Asylums were large scale institutions where people with various mental and intellectual conditions were housed in large numbers. Many of these people were homeless or very poor. Prior to asylums and almshouses being established many people with mental and intellectual disabilities would end up in jails. Patients who lived in asylums faced very hard conditions. They would experience out breaks of disease, confinement, abuse from staff and limited decision making powers.
Residential school was created to help those with a mental disability at an early age with special education programs. During this time, there was some recognition of people with an intellectual disability as a unique group. The attitudes of society towards those with an intellectual disability were that of pity and charity. This is the reason that residential schooling was believed to be helpful for those with an intellectual disability because they were considered a unique group with different educational needs.
“IN AREAS OF NEW BRUNSWICK WHERE THE ALMSHOUSE SYSTEM WAS ADOPTED, IT WAS FOUND THAT INSTITUTIONAL CARE WAS NOT ONLY A MORE HUMANE WAY TO PROVIDE FOR PAUPERS BUT WAS ALSO MORE ECONOMICAL”
(Whalen, James M. Social Welfare in New Brunswick,1784-1900, Acadiensis, 1972).
Almshouses were houses that were originally built for charitable reasons to care for people who were homeless or living in poverty. “The first almshouse in the province was established in the City of Saint John in 1801” (Whalen, James M. Social Welfare in New Brunswick,1784-1900, Acadiensis, 1972). Four almshouses were opened around the province during the nineteenth century:
1) The York County Almshouse and Workhouse was built in Fredericton in 1823.
2) The Saint John City and County Almshouse and Workhouse built in the Parish of Simonds in 1843.
3) The Northumberland County Almshouse and Workhouse erected in the Parish of Chatham in 1869.
4) The Kings County Almshouse and Poor Farm established in the Parish of Norton in 1899.
Life in an almshouse was extremely hard in New Brunswick. In 1871, Saint John Dr. William Bayard said, "the food of the pauper is too often reduced to the lowest standard capable of sustaining life” and that residents were often malnourished (Whalen, James M. Saint John Almshouse. http://newbrunswick.net/Saint_John/almshouse.html )
Protection of Society from a menace
One of the most dominant and recurrent themes of eugenics philosophy in the late 19th and early 20th century was the emphasis on this link between mental retardation and criminality, and the consequent “menace” which mental deficiency posed to society. Many prominent Canadians of that era were advocates of eugenics philosophy and eugenic sterilization, including Dr. E.W. McBride, Professor Carrie Derick and Dr. Helen MacMurchy.
Robertson, Gerald. “Eugenics.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.
MARY HUESTIS PENGILLY DIARY:
Mary Huestis Pengilly was a patient at the New Brunswick Provincial Hospital (Lunatic Asylum) in Saint John, NB in 1883. She kept a diary during her confinement in the hospital that detailed the harsh conditions of the hospital and the abusive and dismissive treatment she encountered from the nurses and doctors. She self-published her diary after her release from the hospital. She hoped that by detailing her poor treatment while in the hospital, it would encourage New Brunswickers to improve the state of provincial hospitals and asylums. Below is an excerpt of Mary Huestis Pengilly diary of her time in the provincial asylum.
“DECEMBER, THEY WILL NOT ALLOW ME TO GO HOME, AND I MUST WRITE THESE THINGS DOWN FOR FEAR I FORGET. IT WILL HELP TO PASS THE TIME AWAY. IT IS VERY HARD TO ENDURE THIS PRISON LIFE, AND KNOW THAT MY SONS THINK ME INSANE WHEN I AM NOT.”
To read the full diary follow this link
Following the example of Clifford Beers’ American National Committee for Mental Hygiene, Canadian psychiatrists Dr. Clarence Hincks and Dr. C.K Clarke established the Canadian National Committee for Mental Health (CNCMH). The goal of the CNCMH was to combat feeblemindedness and the host of social ills associated with it such as prostitution, criminality, and unemployment. It was formed at a time when social reform was popular amongst Canadians, and became aligned with the eugenics movement. From 1918 onward, they carried out surveys on feeble mindedness in seven out of nine provinces. They concluded that the number of feebleminded individuals was one the rise. However, the CNCMH sought to reduce the number of people in asylums, which were perceived as out of date and costly to maintain (Dyck, 2014). The solution proposed included immigration restrictions, medical examinations of Aboriginals, and a broadening of the term "feeble-minded" to include criminality, prostitution, vagrancy, and unemployment
"Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH) is established." The Eugenics Archives. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.
By the 1930s families were beginning to form groups and organizations seeking to improve the lives of their children through educational opportunities.
Myth: Individuals with an intellectual disability are sick.
Fact: Having an intellectual disability does not automatically throw one into ill health. Most people with an intellectual disability are healthy and well.