Insane Asylum

A friend recently posted on Facebook a post card depicting the Eastern Maine Insane Asylum in the early 1900s. The utter size of the institution was astonishing. As late as the 1970s it was still called Bangor Mental Health Institute, and many of the buildings depicted were still occupied by the then-mentally ill.

The point of this is not to discuss BMHI. Her posting of the photo reminded me of a set of files I saved from a long-ago internet search.

These are the Orleans Parish (Louisiana) Civil Sheriff Register of patients transported to the State Insane Asylum, year by year, from 1882 to 1908 (minus a couple of years). This was the same period that saw the growth of BMHI to what is depicted in the post card.

The Orleans Parish records list “patients” by name, but what is hugely sobering are the reasons given for admitting them to the insane asylum. And what must have become of their belongings, their property not brought with them, their children and spouses, their lives? Their freedom?

Reasons given for admission included stupidity, hallucination, religious mania, raving madness, epilepsy, congenital imbecility, kick by mule, and my favorite: softening of the brain. But the lists below reveal so much more concerning suppositions of insanity in those years.

Incidentally, for my own perspective on the time line of these records, my grandmother was born in 1882, so these records come from the period when she was growing up and starting a family. And as a second thought, my father worked for a period in the 1950s or 1960s at the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Lima, Ohio. I don’t recall that he brought any stories home from the place, but I do recall that the experience affected him, perhaps to keep him on the straight and narrow.

The following files are the lists that I saved during that internet search.

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