note its workings. The patient moved about easily in it and conversed cheerfully. When asked how he liked to sleep in this bed he replied: “Oh, I like it very much. I am often disturbed in my sleep. When I occupy this bed I rest easily, for I know where to find myself in the morning. Without such restraint, I might do myself some harm during the night.”

The patient, tho’ insane at intervals, really had more sense than those who denounce what they appear to know little about. Covered beds, patterned after those in use at the state asylum, are used in St. Elizabeth’s and other hospitals of Utica and thro’out the state, and they are daily seen and examined by visitors. So simple and harmless is the contrivance that parents, after seeing them, inquire, “Why would not this be a good plan to prevent our babies from falling out of their cradles?” It certainly would.


The covered beds are used to secure the excited and restless patients, the requisite quiet and sleep in a horizontal position, that are absolutely necessary for their recovery. Insane people are sick people. When a sane person is sick his physician directs that he shall lie in bed, and a sensible invalid always obeys the orders of his physician. When an insane person requires rest he may be ever so much disposed to obey the doctor and lie in bed, but his mind is disordered and his will is gone so that he can not control his own actions. The result is he is liable to exhaust himself by getting in and out of bed at frequent periods, risking chances of falls and exposure to cold. Epileptics and paralytics are apt to fall out of open beds and receive severe injuries.

If such beds are not used, other more objectionable systems would have to be put into practice, such as the “bed strap,” for holding excited patients in the ordinary beds, or the forcible holding of the patient by attendants. This latter method better deserves the title of barbarous than does the covered bed system. No one or two attendants can hold an excited patient in a bed without using a force that must be more or less cruel and the marks of their grasp will not fail to be undeniably imprinted upon the delicate arms, body or limbs of the invalid. Insane people are endowed at times with extraordinary strength and the utmost exertions of strong men are required to quiet them. The use of the strap is harsh and at times injurious.


The crib, or covered bed for restless patients, is not a new device and was not introduced by the superintendent of the state asylum at Utica as DR. HAMMOND alleges. It was devised in France by DR. AUBANEL of the Marseilles lunatic asylum, in 1845, and described in the Annales Psychologniques of the year. DR. BRIGHAM, in 1846, introduced the crib bedstead into the Utica asylum, and was described in the American Journal of Insanity in that year. In 1852, DR. WILLIAM WOOD, medical official of Bethlem hospital, England, improved upon the crib bed, and gave a description of the same in Winslow’s Journal of Psychological Medicine. This bed was like a child’s crib but the covering was of webbing. In 1854 the AUBANEL bed was abandoned in the Utica asylum and the present one was put into use, resembling DR. WOOD’S, with this exception – the sides were made with rounds like an ordinary child’s crib instead of with boards like the English bed, and a round slatted corner in place of webbing, which powerful patients could easily displace.


The covered bed is spoken of as the “box bed” or “locked bed,” by DR. LINDSAY, in an article on dipsomania, in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, of October, 1808, in which he says: “Its use renders him quiescent for the time, while it maintains warmth and does not prevent free ventilation. I have repeatedly tried it in various forms, and have no doubt as to its having prolonged several lives and prevented many accidents that would have been sacrificed or that would have occurred under the customary arrangements of many or most other asylums. Such is my opinion of its usefulness, that I think it should find place not only in every lunatic asylum, but in every general hospital, for I remember the difficulties that used to occur in the fever and delirium tremens wards of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and the impossibility of dealing with occasional patients other than by mechanical restraints of the nature of strait-waistcoats and strapping to bed.”

In the Edinburgh Medical Journal of February, 1878, DR. LINDSAY, M.D.,R.S.E., and physician to the Murray royal institution at Perth, published another article commending the covered beds in the highest terms as invaluable for preventing injuries – adding, however, “a lid in the case of patients who would scramble out of bed with sides merely. The kind of bed that I have found most useful is the following, and I venture to recommend some such bed to the attention of the medical profession generally because I am satisfied it is very much wanted in all departments of medical, surgical and obstetric practice.”

