1883 New York State County Poor House Report

The following document is a yearly report to the Legislature of the State of New York, from the Secretary of the State Board of Charities, Dr. Charles S. Hoyt, dated January 10, 1884, for the year 1883. Dr. Hoyt was the physician in charge of visiting and inspecting all the county poor houses and asylums in the state which included examining the health, treatment, and living conditions of the “insane” population. This was an unbelievably enormous job for one man. Not only does Dr. Hoyt mention the names of the patients recommended for transfer from the county poor houses to the two State Asylums for the Chronic Insane: Willard (Ovid, Seneca County); and Binghamton (Binghamton, Broome County), but he gives a detailed account of his findings for each county poor house in the state. Willard Asylum for the Insane was the first and only “pauper chronic insane” institution in the State of New York from 1869 to 1881. Binghamton State Asylum opened in 1881 and was the second asylum in the state to care for the chronic insane only. It was originally named The New York State Inebriate Asylum, built in 1858, for the treatment of alcoholism. (I have divided Dr. Hoyt’s report into ten PDF files to make it easier for you to read. These reports contain the NAMES of several inmates. Click on the RED Links below to view the county reports.)

Considering the modes of travel in 1883 which did not include automobiles, and the harsh winters that New York State endures, Dr. Hoyt must have spent much of his time traveling on horseback and catching a train at the nearest station. He was dedicated to his work and spent most of his life trying to improve the lives of the poor, the pauper insane, and feeble-minded and destitute children, according to the social norms of his era. His obituary is located at the bottom of the “Interesting Articles & Documents” page.

There were many abuses to this “defective class” of Americans, especially for feeble-minded and mentally ill women, who literally had no rights during this time period. All women were vulnerable to rape and molestation in the county poor houses, and more than a few turned up pregnant (enceinte). When Dr. Hoyt came upon a young woman who was pregnant or nursing her baby in the county poor house, for her protection, he would remove her to a safer place, the Newark Custodial Asylum. Once the young woman had her baby and the nursing was sufficiently completed, usually between the ages of three to six months, the infant was removed from the mother and placed in an orphanage.

As you read Dr. Hoyt’s report, keep in mind that the New York State Asylums for the Acute Insane in 1883 were: State Lunatic Asylum at Utica (Utica, Oneida County), Hudson River State Hospital (Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County), State Homeopathic Asylum (Middletown, Orange County) and Buffalo State Asylum (Buffalo, Erie County). The Newark Custodial Asylum, located in Newark, Wayne County, New York, was an institution for feeble-minded, childbearing age women that opened in 1878. There were other state institutions that incarcerated sane, so-called sexually promiscuous, childbearing age women that could hold them in these institutions for up to five years in order to teach them how to become proper ladies, teach them some type of valuable employment skills, and prevent them from becoming pregnant again.

I have divided Dr. Hoyt’s report into ten PDF files to make it easier for you to read. Click on the RED Links below to view the county reports.

1883 Yearly Report Of The Secretary Of The State Board Of Charities

Report. – To the State Board of Charities:  Agreeably to the resolution of the Board of January 10, 1883, on motion of Commissioner Miller, directing me to visit the asylums of the counties exempted by the Board from the Willard Asylum Act, and the poor-houses of such other counties of the State, containing any considerable number of insane, as practicable, and to examine and inquire into their condition, with the view of securing the removal of the more disturbed and violent cases to the Willard and Binghamton State Asylums, and to communicate the result of such visits and examinations to the Board, I beg respectfully to report:The demands upon my time in other directions were such, that I was unable to enter upon this work until January 18, 1883.  It has frequently been interrupted by other duties, and the inclement weather, and at times almost impassable condition of the roads, in the winter months, also greatly embarrassed the work.  During the year, I have visited the asylums of the exempted counties, and the poor-houses of all the other counties of the State, one or more times, and have examined the insane in them as follows:

The exempted asylums of Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Erie, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Oswego, Queens, Suffolk and Wayne counties, each four times; and the exempted asylums of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Jefferson, and Wyoming counties, each three times; the poor-house of Genesee county, three times; the poor-houses of Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Tioga and Warren counties, each twice; and the poor-houses of the following counties, each once, viz.: Albany, Allegany, Cayuga, Chemung, Clinton, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Herkimer, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Otsego, Putnam, Queens, Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Seneca, Steuben, Sullivan, Tompkins, Ulster, Washington, Westchester and Yates.

The number of insane in the counties thus visited, October 1, 1883, according to the reports of the proper officers, was as follows: In the asylums of the exempted counties, males, 569; females, 747; total, 1,316.  In the poor-houses and asylum departments of the other counties, males 228; females 325; total 553.  This gives an aggregate of 1,869 in these institutions, October 1, 1883, of whom 797 were males, and 1,072 females.

