over thirty years, from 1874 to 1908, similar descriptions to the
one presented above regularly appeared in official reports to Maryland's
political leaders, yet the care of the state's indigent mentally impaired
citizens, or as they were then termed the "pauper insane," saw little or
no improvement. Hidden away to languish in county almshouses, asylums,
and even jails, the pauper insane garnered little public or private notice
in an era of supposed religious devotion and charitable generosity.
helped to change all that. Photographs played an important role in
bringing bad conditions to light and in persuading politicians and
the general public that the state should take responsibility for the care
of its indigent insane.
drawn from the holdings of the Maryland State Archives, focuses on the
of photographs in the campaign for mental health care reform in Maryland
during the early twentieth century, an effort spearheaded by the Maryland
State Lunacy Commission.
Baltimore County Almshouse, 1908
history of mental health care in nineteenth century Maryland displays
an uneven rate of progress and enlightenment. Though the state rarely
stood in the forefront of embracing new ideas in treatment, it generally
led its Southern sisters in enacting more modern policies toward the care
of the insane. Fiscally conservative Maryland, one of the first states
in the nation to found a public mental institution, saw support wax and
wane throughout the nineteenth century. Patient overcrowding and
chronic understaffing characterized state facilities. The two state-run
hospitals, Spring Grove (1797) and Springfield (1896), could accommodate
only several hundred individuals.
of mentally impaired Marylanders remained either in the homes of relatives,
or if poor, in the county almshouses and jails. By 1893, approximately
one thousand such individuals resided in Maryland county facilities.
Almshouses served also as the warehouses for the incapacitated, chronically
ill, and elderly populations. Residents included those afflicted
with Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and mental retardation, or "feeble-mindedness"
as it was then known.