Then follows the description of forms of beds all alike, or closely resembling what is called by DR. HAMMOND “Utica crib,” but which is styled by DR. LINDSAY “the protection bed,” a term he says “happily applied to it many years ago by DR. BROWNE of Dumfries, when he was one of her majesty’s commissioners in lunacy for Scotland, and who had occasion to see such beds in use here during his official inspections. Moreover, he had himself, when at the head of Dumfries asylum used beds of a somewhat similar kind. And in America such beds are, and have long been in common use in its hospitals for the insane.”

Finally he adds: “The general result of the use of the protection bed in some of its forms, as compared with the orthodox modes of dealing with the classes of patients already described, is this – in my opinion – that it is directly and decidedly conservative of life and health, and preventive of injury and disease.”

The above is high authority in approval of the covered bed from professional and practical men who have daily opportunities of testing its merits. Laymen or friends of those who are confined in asylums can examine these beds in the Utica asylum and judge for themselves whether they are “barbarous” or “cruel devices” as has been alleged.


DR. HAMMOND, in his interview with the New York Herald reporter, makes the important announcement that sometimes patients die in covered beds or “Utica cribs.” Can not DR. HAMMOND, without particular effort, recall many instances where sane and insane patients have died in ordinary beds which have no sides or covers?”
(SOURCE: Reprinted from Utica Morning Herald and Daily Gazette. Wednesday, November 25, 1879).

1880 The Treatment Of The Insane by W.A. Hammond

1898 Drugs For Mental Illness

I know that WIKIPEDIA is not the best place to find reliable information, however, finding definitions of drugs used in the late 1800s is not an easy task. I have provided the definitions from WIKIPEDIA, and the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to help you understand what medications were prescribed to the mentally ill population incarcerated at insane asylums across the United States and abroad during the nineteenth century. The detrimental effects that some of these drugs had on the human mind and body were not fully understood.

These are the drugs that were mentioned in the book A Compendium of Insanity by John B. Chapin, M.D., L.L.D., first Medical Superintendent of The Willard Asylum for the Insane, published on 1898.

Drug Definitions:

Bromide: 1: a binary compound of bromine with another element or a radical including some (as potassium bromide) used as sedatives. 2: a dose of bromide taken usually as a sedative (MW)

Chloral: 1: a pungent colorless oily aldehyde C2HCl3O used in making DDT and chloral hydrate (MW)

Chloral Hydrate: a bitter white crystalline drug C2H3Cl3O2 used as a hypnotic and sedative or in knockout drops (MW)

Cocaine: a bitter crystalline alkaloid C17H21NO4 obtained from coca leaves that is used medically especially in the form of its hydrochloride C17H21NO4·HCl as a topical anesthetic and illicitly for its euphoric effects and that may result in a compulsive psychological need (MW)

Digitalis: 1: a capitalized : a genus of Eurasian herbs of the snapdragon family (Scrophulariaceae) that have alternate leaves and racemes of showy bell-shaped flowers and comprise the foxgloves b : foxglove  2: the dried leaf of the common European foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) that contains physiologically active glycosides, that is a powerful cardiotonic acting to increase the force of myocardial contraction, to slow the conduction rate of nerve impulses through the atrioventricular node, and to promote diuresis, and that is used in standardized powdered form especially in the treatment of congestive heart failure and in the management of atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and paroxysmal tachycardia of the atria ; broadly : any of various glycosides (as digoxin or digitoxin) that are constituents of digitalis or are derived from a related foxglove (D. lanata) (MW)

Ergot: 1 a: the black or dark purple sclerotium of fungi of the genus Claviceps that occurs as a club-shaped body which replaces the seed of various grasses (as rye) b: any fungus of the genus Claviceps. 2: a disease of rye and other cereals caused by fungi of the genus Claviceps and characterized by the presence of ergots in the seed heads. 3 a: the dried sclerotial bodies of an ergot fungus grown on rye and containing several ergot alkaloids (MW)

Ferric: 1: of, relating to, or containing iron.  2: being or containing iron usually with a valence of three (MW)