My visits to these institutions in every instance except one, when it was desirable to meet the superintendents of Genesee county, have been made without previous notice.  The examination in each county was extended to all the insane in its care, and in the case of disturbed and violent patients, careful notes were made of their condition, and as to the means employed for their custody and care.  In many of the exempted asylums, the examinations were made unattended by the superintendents or keepers, at the request of these officers.  A number of the visits were made in the evening, and opportunity was thus given carefully to observe and study the night service in these institutions.  In making these visits, I have frequently been accompanied by the Commissioner of the district, and in numerous instances by the State Commissioner in Lunacy, who often united with me in recommending removals, and in other matters respecting the treatment and care of the insane; and whenever practicable, the attendance of the visiting physicians has also been secured.  It may be well to add, that all recommendations for removals have been made in writing, and that every such positive recommendation, except in the case of Warren county, has been cheerfully and promptly carried out by the superintendents, unless subsequently modified or changed, upon consultation with those officers, or with the physician in charge.

As the buildings in use for the insane in the counties exempted from the Willard Asylum Act have so recently been described in the report of the committee of the Board upon the subject, it is deemed unnecessary for me to refer to them at length in this report.  I shall, therefore, only notice the improvements in them that have since been effected, the condition of the insane at the times of my visits, and the recommendations as to removals, etc., that have been made.  In some of the counties not exempt from the Willard Asylum Act, separate buildings have been provided for a limited number of chronic insane, while in others they are domiciled in the poor-houses, in common with the paupers, or in rooms set apart for the purpose.  In a few of them, attendants are employed to care for the insane, but they are generally overlooked by paupers, under the direction of the keeper, and the medical supervision is usually the same as that extended to other poor-house inmates.

Before entering upon this work I learned from the late Dr. Wilbur, superintendent of the State Idiot Asylum, that the Custodial Branch Asylum at Newark had accommodations for about twenty-five additional inmates.  I, therefore, examined such feeble-minded girls and young women as were found in the various poor-houses visited and recommended their removal to that institution.  A considerable number of this class has been thus removed during the year, but there are still large numbers in the poor-houses whose removal cannot be effected, owing to the lack of adequate State accommodations for their care.  The condition of the insane in each of the counties of the State at the times of my visits, and the recommendations in regard to removals, etc., will now be noticed:


Albany, Allegany, Broome & Cattaraugus Counties 1883.
Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chemung, Chenango & Clinton Counties 1883.
Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess & Erie Counties 1883.
Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Genesee, Greene, Hamilton & Herkimer Counties 1883.
Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Monroe & Montgomery Counties 1883.
Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario & Orange Counties 1883.
Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam & Queens Counties 1883.
Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben & Suffolk Counties 1883.
Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster & Warren Counties 1883.
Washington, Wayne, Westchester, Wyoming & Yates Counties 1883.

Results of the Visitations During the Year. – It may be well, before closing this report, briefly to sum up the results of these visitations during the year:

1. The number of insane removed to the Willard and Binghamton State Asylums during the year, as recommended, has been as follows: From the asylums of the exempted counties, 46; from the asylums and poor-houses of the other counties, 51; total, 97.  In addition to these, considerable numbers have also, voluntarily, been thus removed by the superintendents.  These have all been extremely disturbed and violent insane, and several of them suicidal and homicidal cases.  A much greater number of removals would have been recommended, if the State provision had been adequate to them.

2. These removals have greatly improved the condition of the asylums of the exempted counties, by relieving them of their most troublesome insane, and enabled a much better and more economic care of those remaining in them.  The amount of restraint has been largely reduced, and it may be kept thus, by continuing these removals, as disturbed and violent cases, from time to time arise.  In three of these counties, the high board fences, inclosing the asylum grounds, have been removed, and a much greater freedom of the insane, than heretofore, exists in these asylums.  The results in these counties have proved so largely beneficial and salutary, that their example in this respect is likely soon to be followed by other counties.

3. These removals of the insane from the poor-houses and asylum departments of the other counties have improved the condition of those institutions also, and rendered their management more easy and economic.  In two of these counties, viz.: Genesee and Tioga, all of their insane, requiring special oversight, have been removed to the care of the State, and the buildings heretofore occupied by them have been devoted to poor-house purposes.  It is believed that this course would soon be pursued by several other counties, were the accommodations of the State adequate for all of their insane.

4. These visitations and examinations during the year have clearly demonstrated that it is unwise and impolitic to retain violent and excited insane in the county institutions.  In the best regulated of the exempted county asylums they are the source of continued annoyance, and greatly disturb the more quiet and harmless patients; while in the poor-houses, and asylum buildings or wards of the other counties, they require persistent watchfulness and care, and are the cause of constant fear and distress to the other inmates.  The experienced officers of these institutions generally admit these facts, but owing to local influences, and the frequent changes of administration, these classes of insane are liable, from time to time, to accumulate.  In no way, it is believed, can the county asylums and poor-houses be kept clear of violent and disturbed insane, except by frequent visitations of these institutions, and recommendations for their removal.

5. The removals of feeble-minded girls and young women from the poor-houses, to the Custodial Branch Asylum at Newark during the year, have filled all the spare room of that institution, and no further action in this direction is practicable, until the State shall extend its accommodations for this class.

Respectfully submitted, Charles S. Hoyt, Secretary, Dated Albany, N.Y., January 10, 1884.”

SOURCE: Reprinted from State of New York, Seventeenth Annual Report of the State Board of Charities, Transmitted to the Legislature January 24, 1884, Albany: Weed, Parson & Company, Printers, Pages 187-246.   <http://books.google.com/&gt;