During the twentieth century, Maryland
politicians, reflecting the citizens they represented,
struggled with questions of reform. Governor Crothers, considered
a Progressive, gave his support both to the state care campaign and the
movement to disfranchise black voters. Crothers and most of the legislature
believed that reform included the exclusion of African Americans from the
political process. They more often equated progress with building
projects. Baltimore, the last major city without a modern sewerage
system, embarked upon a comprehensive construction program during this
period. A good macadam road was a wise use of state monies, bringing
accolades upon the county representative or senator who championed the
local interests. Better roads brought the means to develop the state's
natural resources and inaugurate better economic times for most citizens.
The roads themselves, used on a daily basis, provided a constant reminder
of their necessity to everyday life. Though road-building proved
costly--$5,300 per mile in 1905 dollars--it was a shared expense from which
everyone derived benefits. The advent of the automobile and its subsequent
enthusiastic embrace by the populace ensured roads would recieve
additional monies. By 1908 the sum of one million dollars per year
was budgeted in that direction with very little political opposition.
Not all reforms, and not all forms of progress,
moved so swiftly.
For reasons not yet fully understood, the core
of upper- and upper-midle class Maryland women who championed causes such
as playgrounds for children, pure milk, and smoke abatement during the
Progressive Era, did not embrace the cause of the mentally impaired.
Hidden away in almshouses, often in the most inaccessible areas in the
counties, the pauper insane remained invisible and faceless to the general
public for decades until the Lunacy Commission photographed their mistreatment.
The commission understood that the needs of a marginalized population were
no match for the general public's desire for good roads, yet in the absence
of a broad-based citizens' campaign the commission had to plead its case
before that very public.
In the final analysis money remained an issue.
Hard-hearted economics--state road construction and the public's aversion
to paying additional taxes--worked against the proper care of all of the
state's mentally-impaired. A contemporary appraisal of the State
Care Act noted that it did not in fact provide for true state care. The
counties' providing $100 of the $150 to maintain patients in state hospitals,
"leaves the matter in a rather confused and unsatisfactory condition,"
commented one observer. Maryland's population grew dramatically
every decade, and so did its number of insane. In 1916, state hospitals
were still being enlarged to accommodate all the patients from the almshouses,
but an adequate number of spaces never materialized. By the 1930s
state hospitals were themselves overcrowded.
The Lunacy Commission photographs of the almshouses
constitute a radically different use of images in state reports.
Dr. Herring's photographic expose, uncovering
as it did the unsatisfactory conditions at county almshouses and asylums,
constituted a well-engineered attempt to mold public opinion in favor of
reform legislation through the use of selected images.
Publicizing the images to a wide audience, thus
garnering the support of an interested public, ultimately forced state
legislators to pass the necessary legislation and an appropriations bill
that allowed for the transfer of patients from county institutions into
modern state mental hospitals. In theory, with the passage of the
revised State Care Act of 1910, the scenes that Dr. Chancellor had witnessed
in 1877 would occur no more.