Hycoscin hydrobromate & Hycoscin: Scopolamine, also known as levo-duboisine, and hyoscine, is a tropane alkaloid drug with muscarinic antagonist effects. It is obtained from plants of the family Solanaceae (nightshades), such as henbane, jimson weed and Angel’s Trumpets (Datura resp. Brugmansia spec.), and corkwood (Duboisia species). It is among the secondary metabolites of these plants. Therefore, scopolamine is one of three main active components of belladonna and stramonium tinctures and powders used medicinally along with atropine and hyoscyamine. Scopolamine was isolated from plant sources by scientists in 1881 in Germany and description of its structure and activity followed shortly thereafter. The search for synthetic analogues of and methods for total synthesis of scopolamine and/or atropine in the 1930s and 1940s resulted in the discovery of diphenhydramine, an early antihistamine and the prototype of its chemical subclass of these drugs, and pethidine, the first fully synthetic opioid analgesic, known as Dolatin and Demerol amongst many other trade names.  Scopolamine has anticholinergic properties and has legitimate medical applications in very minute doses. As an example, in the treatment of motion sickness, the dose, gradually released from a transdermal patch, is only 330 micrograms (µg) per day. In rare cases, unusual reactions to ordinary doses of scopolamine have occurred including confusion, agitation, rambling speech, hallucinations, paranoid behaviors, and delusions. (W)

Hyoscyamine: a poisonous crystalline alkaloid C17H23NO3 of which atropine is a racemic mixture; especially : its levorotatory form found especially in the plants belladonna and henbane and used similarly to atropine (MW)

Hyoscyamus: Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), also known as stinking nightshade or black henbane, is a plant of the family Solanaceae that originated in Eurasia, though it is now globally distributed.  Henbane can be toxic, even fatal, to animals in low doses…Common effects of henbane ingestion in humans include hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, and flushed skin.  Less common symptoms such as tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia and ataxia have all been noted. (W)

Mercuric Chloride: a heavy crystalline poisonous compound HgCl2 used as a disinfectant and fungicide and in photography—called also bichloride, bichloride of mercury, corrosive sublimate, mercury bichloride (MW)

Morphia: morphine (MW)

Morphine: a bitter crystalline addictive narcotic base C17H19NO3 that is the principal alkaloid of opium and is used in the form of its hydrated sulfate (C17H19NO3)2·H2SO4·5H2O or hydrated hydrochloride C17H19NO3·HCl·3H2O as an analgesic and sedative (MW)

Opium: a highly addictive drug that consists of the dried milky juice from the seed capsules of the opium poppy obtained from incisions made in the unripe capsules of the plant, that has a brownish yellow color, a faint smell, and a bitter and acrid taste, that is a stimulant narcotic usually producing a feeling of well-being, hallucinations, and drowsiness terminating in coma or death if the dose is excessive, that was formerly used in medicine to soothe pain but is now often replaced by derivative alkaloids (as morphine or codeine) or synthetic substitutes, and that is smoked illicitly as an intoxicant with harmful effects (MW)

Potassium Bromide: a crystalline salt KBr with a saline taste that is used as a sedative and in photography (MW)

Potassium Iodide: a crystalline salt KI that is very soluble in water and is used medically chiefly in the treatment of hyperthyroidism, to block thyroidal uptake of radioactive iodine, and as an expectorant (MW)

Sodium Bromide: a crystalline salt NaBr having a biting saline taste that is used in medicine as a sedative, hypnotic, and anticonvulsant (MW)

Strychnine: a bitter poisonous alkaloid C21H22N2O2 that is obtained from nux vomica and related plants of the genus Strychnos and is used as a poison (as for rodents) and medicinally as a stimulant of the central nervous system (MW)

Sulfate: 1: a salt or ester of sulfuric acid  2 : a bivalent group or anion SO4 characteristic of sulfuric acid and the sulfates (MW)

Sulfonmethane (Sulfonomethane, Sulfonal: Acetone diethyl sulfone) is a chemical compound formerly used as a hypnotic drug, but now superseded by newer and safer sedatives. Its appearance is either in colorless crystalline or powdered form. In United States, it is scheduled as a Schedule III drug in the Controlled Substance Act. It produces lengthened sleep in functional nervous insomnia, and is also useful in insanity, being given with mucilage of acacia or in hot liquids, owing to its insolubility, or in large capsules. Its hypnotic power is not equal to that of chloral, but as it is not a depressant to the heart or respiration it can be used when morphine or chloral are contra-indicated. It is, however, very uncertain in its action, often failing to produce sleep when taken at bedtime, but producing drowsiness and sleep the following day. The drowsiness the next day following a medicinal dose can be avoided by a saline laxative the morning after its administration. It is unwise to use it continuously for more than a few days at a time, as it tends to produce the sulfonal habit, which is attended by marked toxic effects, disturbances of digestion, giddiness, staggering gait and even paralysis of the lower extremities. These effects are accompanied by skin eruptions, and the urine becomes of a dark red color (hematoporphinuria). Sulfonal is cumulative in its effects. Many fatal cases of sulfonal poisoning are on record, both from chronic poisoning and from a single large dose. (W)

Tonic: an agent (as a drug) that increases body tone (MW)

Trional: (Methylsulfonal) is a sedative-hypnotic and anesthetic drug with GABAergic actions. It has similar effects to sulfonal, except it is faster acting. (W)


Merriam-Webster OnLine

WIKIPEDIA, The Free Encyclopedia

The Willard and Rochester State Hospital Connection

“The raving maniac, the young child, the infirm old man, and the seducer’s victim, were crowded in a building whose remembrance must seem painful.”
– W. H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York

To the west of the entrance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester in Highland Park (1440 South Avenue, Rochester, NY) stand three cream colored wooden arbors with benches, a lovely brick patio, and a small garden. This site, now known as The Remember Garden, marks the old burial ground that was used to bury paupers and criminals in unmarked, anonymous graves during the nineteenth century. In July 1984, approximately 900 human remains were discovered in this unmarked cemetery which was located behind the old Penitentiary. The bodies are believed to be the inmates who lived and died at the Work House (Penitentiary), Alms House, and the Insane Asylum between 1826 and 1863. 284 to 305 remains were re-interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in 1985. The memorial that marks the location of the cemetery in Highland Park was dedicated in May 2009, and the memorial to mark the re-interred remains at Mount Hope Cemetery may be dedicated in the spring of 2012. See 1872 “Bone Yard” The Remember Garden.

Remember Garden, Highland Park

Remember Garden, Highland Park

It is indeed unfortunate that thousands of poor “sane” men, women, and children, who lived and died in the county poor houses and other charitable institutions of our country, were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves; but their final resting places can be marked with engraved headstones. The same rule does not apply for those who were labeled as “insane” which also includes people who were diagnosed with epilepsy. It is virtually impossible for family researchers to obtain the medical records of their ancestors who were incarcerated at these long closed insane asylums because of the federal HIPAA Law which states, The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.” This rule has also been applied to burial ledgers and death records of former NYS Hospitals and Custodial Institutions. Everyone has been forced to sign HIPAA documents at their doctor’s office. Most people interpret this law as one that applies to the living, not the dead. An individual’s right to privacy ends at death but the right of patient confidentiality apparently lasts forever. What is even more confusing is that a few states have interpreted this federal law differently than New York State. SEE NEW HIPAA UPDATE!

Monroe County Poor House & Rochester State Hospital

Monroe County Poor House & Rochester State Hospital

Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have allowed the release of the names of former psychiatric patients buried in anonymous, unmarked graves to the public. In some cases, these states have provided funds for cemetery restoration and engraved headstones. One would presume that if other states have released the names of patients, then New York State should be allowed to do the same. To deny our ancestors this simple remembrance, for all eternity, on the grounds that they were unfortunately and unnecessarily labeled as mentally ill, is unconscionable. The people of the state and the country have a right to know where their ancestors are buried; and the patients should have the right to be remembered with dignity.

Bill S2514 has been introduced to the New York State Legislature by Senator Joseph E. Robach. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this bill becomes a law.

So, what does Willard State Hospital have to do with Rochester State Hospital? (The main building of the Willard State Hospital was demolished in 1984/85. Some of the buildings currently belong to the NYS Prison System / Willard Drug Treatment Facility).

