If we had lived in 1880 the odds are pretty good that I wouldn’t have been able to talk to most of you- you’d be locked up in an insane asylum somewhere. Yes, I know you think that you are perfectly sane and logical. But do you have a temper? Do you drink? Are you suffering from depression? Are you experiencing the symptoms of menopause? Have you disobeyed your husband? Are you an idiot? All perfectly legal reasons to put you away during the 1800s. And that last question was one of the official census questions of 1880!
The census had these boxes for the enumerator to check off :
Deaf and Dumb
Maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled
I’d personally love to know the differences between “idiotic” and “insane” and I’d love to hear someone who was either one, explaining that to the census taker. And if answering in the affirmative could land you in the insane asylum why would you admit to anything? Perhaps it was up to the enumerator to make a judgment call rather than ask directly. The government may have been trying to discover how many people were hiding those folks at home!
It is also sad to note that it was assumed a deaf person would also be mute. Thankfully we have made tremendous progress in that field of medicine.
I came across this information while researching someone who was in prison. Information about prisons and asylums can be found at “Black Sheep Ancestors”. I’ve used the site before, but I guess I had not paid attention to this note about asylums:
What would have seen you sent to an insane asylum years ago would seem quite unbelievable to a semi educated person today. For instance, in the 1800's you could be institutionalized for a wide variety of things: Wives and daughters who did not obey their husbands or fathers could be put away, alcoholics, depressed people, "angry people", women in menopause, and people going against the norm would also have seen their freedom and dignity evaporate before them and be sent away and institutionalized. So as you can see, you may just be able to find one of your ancestors in a mental institution even though they really were not "insane".
I’d probably be locked up for feeding animals instead of eating them. At least you would be there to keep me company!