Work on the Hospital for
Negro Insane, later renamed Crownsville State Hospital, commenced in late
April of 1910. Thirty-one African American male patients from Montevue
Asylum were put to work with clearing the land and building a railroad
spur to the hospital site. Arriving first in handcuffs and guarded
by a dozen deputy sheriffs, the men "were told that they would be treated
entirely differently, and that they would not be confined to cells or wear
handcuffs or straight jackets." Each man was then issued an axe.
With three orderlies to assist him, Dr. Robert J. Winterode, the appointed
Superintendent of Crownsville, "worked with these 'dangerous insane' Negroes
all summer, cutting hundreds of crossties, and many tall poles for the
electric wires, and had not a single accident. Best of all, this
active life in the open greatly improved the mental condition of the patients
and some of them were actually cured." By 1913 all the mentally ill
patients had been taken away from Montevue and the insane department closed.
It is hard to assess to what degree the conditions
actually improved for those left behind in the almshouses and asylums.
Though most of the indigent insane had been transferred elsewhere within
a few years, other populations continued to languish in these settings.
The 1912 Maryland Department of Charities and Corrections Annual Report
estimated that "one hundred percent of the feeble-minded individuals and
sixty percent of the epileptics cases" still continued to be housed in
Dr. Herring's photographs
and the Lunacy Commission's campaign to publicize them played a prominent
role in bringing mental health care reform to Maryland. What had
been hidden in the text of reports for decades suddenly appeared as images
before politicians and the public. This time no one could look away.
The photographs challenged all Marylanders and, for a brief moment, caused
them to pause and reflect on the progress of their society and its priorities.
|The content for this exhibition
was derived from the article "The Beginning of Mental Health Care Reform
in Maryland, 1908-1910," Maryland Historical Magazine, V. 96, No.
4 (Winter 2001) by Robert W. Schoeberlein. Dr. Larry Mintz, American
Studies Department, University of Maryland College Park, prompted
and encouraged the research. Many thanks to Dr. Mintz for his
guidance and insights.