The Willard Act of 1865 was “An Act to authorize the establishment of a State asylum for the chronic insane, and for the better care of the insane poor, to be known as The Willard Asylum for the Insane.” This law introduced a new policy that “was to relieve the county of their care and devolve it upon the State through the ‘Willard,’ and the State Lunatic Asylum at Utica.” Willard opened its doors on October 13, 1869. From the beginning New York and Kings Counties were exempt from this law; Monroe County quickly followed. “An Act In Relation To The Chronic Pauper Insane” was passed on April 25, 1871. The board of State Commissioners of Public Charities was authorized to hear and determine all applications by the county superintendents of the poor of the counties of New York State. On written application the several counties had to prove to the Legislature that “the buildings and means employed to take care of the chronic pauper insane of such county are sufficient and proper for the time being for such purpose.” Monroe County was exempted from sending their pauper chronic insane to the Willard Asylum about the year 1872.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

The Willard Asylum was unique because it was created to end the poor house system of caring for the insane. From 1869 to 1890, an inmate once committed to the facility, was prohibited from being returned to the county poor house unless the county was exempted, or the county did not want that particular patient returned. Willard provided a permanent home for the pauper chronic insane or “incurables” of the state. The term chronic refers to an individual who suffered from insanity for more than one year. Counties that were not exempt from the law were responsible for transporting their pauper chronic insane to Willard and paying the cost of the patients’ care, maintenance, and clothing. Willard was located in the towns of Ovid and Romulus, Seneca County, New York, on the shores of Seneca Lake and is roughly 80 miles from Rochester.

According to The Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Monroe, 1871, the only patient who was sent to The Willard Asylum for the Insane by the County of Monroe was Francis J. O’Brien, at the yearly cost of $129.00. The U.S. Federal Census of 1870, which is the first census of the Willard Asylum, shows that Mr. O’Brien was 29 at his last birthday; male; white; born in the state of Michigan; insane. In 1880, he is listed as: 40 years old; married; occupation, physician; born in the state of Michigan; insane; living in the North wing of the main asylum building. The 1880 U.S. Federal Census Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes lists him as: residence when at home, Rochester, Monroe; form of disease, Chronic Mania; duration of present attack, 13 years; total number of attacks, 1; age at which first attack occurred, 27; what has been the total length of time spent by him (or her) during life in such asylums, 11 years. In 1900, he is listed as 60 years old; inmate, white; male; married; born in Michigan. His name does not appear on the 1910 Federal Census. Mr. O’Brien died between 1900 and 1910 and spent at least 31 years of his life locked up at Willard as did thousands of New Yorker’s during the last two centuries. We will never know how or when he died, or where he was buried unless current law changes.

The State Care Act passed in 1890. It was An Act to promote the care and curative treatment of the pauper and indigent insane in the counties of this state, except New York, Kings and Monroe counties, and to permit said excepted counties or either of them, in accordance with the action of their respective local authorities, to avail themselves or any one or more of them, of the provisions of this act.The State Commission in Lunacy was given the power to divide the State into hospital districts and dropped the distinction between acute and chronic asylums. This law also renamed state insane asylums to state hospitals. Willard was no longer an asylum for the chronic insane only and was renamed Willard State Hospital which served the counties of Allegany, Cayuga, Genesee, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates. The Monroe County Insane Asylum was renamed Rochester State Hospital and served the counties of Monroe and Livingston. On July 1, 1891, Monroe County came into the state system and the asylum was purchased by the state. The New York State poor house system of caring for the insane ceased to exist October 1, 1893, when the State Care system went into effect.

The commonalities of the Willard Asylum for the Insane and The Monroe County Alms House, were they both shared the same architect; Mr. John Rochester Thomas, born on June 18, 1848, at Rochester, New York. According to W. H. McIntosh in his book History of Monroe County, New York: “John R. Thomas, one of our most enterprising young architects, commenced the practice of his profession here in the year 1866, and now ranks with the leading architects of the country. Mr. Thomas has during the past ten years accomplished a very large amount of work. He introduced the Mansard roof, which was first applied to private dwellings. Mr. Thomas has made a specialty of the study of Gothic art, believing it will be the architecture of the future in this country. He has also designed largely for private dwellings in the city and adjoining country, among which is the residence of H. A. De Land, of Fairport, one of the most elegant and costly private residences in western New York. He also designed Rochester Theological Seminary buildings, Sibley Hall, on the University grounds, the Opera House, the Monroe County almshouse, the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville,Virginia, and the New York State Reformatory buildings, at Elmira. In the year 1874, Mr. Thomas received a very honorable appointment from Governor Dix as one of the State architects, and was assigned at once to the charge of the Reformatory at Elmira, which position he now holds.” (1) The choice of Dr. John B. Chapin, first Superintendent of The Willard Asylum for the Insane, choosing Mr. Thomas as the architect of The Willard Asylum for the Insane caused a great deal of controversy in New York State because at the time he was not yet a state architect. The “Mansard” or French roof is prominent in many of Mr. Thomas’s architectural designs.

