Thursday, June 12, 2014

Miss Dix Comes A-Callin'

Detroit Free Press, September 30, 1860 (enlarge)
My interests in Eloise usually are reserved for the patients and minutiae, not so much for the structure itself or the general goings-on. In fact, I couldn't tell one building from another in a lineup save for those which are clearly marked. A recollection of a visit by mycologists on a mushroom picking expedition excites me. The fact that x amount of dollars was spent to add so-and-so ward to the establishment mostly bores me to death. This article concerning philanthropist Dorothea Dix's visit to Eloise in 1860 has elements of both sides of the aforementioned examples. Since it delivers bad news I'm in on it.

Miss Dix's visit to the County House of Wayne came after trips to many state and local institutions. She adjudged the Kalamazoo Asylum to be in excellent condition and the patients treated well. In Detroit, the County Jail received praise for the facility itself but its practice of confining all criminals, despite their offenses, into one general population was considered a grave mistake. St. Mary's Hospital, "The Retreat" for the insane and the Marine Hospital all garnered high marks for their professional and practical care. Eloise would garner no such accolades.

The Poor House was found to be filthy and disorganized with a sense of dread emanating from both patient and faculty, as well as the structures. Dix asserted that charges allowed to live in conditions of disarray would mirror the deficiencies in their own dispositions. If the institution wasn't willing to reform how could it expect its subject to do so? But the most poignant scorn was reserved for the insane asylum. A block of cells mired in a discreditable state that housed a dozen wretched souls. The stench in the wooden structure from a lack of ventilation and cleanliness sent some of Dix's party scurrying for the outdoors to vomit and warranted a call for mass reform by the delegation. The Free Press, of course, had neither answer nor condemnation for the Poor Commission and simply called for more money to be thrown at the problem. A solution that never did or could help any charitable endeavor lacking an equal amount of specialized care.

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