Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hand-Written Appeal Gains Woman Freedom After 19 Years In 'Bedlam'

The Ellensburg Daily Record, July 3, 1954
Louise Hartway's "insanity" began as a byproduct of the court system's inability to rightly differentiate between mental illness and criminal trespass in the 1930's and lasted for nearly two decades. Her crime originated from a simple disagreement over a debt owed to her and resulted in an hospital observation where she was diagnosed as being irrational with a persecution complex.

Subsequent stays in several mental institutions across Michigan, including Eloise, left her feeling that perhaps she was going insane. But her resolve to overturn her 19 year incarceration led to a meticulously handwritten writ of habeas corpus to Judge Lila M. Neuenfelt that secured her release. She had been urged on by another former Eloise patient Mary Speers whose 16 years of institutionalization nearly mirrored Hartway's.

Hartway recounted stories of humiliation, brutality and one incident in early 1936 where she claimed that she was almost murdered by an Eloise attendant over food. The plight of these two women and many others convinved the judge who delivered many of the commitments, Thomas C. Murphy, to seek an overhaul to the process which he deemed a "life sentence" without proper legal representation based primarily on affidavits from psychiatrists.

Mrs. Hartway, a New Orleans native, vowed to clean up the mental institutions after a retreat to visit her family in Louisiana, which included a daughter that she hadn't seen since the girl was 5-years-old and 10 siblings of her own. The daughter had been reared by her grandmother and to spare her the ignominy of having an insane mother, she was kept ignorant of her mother's predicament.

St. Joseph News-Press, July 4, 1954

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