The differences between Willard and Rochester State Hospitals, was that Willard had its own twenty-five acre cemetery located about a mile down the road from the facility which contains the remains of 5,776 patients buried in anonymous, unmarked graves. The Rochester State Hospital used Mount Hope Cemetery to bury its inmates. I spoke to a very knowledgeable gentleman from the Rochester Office of Mental Health who stated that the address of the Rochester State Hospital was 1600 South Avenue. He said the facility was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the Al Sigl Center. The address of the Al Sigl Center was given a new address by the U.S. Postal Service: 1000 Elmwood Avenue (corner of South Avenue). In the past, I have searched the Mount Hope Cemetery Records looking for family members and had often seen “1600 South Avenue” given as the residence for many people. I always wondered what it was and on occasion I had Googled the address but received no hits. Now I know why, the address no longer exists.

I have transcribed the earliest records: Names: Monroe County Poorhouse, Asylum, Penitentiary, Other Charities 1838 to 1860. If you believe that your ancestor was an inmate who lived and died at The Monroe County Insane Asylum / Rochester State Hospital you can search for them at the Rochester – Mt. Hope Cemetery Records online. Here is a brief description of what you will see if you decide to search the records for yourself: Under the heading “Residence,” a street name will be given with no specific address; or it will list the place where the person died such as: Insane Asylum, Asylum, County House, Jail, etc. (Be aware that there was an Asylum Street in the City of Rochester that as far as I know, had no connection with the Monroe County Insane Asylum). About 1891, you will start to see the words “Rochester State Hospital” under “Residence.” At some point in the 1900s, instead of listing the place of death as Rochester State Hospital the address has been given instead as “1600 South Avenue.” In some instances, the family of the deceased claimed the body and buried them in the family plot. In the case of pauper and indigent insane, the hospital buried them in unmarked, anonymous graves at Mount Hope Cemetery. Some unclaimed bodies were donated by state hospitals to state medical colleges for the advancement of medical science in which case no grave will be found.

At the very least, the location of these graves should be marked in Mount Hope Cemetery with a memorial indicating the final resting place of the patients of The Monroe County Insane Asylum and Rochester State Hospital. Providing individual, engraved markers would be ideal but without the actual death records this will not be possible. The Rochester State Hospital burial records do exist and should be released to the public, along with all former state hospital burial ledgers in a unified, digital, database in order that descendants and caring citizens can find their ancestors and mark the graves of these forgotten souls if they wish to do so. Hopefully, a new bill introduced into the New York State Legislature by Senator Joseph E. Robach will allow the release of the names of these people who have remained anonymous for over one hundred years. I would like to thank Senator Robach and his staff for writing and sponsoring the bill.

As a life-long Rochester area resident, I am proud to live in a community that has provided so many genealogical resources. I am truly grateful for The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery who have taken the time and effort to assist me on more than one occasion. A few years ago, volunteer Frank Gillespie, who recently passed away in January 2012, helped me locate my great-grandparents’ grave by providing a map and directions. Marilyn Nolte, President of The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, has located the section where many of the Rochester State Hospital patients are buried, and she patiently answered numerous questions regarding the older sections of the cemetery, unmarked graves, and the responsibilities of plot owners. I thank them for their dedication, knowledge, and help.

(1) SOURCE: McIntosh, W. H., History of Monroe County, New York; With Illustrations Descriptive Of Its Scenery, Palatial Residences, Public Buildings, Fine Blocks, and Important Manufactories, From Original Sketches By Artists Of The Highest Ability.Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign & Everts, 716 Filbert Street, 1877, Page 142.