|New Orleans City Insane Asylum|
The records offer up a fascinating glimpse into what behaviors were considered abnormal in the late 1800s. Some individuals were "cured" and returned home to their families. Many lived out their lives in the asylum and were buried in unmarked graves on the asylum grounds. One can only imagine what the lived experiences of these people, deemed insane by the state of Louisiana, must have been like. Here are a few of their stories:
- Abigail vs. Mrs. Lincoln – F – Blk – entered April 26, 1865 – aged 43 years. Today April 25,/82 – 61 years old [sic] – native of U.S. 5 3 ½ feet high. Kind of Insanity when she entered – Furious Mania – Today her disposition same is quiet
& obedient– but she is turbulent, vulgar and obscene when irritated, yet very clean about her person. All doctors are her husbandsbrothers. Health rather good.
Quiet and obedient. No wait, just quiet. Also prone to being turbulent, vulgar and obscene when irritated. That's the record for Abigail. It's not much to go on. Not much at all. Take a closer look at the dates Dr. Le Monnier entered into the record. Abigail was brought to the asylum during the second year of the Civil War. It's unclear what the record means by "entered April 26 1865." It's entirely possible that Dr. LeMonnier didn't get around to entering the data into the record until years later. It is also possible that it was the day Abigail was transferred to the East Louisiana State Hospital for the Insane. While the meaning is unclear, the date is interesting. April 26 1865 entry occurred just days after General Lee surrendered the Confederacy to the North on April 9, 1965.
One wonders if Abigail was mentally ill or damned angry at being held in slavery. Was her illness the failure to fit in with White society's expectation of normal behavior for their slaves?
- Victorine – F – Blk – Entered Oct. 26, 1866 – 45 yrs old – Today, April 25, 1882, 62 years old – Native of U.S. 5.3 feet high – Kind of Insanity when she entered – Erotomania. Today, same. Disposition: quiet and obedient. Excited at times, at the sight of men, strangers to the institution, but even then very obedient. When her thoughts are turned to the pass [sic], on whatever subjects, she will at times seem to be a raving maniac. At these moments it suffices to call her, for her reason to return and she becomes quiet and obedient. Her health is very good. She makes herself useful.
Erotomania is a diagnosis that describes a person who has a delusional belief that a person of higher social status falls in love with them and is making sexual advances toward them. The record makes no mention of who was the subject of Victorine's advances. One wonders if she was in love with a White man, and if he loved her back. Could it be that a society with rigid anti-miscegenation laws diagnosed Victorine to keep races separate?
Was Victorine mentally ill or a victim of a racist culture?
- Ah Sing – Chinaman – age unknown (35? yrs)[sic] – Committed to the Asylum June 28rd*, 1882.This man is very excited. Being a Chinaman nothing can be obtained from him. Attached is a specimen of his writing – His tongue is good. Yesterday (26th) he was very wild, Raving Mania, to-day he is much better. This improved state is probably due to exhaustion. Yesterday his P. was 108, small; weak; to-day the 27th it is small and weak at 84.
I'm speechless here, really. Was Ah Sing insane, or unable to communicate in English? Imagine how you might behave if you were kept against your will by captors who did not speak your language. Raving Mania, indeed.
- Anna Doyle, female, white, 35 years of age, native of Indiana, married, recommended her commitment to the State Insane Asylum, on November 3d, 1882, finding her suffering from Puerpueral Mania. This young woman is of a crabbid [sic] and peevish nature, using at times a very obscene; insulting language. She is naked, has a diarrhoea, and constantly dirties on her. At times rational, then incoherent in her speech. Her present condition is the result of a miscarriage or parturition – I have been unable to learn which or the exact date – a few weeks ago. She was sent to the hospital but her insanity caused her removal to the parish prison, for examination, prior to be sent to Jackson. At the hospital as here, she was very disagreeable; unmanageable [sic].
My heart goes out across time for poor Anna Doyle. It's interesting that she had no family to speak for her--Dr. LeMonnier wasn't sure if she had a miscarriage or live birth. Where was her husband? The record says she was married. Was the child the result of an affair? Was the husband uninterested--or dead?
It's important to note that no psycho-social factors were considered in any of these records. Do you suppose we take into consideration the context of peoples when making diagnostic decisions in 2012? If you were to read the records of psychiatric patients who are hospitalized in 2112 would the records indicate an ignorance of the ways in which context influences sanity.
- Wm. Turley, male, white, 19 years, native of N.O., La. recommended his commitment to the S. I. A. at Jackson, on February 13th, 1883, finding him suffering from Stupidity. This young man is an epileptic, and is to-day reduced to an advanced state of Stupidity, which renders him unable to distinguish his right hand from the left. He knows not his age; says he is 10/years[sic] of age. He knows not the difference between 10 & 20.
It has been nearly erased from history that people who suffered epilepsy generally faced a lifetime of institutionalization.
- Mrs. John Morehiser born Mary Grady, female, white, single (i.e. not legally married) native of Ireland, 27 years of age, recommended her commitment to the S-I-A. at Jackson on Feb’y 28th/83 finding her suffering from Puerperual Mania. This unfortunately woman was living with a man, to whom she was devoted. He proved untrue to her. She became jealous, and shortly, one or two months, after the birth of her last (3d) child, she showed the first symptoms of insanity. She is very quiet, speaks very little, her answers are slow to come, the questions often, having to be asked several times before being answered. The answers are not always rational. Her eyes are constantly roaming to & fro looking for something. She speaks of her children who are in the garden, whereas they are not present, nor is there a garden near by.
I found the admission record for Mary when she was adjudged to be insane by the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans. The reason official reason for her insanity? Jealousy. Was she insane or was she angry (or dejected) that her lover abandoned her and their children?
- Augustine Smith, male, white, single, 21 years of age, native of Algiers, LA recommended his commitment to the S-I-A. at Jackson, on March 21st 1883, finding him suffering from Klopemania He is in a state of excessive hilarity. Laughs, jumps, claps his hands, runs at a great speed across the room, sets down jumps up again, puts his hand in your pocket, in a word does not remain two minutes quiet. At the station house, I found him in his cell, having torn his shirt to pieces, broken the lamps glass with his shoe, and laughing at his deeds. A month or two ago, he was arrested. He had robbed a ladder at night, brought it to the police station (Algiers), and there was asking for the loan of a hatchet that he might fix it, to enable him to light all the street lamps of Algiers. The citizens of Algiers complain of his night prowlings & thefts, and fear that he may some night be shot as a thief, if he be not placed in a safe place.
A modern day reading of Augustine's record suggests he might be suffering from a manic or hypomanic episode. What's interested about this record is that it suggests the protective use of hospitalization: Augustine was placed in a safe place so his behaviors didn't get him shot as a thief. One can infer from Dr. LeMonnier's writing that he didn't believe Augustine was responsible for his own behaviors. Perhaps an interesting precursor to the notion of 'not guilty by reason of insanity'?
- Elizabeth Riley, female, white, about 35 yrs old, married, native of Ireland. Recommended her commitment to the S.-I.-A. at Jackson, on March 11th/84, finding her insane, suffering from Hallucinations. She is afraid of bodily harm, when anyone approaches
Hallucinations or flashbacks? The experience of Elizabeth is mostly erased from time. I wonder if perhaps she was victimized by someone--perhaps rape or physical abuse?