Insane not dangerous

Published in The Oregonian, February 28, 1904 – not available elsewhere online.


Says Patients Are Harmless, and neighboring Property-Owners Have No Right to Protest.

Philadelphia, PA, Feb 1904 (Letter to the Editor.) — I experience more regret than I can express that I should in any way be a party to anything which should cause any one distress, either in mind or property, and I am therefore much disturbed that there should be any uneasiness at Mount Tabor over the temporary establishment at the Smith residence, upon the summit of Mount Tabor, of an institution for the care of the Alaska insane, in which the subscriber is interested.

It is difficult to find any avocation or business which does not have some features making the same objectionable to its neighbors, and it is worthy of consideration by those who have interested themselves in a public way as against the present business move on our part, that we must all give and take in this world of ours. It is one of the penalties of being of sufficient means to own property that the holder must risk, among other things, the location in his neighborhood of lines of activity which shall not consult his own convenience not in fact even his own financial welfare.

It must be understood that our sanitarium proper, with which the Alaska insane have no connection of any kind, is not chiefly or even largely devoted to the care of the insane. Its main purpose is the treatment of nervous diseases of whatsoever kind, having no more relation to insanity than would pneumonia or rheumatism. Only our separately enclosed tract, with two cottages thereon for mental cases, one for males and one for females, is devoted to these; while the greater part of our patients, located many blocks away on another tract are the nervous cases, no more than with the school children at Montavilla.

A schoolhouse, upon the foundation which stands this great Republic, is a nuisance to its adjoining neighbor, and no one would choose for a building site the next lot thereto, other things being equal.

A saloon has its objections to many people, yet throughout the land, where legalized, other business must take the inside lots while the corner is more often the location point of the most objectionable line of business, according to the belief of all in the block because the saloon is able through paying the higher rent to have the pick of the special neighborhood.

The location of a hospital, a sanitarium or a health resort may make the immediate property less desirable, and this regardless of the class of patients taken.

We found a neighborhood at Tabor Heights, largely owned by nonresident speculators, in the neighborhood of which our institution was located. Not a shingle had been put upon a roof, not a bucket of paint upon any house, not a nail had been driven into the smallest new building and not a single evidence had for ten years been manifested, except in tax sales, or mortgage foreclosures, of the deep interest now manifested by its nonresident owners in this, one of the prettiest suburbs of the city of Portland. From this do-nothing policy of its property-holders so largely non-resident, and a policy which they have pursued to this day, before we went into that neighborhood, which we could rent, stipulating in every case that we would as a partial payment give to such buildings a good coat of paint. We put in water and baths in these houses, brought electric lights to Tabor Heights, got the streets improved, and the grass of ten years torn up from the principal and older thoroughfare of the suburb. We set out shade trees upon the grounds and also upon the streets, not only before our own property, but in front of that of others, and have watered and cared for these trees now for tow years free of expense to any one else. Tabor Heights four years ago was a desolate wilderness of abandoned hopes of real estate boomers. Today, thanks to the moral support of a few residents of that pretty suburb, whose faith I the region remained steadfast throughout, and our own special efforts, that section is now once more becoming known and admired as it should be. We arrogate to ourselves the larger credit for the improved conditions of that section in the work which we have done in making it a live, bustling center of activity.

When we bought our first portion of land there, making an allowance for its improvements, we paid less than $200 an acre. Today I understand that $1000 an acre is asked for adjoining the property.

The present agitation is based absolutely upon wrong premises. Real estate dealers and others have worked up a feeling that there is danger to the neighborhood. Possibly they themselves are also suffering a misconception of the whole purpose and tenor of the restraint and care of the ordinary insane. I believe that in the breast of everyone there is that disposition to fairness , which, if this matter were understood, would not have permitted even a small gathering of those who met at Mount Tabor to discuss this subject. I believe that the ordinary man and woman has some sympathy for the unfortunate class which are denominated “the insane” and that every one is willing to submit to a trifling accommodation if in so doing respect is had for those so unfortunate as to have been bereft of their reason. Of all persons on earth, the mentally afflicted are the most unfortunate.

In private institutions for the insane the dangerous classes are promptly weeded out. In public institutions they are given special supervisory care. The fewness of these members in an insane colony as found in a public asylum where, perhaps in the average ward of from 20 to 60 patients from two to six attendants are ample to oversee the same, and where in an institution of from 1000 to 3000 patients not a single casualty occurs among those who have to do with the patients for ten years or more, is ample refutation of the old theory that the insane man or the insane woman is a wild beast dangerous to the community. Many of these patients chafe under restraint, yet with all this no special danger to the attendant is current. How much less would there be danger to the public if such patients should escape?

Some of these patients are bed-ridden. A large number are simply weakminded. The vast majority under kind care have no desire to flee.

It is time that this idea that the insane are as so many wild beasts should pass away, and if this incident at Mount Tabor shall be the means of educating the public, a little more, upon this great subject, it will have been worth the trouble and annoyance and publicity which has been given it.

My own personal views regarding the danger from contact with the insane has been worth the trouble and annoyance and publicity which has been given it.

My own personal views regarding the danger from contact with the insane has been manifested in more ways than one. If I had for a moment thought such within the range of faintest possibility, for more than five years I would not have lived under the same roof with these unfortunates, and have permitted by [sic] own little children, too small to be able to defend themselves, to take such risk as those who have spoken against the present movement, would lead the uniformed to believe exists. One moment’s danger to these little fellows would more than overcome all the benefits which I could ever hope to receive from all the sanitariums on earth.