1864 Madison County Poor House

“The statistics from Madison county reveal a most deplorable condition of the insane poor. It is shocking, it is shameful.

The poor house contains ninety-four paupers, twenty-five of whom are insane. They are, with three exceptions, of American birth. The records of the institution do not show the dates of their admission. Inspection shows that fifteen of this number are filthy in their habits, and that only five have ever been treated in an asylum. Nine are capable of doing some labor. The remainder have nothing to do; fourteen are destructive to their clothing. The house has no bathing tub, the insane are not even required to bathe at all, and the violent insane not even to wash their hands and face. It is idle to describe the building, it is heart-sickening to describe what is in it. Eighteen sleep on straw, without bed or bedding; the straw is changed once a week. The food is distributed in tin dishes. No uniformity of heat in winter seems to be aimed at. The mild cases have their liberty during the day. Not so the violent. The only care they receive is from the hands of incompetent paupers. Those confined in the cells are extremely filthy, most of them not using vessels, and their excrements are mixed with the straw on which they lie. Their straw is changed only once in a week; and these lunatics, with their “bodies besmeared with their own excrements, not allowed to come daily to the open air, eating in the same filthy apartments, are not washed from one years end to another.” The cells in which they are confined are only 4 x 6 feet, with a ceiling of 7 feet, and open into a hall, so that they can have no ventilation. “A bad stench” issues from them; and in this stench the lunatics are forced to live—live a life more terrible than a hundred deaths. Three males were in a state of nudity; the females wore only chemises; but the mild cases are clothed like other paupers. Fourteen had neither shoes nor stockings during the winter!!

This vile prison is designed to make confirmed maniacs of twenty-five persons; that is, it pretends to have accommodations for twenty-five, and their treatment would only serve to make them incurable. The books do not show what is the greatest number confined there at any one time. They are not visited by a physician, and receive no care with reference to their ultimate recovery.

Cannot the voice of humanity be awakened? Shall not legislative authority be exercised for their relief?”

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 199-200.

New York State County Poor Houses.