Saturday, April 2, 2011

Forgotten History

I recently came across a link to the London Science Museum on the Mind Hacks blog. It lead to an interesting morning clicking around looking at all sorts of medical oddities. Where else would I be able to find a diorama of Dr. Lister's ward where he pioneered modern antiseptic techniques? Perhaps you are interested in something older? How about a different diorama depicting the removal of a cataract in 11th century Persia? If that one didn't make you flinch how about an antique dentist chair? There is the interesting (antique acupuncture needles) and the gory (a German amputation knife). Have more prurient interests? How about a reusable condom that needed to be washed, powdered, and dried flat? How about an electric "massager" circa 1913 that physicians used to treat "hysterical" women. Talk about forgotten history!

Of particular interest to me were two grave markers in the London Science Museum collection. These markers came from a place first opened in 1765 as the House of Industry for Looes and Wilford Incorporated Hundreds (a work house for the poor), named the Suffolk County Lunatic Asylum in 1827, renamed again the Suffolk District Asylum in 1906, and then called St. Audry's Hospital for Mental Diseases from 1917 until it closed in the 1990s. The grounds are rather pretty.

Some people spent most--if not their entire--lives in this hospital. They grew up, aged, and died on the grounds of this hospital. The only memory that remains of them are numbered metal grave markers. Recently even the markers were removed when workers came in to renovate the old asylum grounds into a golf course. The surviving buildings have been converted into residences.

There was no record left of these human beings. No mention of their hopes and dreams or their struggles and pains. Reduced to small rusted metal crosses with an embossed number, these people disappeared. I wish there was some way I could reach back in time and let the persons now known as #325 and #1587 know that they were valuable just because they were.

I can't do that. None of us can. We cannot travel back in time and we cannot right what has been made wrong. We can remember the past to honor those who were thrown away. For example, there is a website that collects and chronicles the experiences of workhouses in the United Kingdom.

We can treat each person like they matter--with dignity, respect, and honor. Can you try that today?


  1. Mary L. NadrowskiApril 2, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    I love your writings. They are very compelling as well as thoughtful. They make me think. Reading this I have to ask - in today's society, there still are prisons. The prisoners are like the mentally ill people of years ago. Locked up, not helped, and then forgotten. So have we as a society really changed much? Prisoners are not treated with dignity and respect. I know first hand about this as someone very very close to me spent time in the jail system. They put the prisoners in a 'hole' of darkness, no bathroom if they are unmanageable. The guards hit them and spit on them as if the prisoners are dirt beneath their feet. Our society still is in the very dark ages as far as repect and peaceful compassion for prisoners. Maybe with your help, we can change this.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Mary. While many of the crimes that people have committed to get into prison are horrific and unimaginable, I don't believe that they deserve horrific and unimaginable treatment. I think when one of us is treated with inhumanity, we all lose a little piece of our humanity.

    Many find it an unpopular position to speak up for prisoners and their rights. Many, in fact, don't think prisoners deserve rights. I'm glad you spoke up here. An interesting resource to know about is Restorative Justice. You can find more about that topic here: