Nellie Bly - Ten Days in a Mad-House (Illustrated Edition)-Dodo Press (2008)

Формат документа: pdf
Размер документа: 1.89 Мб

Прямая ссылка будет доступна
примерно через: 45 сек.

  • Сообщить о нарушении / Abuse
    Все документы на сайте взяты из открытых источников, которые размещаются пользователями. Приносим свои глубочайшие извинения, если Ваш документ был опубликован без Вашего на то согласия.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

Nellie Bly

SINCE my experiences in Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum were
published in the World I have received hundreds of letters in regard
to it. The edition containing my story long since ran out, and I have
been prevailed upon to allow it to be published in book form, to
satisfy the hundreds who are yet asking for copies.
I am happy to be able to state as a result of my visit to the asylum
and the exposures consequent thereon, that the City of New York
has appropriated $1,000,000 more per annum than ever before for
the care of the insane. So I have at least the satisfaction of knowing
that the poor unfortunates will be the better cared for because of my

Ten Days in a Mad-House

ON the 22d of September I was asked by the World if I could have
myself committed to one of the asylums for the insane in New York,
with a view to writing a plain and unvarnished narrative of the
treatment of the patients therein and the methods of management,
etc. Did I think I had the courage to go through such an ordeal as the
mission would demand? Could I assume the characteristics of
insanity to such a degree that I could pass the doctors, live for a
week among the insane without the authorities there finding out that
I was only a “chiel amang ‘em takin’ notes?” I said I believed I could.
I had some faith in my own ability as an actress and thought I could
assume insanity long enough to accomplish any mission intrusted to
me. Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I
said I could and I would. And I did.

My instructions were simply to go on with my work as soon as I felt
that I was ready. I was to chronicle faithfully the experiences I
underwent, and when once within the walls of the asylum to find
out and describe its inside workings, which are always, so effectually
hidden by white-capped nurses, as well as by bolts and bars, from
the knowledge of the public. “We do not ask you to go there for the

Ten Days in a Mad-House
purpose of making sensational revelations. Write up things as you
find them, good or bad; give praise or blame as you think best, and
the truth all the time. But I am afraid of that chronic smile of yours,”
said the editor. “I will smile no more,” I said, and I went away to
execute my delicate and, as I found out, difficult mission.
If I did get into the asylum, which I hardly hoped to do, I had no
idea that my experiences would contain aught else than a simple tale
of life in an asylum. That such an institution could be mismanaged,
and that cruelties could exist ‘neath its roof, I did not deem possible.
I always had a desire to know asylum life more thoroughly–a desire
to be convinced that the most helpless of God’s creatures, the insane,
were cared for kindly and properly. The many stories I had read of
abuses in such institutions I had regarded as wildly exaggerated or
else romances, yet there was a latent desire to know positively.
I shuddered to think how completely the insane were in the power
of their keepers, and how one could weep and plead for release, and
all of no avail, if the keepers were so minded. Eagerly I accepted the
mission to learn the inside workings of the Blackwell Island Insane
“How will you get me out,” I asked my editor, “after I once get in?”
“I do not know,” he replied, “but we will get you out if we have to
tell who you are, and for what purpose you feigned insanity–only
get in.”
I had little belief in my ability to deceive the insanity experts, and I
think my editor had less.
All the preliminary preparations for my ordeal were left to be
planned by myself. Only one thing was decided upon, namely, that I
should pass under the pseudonym of Nellie Brown, the initials of
which would agree with my own name and my linen, so that there
would be no difficulty in keeping track of my movements and
assisting me out of any difficulties or dangers I might get into. There
were ways of getting into the insane ward, but I did not know them.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
I might adopt one of two courses. Either I could feign insanity at the
house of friends, and get myself committed on the decision of two
competent physicians, or I could go to my goal by way of the police

On reflection I thought it wiser not to inflict myself upon my friends
or to get any good-natured doctors to assist me in my purpose.
Besides, to get to Blackwell’s Island my friends would have had to
feign poverty, and, unfortunately for the end I had in view, my
acquaintance with the struggling poor, except my own self, was only
very superficial. So I determined upon the plan which led me to the
successful accomplishment of my mission. I succeeded in getting
committed to the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island, where I spent
ten days and nights and had an experience which I shall never
forget. I took upon myself to enact the part of a poor, unfortunate
crazy girl, and felt it my duty not to shirk any of the disagreeable
results that should follow. I became one of the city’s insane wards for
that length of time, experienced much, and saw and heard more of
the treatment accorded to this helpless class of our population, and
when I had seen and heard enough, my release was promptly
secured. I left the insane ward with pleasure and regret–pleasure
that I was once more able to enjoy the free breath of heaven; regret
that I could not have brought with me some of the unfortunate

Ten Days in a Mad-House
women who lived and suffered with me, and who, I am convinced,
are just as sane as I was and am now myself.
But here let me say one thing: From the moment I entered the insane
ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of
insanity. I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to
say, the more sanely I talked and acted the crazier I was thought to
be by all except one physician, whose kindness and gentle ways I
shall not soon forget.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

BUT to return to my work and my mission. After receiving my
instructions I returned to my boarding-house, and when evening
came I began to practice the role in which I was to make my debut on
the morrow. What a difficult task, I thought, to appear before a
crowd of people and convince them that I was insane. I had never
been near insane persons before in my life, and had not the faintest
idea of what their actions were like. And then to be examined by a
number of learned physicians who make insanity a specialty, and
who daily come in contact with insane people! How could I hope to
pass these doctors and convince them that I was crazy? I feared that
they could not be deceived. I began to think my task a hopeless one;
but it had to be done. So I flew to the mirror and examined my face. I
remembered all I had read of the doings of crazy people, how first of
all they have staring eyes, and so I opened mine as wide as possible
and stared unblinkingly at my own reflection. I assure you the sight
was not reassuring, even to myself, especially in the dead of night. I
tried to turn the gas up higher in hopes that it would raise my
courage. I succeeded only partially, but I consoled myself with the
thought that in a few nights more I would not be there, but locked
up in a cell with a lot of lunatics.
The weather was not cold; but, nevertheless, when I thought of what
was to come, wintery chills ran races up and down my back in very
mockery of the perspiration which was slowly but surely taking the
curl out of my bangs. Between times, practicing before the mirror
and picturing my future as a lunatic, I read snatches of improbable
and impossible ghost stories, so that when the dawn came to chase
away the night, I felt that I was in a fit mood for my mission, yet
hungry enough to feel keenly that I wanted my breakfast. Slowly
and sadly I took my morning bath and quietly bade farewell to a few
of the most precious articles known to modern civilization. Tenderly
I put my tooth-brush aside, and, when taking a final rub of the soap,
I murmured, “It may be for days, and it may be–for longer.” Then I
donned the old clothing I had selected for the occasion. I was in the

Ten Days in a Mad-House
mood to look at everything through very serious glasses. It’s just as
well to take a last “fond look,” I mused, for who could tell but that
the strain of playing crazy, and being shut up with a crowd of mad
people, might turn my own brain, and I would never get back. But
not once did I think of shirking my mission. Calmly, outwardly at
least, I went out to my crazy business.
I first thought it best to go to a boarding-house, and, after securing
lodging, confidentially tell the landlady, or lord, whichever it might
chance to be, that I was seeking work, and, in a few days after,
apparently go insane. When I reconsidered the idea, I feared it
would take too long to mature. Suddenly I thought how much easier
it would be to go to a boarding-home for working women. I knew, if
once I made a houseful of women believe me crazy, that they would
never rest until I was out of their reach and in secure quarters.
From a directory I selected the Temporary Home for Females, No. 84
Second Avenue. As I walked down the avenue, I determined that,
once inside the Home, I should do the best I could to get started on
my journey to Blackwell’s Island and the Insane Asylum.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

I WAS left to begin my career as Nellie Brown, the insane girl. As I
walked down the avenue I tried to assume the look which maidens
wear in pictures entitled “Dreaming.” “Far-away” expressions have
a crazy air. I passed through the little paved yard to the entrance of
the Home. I pulled the bell, which sounded loud enough for a
church chime, and nervously awaited the opening of the door to the
Home, which I intended should ere long cast me forth and out upon
the charity of the police. The door was thrown back with a
vengeance, and a short, yellow-haired girl of some thirteen summers
stood before me.
“Is the matron in?” I asked, faintly.
“Yes, she’s in; she’s busy. Go to the back parlor,” answered the girl,
in a loud voice, without one change in her peculiarly matured face.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
I followed these not overkind or polite instructions and found myself
in a dark, uncomfortable back-parlor. There I awaited the arrival of
my hostess. I had been seated some twenty minutes at the least,
when a slender woman, clad in a plain, dark dress entered and,
stopping before me, ejaculated inquiringly, “Well?”
“Are you the matron?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “the matron is sick; I am her assistant. What do
you want?”
“I want to stay here for a few days, if you can accommodate me.”
“Well, I have no single rooms, we are so crowded; but if you will
occupy a room with another girl, I shall do that much for you.”
“I shall be glad of that,” I answered. “How much do you charge?” I
had brought only about seventy cents along with me, knowing full
well that the sooner my funds were exhausted the sooner I should be
put out, and to be put out was what I was working for.
“We charge thirty cents a night,” was her reply to my question, and
with that I paid her for one night’s lodging, and she left me on the
plea of having something else to look after. Left to amuse myself as
best I could, I took a survey of my surroundings.
They were not cheerful, to say the least. A wardrobe, desk, book-
case, organ, and several chairs completed the furnishment of the
room, into which the daylight barely came.
By the time I had become familiar with my quarters a bell, which
rivaled the door-bell in its loudness, began clanging in the basement,
and simultaneously women went trooping down-stairs from all
parts of the house. I imagined, from the obvious signs, that dinner
was served, but as no one had said anything to me I made no effort
to follow in the hungry train. Yet I did wish that some one would
invite me down. It always produces such a lonely, homesick feeling
to know others are eating, and we haven’t a chance, even if we are

Ten Days in a Mad-House
not hungry. I was glad when the assistant matron came up and
asked me if I did not want something to eat. I replied that I did, and
then I asked her what her name was. Mrs. Stanard, she said, and I
immediately wrote it down in a notebook I had taken with me for
the purpose of making memoranda, and in which I had written
several pages of utter nonsense for inquisitive scientists.
Thus equipped I awaited developments. But my dinner–well, I
followed Mrs. Stanard down the uncarpeted stairs into the basement;
where a large number of women were eating. She found room for
me at a table with three other women. The short-haired slavey who
had opened the door now put in an appearance as waiter. Placing
her arms akimbo and staring me out of countenance she said:
“Boiled mutton, boiled beef, beans, potatoes, coffee or tea?”
“Beef, potatoes, coffee and bread,” I responded.
“Bread goes in,” she explained, as she made her way to the kitchen,
which was in the rear. It was not very long before she returned with
what I had ordered on a large, badly battered tray, which she banged
down before me. I began my simple meal. It was not very enticing,
so while making a feint of eating I watched the others.
I have often moralized on the repulsive form charity always
assumes! Here was a home for deserving women and yet what a
mockery the name was. The floor was bare, and the little wooden
tables were sublimely ignorant of such modern beautifiers as
varnish, polish and table-covers. It is useless to talk about the
cheapness of linen and its effect on civilization. Yet these honest
workers, the most deserving of women, are asked to call this spot of
When the meal was finished each woman went to the desk in the
corner, where Mrs. Stanard sat, and paid her bill. I was given a
much-used, and abused, red check, by the original piece of humanity
in shape of my waitress. My bill was about thirty cents.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
After dinner I went up-stairs and resumed my former place in the
back parlor. I was quite cold and uncomfortable, and had fully made
up my mind that I could not endure that sort of business long, so the
sooner I assumed my insane points the sooner I would be released
from enforced idleness. Ah! that was indeed the longest day I had
ever lived. I listlessly watched the women in the front parlor, where
all sat except myself.
One did nothing but read and scratch her head and occasionally call
out mildly, “Georgie,” without lifting her eyes from her book.
“Georgie” was her over-frisky boy, who had more noise in him than
any child I ever saw before. He did everything that was rude and
unmannerly, I thought, and the mother never said a word unless she
heard some one else yell at him. Another woman always kept going
to sleep and waking herself up with her own snoring. I really felt
wickedly thankful it was only herself she awakened. The majority of
the women sat there doing nothing, but there were a few who made
lace and knitted unceasingly. The enormous door-bell seemed to be
going all the time, and so did the short-haired girl. The latter was,
besides, one of those girls who sing all the time snatches of all the
songs and hymns that have been composed for the last fifty years.
There is such a thing as martyrdom in these days. The ringing of the
bell brought more people who wanted shelter for the night.
Excepting one woman, who was from the country on a day’s
shopping expedition, they were working women, some of them with
As it drew toward evening Mrs. Stanard came to me and said:
“What is wrong with you? Have you some sorrow or trouble?”
“No,” I said, almost stunned at the suggestion. “Why?”
“Oh, because,” she said, womanlike, “I can see it in your face. It tells
the story of a great trouble.”
“Yes, everything is so sad,” I said, in a haphazard way, which I had
intended to reflect my craziness.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“But you must not allow that to worry you. We all have our troubles,
but we get over them in good time. What kind of work are you
trying to get?”
“I do not know; it’s all so sad,” I replied.
“Would you like to be a nurse for children and wear a nice white cap
and apron?” she asked.
I put my handkerchief up to my face to hide a smile, and replied in a
muffled tone, “I never worked; I don’t know how.”
“But you must learn,” she urged; “all these women here work.”
“Do they?” I said, in a low, thrilling whisper. “Why, they look
horrible to me; just like crazy women. I am so afraid of them.”
“They don’t look very nice,” she answered, assentingly, “but they
are good, honest working women. We do not keep crazy people
I again used my handkerchief to hide a smile, as I thought that
before morning she would at least think she had one crazy person
among her flock.
“They all look crazy,” I asserted again, “and I am afraid of them.
There are so many crazy people about, and one can never tell what
they will do. Then there are so many murders committed, and the
police never catch the murderers,” and I finished with a sob that
would have broken up an audience of blase critics. She gave a sudden
and convulsive start, and I knew my first stroke had gone home. It
was amusing to see what a remarkably short time it took her to get
up from her chair and to whisper hurriedly: “I’ll come back to talk
with you after a while.” I knew she would not come back and she
did not.
When the supper-bell rang I went along with the others to the
basement and partook of the evening meal, which was similar to

Ten Days in a Mad-House
dinner, except that there was a smaller bill of fare and more people,
the women who are employed outside during the day having
returned. After the evening meal we all adjourned to the parlors,
where all sat, or stood, as there were not chairs enough to go round.
It was a wretchedly lonely evening, and the light which fell from the
solitary gas jet in the parlor, and oil-lamp the hall, helped to envelop
us in a dusky hue and dye our spirits navy blue. I felt it would not
require many inundations of this atmosphere to make me a fit
subject for the place I was striving to reach.

I watched two women, who seemed of all the crowd to be the most
sociable, and I selected them as the ones to work out my salvation,
or, more properly speaking, my condemnation and conviction.
Excusing myself and saying that I felt lonely, I asked if I might join
their company. They graciously consented, so with my hat and
gloves on, which no one had asked me to lay aside, I sat down and
listened to the rather wearisome conversation, in which I took no
part, merely keeping up my sad look, saying “Yes,” or “No,” or “I
can’t say,” to their observations. Several times I told them I thought
everybody in the house looked crazy, but they were slow to catch on
to my very original remark. One said her name was Mrs. King and

Ten Days in a Mad-House
that she was a Southern woman. Then she said that I had a Southern
accent. She asked me bluntly if I did not really come from the South.
I said “Yes.” The other woman got to talking about the Boston boats
and asked me if I knew at what time they left.
For a moment I forgot my role of assumed insanity, and told her the
correct hour of departure. She then asked me what work I was going
to do, or if I had ever done any. I replied that I thought it very sad
that there were so many working people in the world. She said in
reply that she had been unfortunate and had come to New York,
where she had worked at correcting proofs on a medical dictionary
for some time, but that her health had given way under the task, and
that she was now going to Boston again. When the maid came to tell
us to go to bed I remarked that I was afraid, and again ventured the
assertion that all the women in the house seemed to be crazy. The
nurse insisted on my going to bed. I asked if I could not sit on the
stairs, but she said, decisively: “No; for every one in the house would
think you were crazy.” Finally I allowed them to take me to a room.
Here I must introduce a new personage by name into my narrative.
It is the woman who had been a proofreader, and was about to
return to Boston. She was a Mrs. Caine, who was as courageous as
she was good-hearted. She came into my room, and sat and talked
with me a long time, taking down my hair with gentle ways. She
tried to persuade me to undress and go to bed, but I stubbornly
refused to do so. During this time a number of the inmates of the
house had gathered around us. They expressed themselves in
various ways. “Poor loon!” they said. “Why, she’s crazy enough!” “I
am afraid to stay with such a crazy being in house.” “She will
murder us all before morning.” One woman was for sending for a
policeman to take me at once. They were all in a terrible and real
state of fright.
No one wanted to be responsible for me, and the woman who was to
occupy the room with me declared that she would not stay with that
“crazy woman” for all the money of the Vanderbilts. It was then that
Mrs. Caine said she would stay with me. I told her I would like to
have her do so. So she was left with me. She didn’t undress, but lay

Ten Days in a Mad-House
down on the bed, watchful of my movements. She tried to induce me
to lie down, but I was afraid to do this. I knew that if I once gave
way I should fall asleep and dream as pleasantly and peacefully as a
child. I should, to use a slang expression, be liable to “give myself
dead away.” So I insisted on sitting on the side of the bed and staring
blankly at vacancy. My poor companion was put into a wretched
state of unhappiness. Every few moments she would rise up to look
at me. She told me that my eyes shone terribly brightly and then
began to question me, asking me where I had lived, how long I had
been in New York, what I had been doing, and many things besides.
To all her questionings I had but one response–I told her that I had
forgotten everything, that ever since my headache had come on I
could not remember.
Poor soul! How cruelly I tortured her, and what a kind heart she
had! But how I tortured all of them! One of them dreamed of me–as a
nightmare. After I had been in the room an hour or so, I was myself
startled by hearing a woman screaming in the next room. I began to
imagine that I was really in an insane asylum.
Mrs. Caine woke up, looked around, frightened, and listened. She
then went out and into the next room, and I heard her asking
another woman some questions. When she came back she told me
that the woman had had a hideous nightmare. She had been
dreaming of me. She had seen me, she said, rushing at her with a
knife in my hand, with the intention of killing her. In trying to
escape me she had fortunately been able to scream, and so to awaken
herself and scare off her nightmare. Then Mrs. Caine got into bed
again, considerably agitated, but very sleepy.
I was weary, too, but I had braced myself up to the work, and was
determined to keep awake all night so as to carry on my work of
impersonation to a successful end in the morning. I heard midnight.
I had yet six hours to wait for daylight. The time passed with
excruciating slowness. Minutes appeared hours. The noises in the
house and on the avenue ceased.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
Fearing that sleep would coax me into its grasp, I commenced to
review my life. How strange it all seems! One incident, if never so
trifling, is but a link more to chain us to our unchangeable fate. I
began at the beginning, and lived again the story of my life. Old
friends were recalled with a pleasurable thrill; old enmities, old
heartaches, old joys were once again present. The turned-down
pages of my life were turned up, and the past was present.
When it was completed, I turned my thoughts bravely to the future,
wondering, first, what the next day would bring forth, then making
plans for the carrying out of my project. I wondered if I should be
able to pass over the river to the goal of my strange ambition, to
become eventually an inmate of the halls inhabited by my mentally
wrecked sisters. And then, once in, what would be my experience?
And after? How to get out? Bah! I said, they will get me out.
That was the greatest night of my existence. For a few hours I stood
face to face with “self!”
I looked out toward the window and hailed with joy the slight
shimmer of dawn. The light grew strong and gray, but the silence
was strikingly still. My companion slept. I had still an hour or two to
pass over. Fortunately I found some employment for my mental
activity. Robert Bruce in his captivity had won confidence in the
future, and passed his time as pleasantly as possible under the
circumstances, by watching the celebrated spider building his web. I
had less noble vermin to interest me. Yet I believe I made some
valuable discoveries in natural history. I was about to drop off to
sleep in spite of myself when I was suddenly startled to wakefulness.
I thought I heard something crawl and fall down upon the
counterpane with an almost inaudible thud.
I had the opportunity of studying these interesting animals very
thoroughly. They had evidently come for breakfast, and were not a
little disappointed to find that their principal plat was not there. They
scampered up and down the pillow, came together, seemed to hold
interesting converse, and acted in every way as if they were puzzled
by the absence of an appetizing breakfast. After one consultation of

Ten Days in a Mad-House
some length they finally disappeared, seeking victims elsewhere,
and leaving me to pass the long minutes by giving my attention to
cockroaches, whose size and agility were something of a surprise to
My room companion had been sound asleep for a long time, but she
now woke up, and expressed surprise at seeing me still awake and
apparently as lively as a cricket. She was as sympathetic as ever. She
came to me and took my hands and tried her best to console me, and
asked me if I did not want to go home. She kept me up-stairs until
nearly everybody was out of the house, and then took me down to
the basement for coffee and a bun. After that, partaken in silence, I
went back to my room, where I sat down, moping. Mrs. Caine grew
more and more anxious. “What is to be done?” she kept exclaiming.
“Where are your friends?” “No,” I answered, “I have no friends, but
I have some trunks. Where are they? I want them.” The good woman
tried to pacify me, saying that they would be found in good time.
She believed that I was insane.
Yet I forgive her. It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes
how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world. The women
in the Home who were not afraid of me had wanted to have some
amusement at my expense, and so they had bothered me with
questions and remarks that had I been insane would have been cruel
and inhumane. Only this one woman among the crowd, pretty and
delicate Mrs. Caine, displayed true womanly feeling. She compelled
the others to cease teasing me and took the bed of the woman who
refused to sleep near me. She protested against the suggestion to
leave me alone and to have me locked up for the night so that I could
harm no one. She insisted on remaining with me in order to
administer aid should I need it. She smoothed my hair and bathed
my brow and talked as soothingly to me as a mother would do to an
ailing child. By every means she tried to have me go to bed and rest,
and when it drew toward morning she got up and wrapped a
blanket around me for fear I might get cold; then she kissed me on
the brow and whispered, compassionately:
“Poor child, poor child!”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
How much I admired that little woman’s courage and kindness.
How I longed to reassure her and whisper that I was not insane, and
how I hoped that, if any poor girl should ever be so unfortunate as to
be what I was pretending to be, she might meet with one who
possessed the same spirit of human kindness possessed by Mrs. Ruth

Ten Days in a Mad-House

BUT to return to my story. I kept up my role until the assistant
matron, Mrs. Stanard, came in. She tried to persuade me to be calm. I
began to see clearly that she wanted to get me out of the house at all
hazards, quietly if possible. This I did not want. I refused to move,
but kept up ever the refrain of my lost trunks. Finally some one
suggested that an officer be sent for. After awhile Mrs. Stanard put
on her bonnet and went out. Then I knew that I was making an
advance toward the home of the insane. Soon she returned, bringing
with her two policemen–big, strong men–who entered the room
rather unceremoniously, evidently expecting to meet with a person
violently crazy. The name of one of them was Tom Bockert.
When they entered I pretended not to see them. “I want you to take
her quietly,” said Mrs. Stanard. “If she don’t come along quietly,”
responded one of the men, “I will drag her through the streets.” I
still took no notice of them, but certainly wished to avoid raising a
scandal outside. Fortunately Mrs. Caine came to my rescue. She told
the officers about my outcries for my lost trunks, and together they
made up a plan to get me to go along with them quietly by telling
me they would go with me to look for my lost effects. They asked me
if I would go. I said I was afraid to go alone. Mrs. Stanard then said
she would accompany me, and she arranged that the two policemen
should follow us at a respectful distance. She tied on my veil for me,
and we left the house by the basement and started across town, the
two officers following at some distance behind. We walked along
very quietly and finally came to the station house, which the good
woman assured me was the express office, and that there we should
certainly find my missing effects. I went inside with fear and
trembling, for good reason.
A few days previous to this I had met Captain McCullagh at a
meeting held in Cooper Union. At that time I had asked him for
some information which he had given me. If he were in, would he
not recognize me? And then all would be lost so far as getting to the

Ten Days in a Mad-House
island was concerned. I pulled my sailor hat as low down over my
face as I possibly could, and prepared for the ordeal. Sure enough
there was sturdy Captain McCullagh standing near the desk.
He watched me closely as the officer at the desk conversed in a low
tone with Mrs. Stanard and the policeman who brought me.
“Are you Nellie Brown?” asked the officer. I said I supposed I was.
“Where do you come from?” he asked. I told him I did not know,
and then Mrs. Stanard gave him a lot of information about me–told
him how strangely I had acted at her home; how I had not slept a
wink all night, and that in her opinion I was a poor unfortunate who
had been driven crazy by inhuman treatment. There was some
discussion between Mrs. Standard and the two officers, and Tom
Bockert was told to take us down to the court in a car.

“Come along,” Bockert said, “I will find your trunk for you.” We all
went together, Mrs. Stanard, Tom Bockert, and myself. I said it was
very kind of them to go with me, and I should not soon forget them.
As we walked along I kept up my refrain about my trucks, injecting
occasionally some remark about the dirty condition of the streets and

Ten Days in a Mad-House
the curious character of the people we met on the way. “I don’t think
I have ever seen such people before,” I said. “Who are they?” I
asked, and my companions looked upon me with expressions of
pity, evidently believing I was a foreigner, an emigrant or something
of the sort. They told me that the people around me were working
people. I remarked once more that I thought there were too many
working people in the world for the amount of work to be done, at
which remark Policeman P. T. Bockert eyed me closely, evidently
thinking that my mind was gone for good. We passed several other
policemen, who generally asked my sturdy guardians what was the
matter with me. By this time quite a number of ragged children were
following us too, and they passed remarks about me that were to me
original as well as amusing.
“What’s she up for?” “Say, kop, where did ye get her?” “Where did
yer pull ‘er?” “She’s a daisy!”
Poor Mrs. Stanard was more frightened than I was. The whole
situation grew interesting, but I still had fears for my fate before the
At last we came to a low building, and Tom Bockert kindly
volunteered the information: “Here’s the express office. We shall
soon find those trunks of yours.”
The entrance to the building was surrounded by a curious crowd
and I did not think my case was bad enough to permit me passing
them without some remark, so I asked if all those people had lost
their trunks.
“Yes,” he said, “nearly all these people are looking for trunks.”
I said, “They all seem to be foreigners, too.” “Yes,” said Tom, “they
are all foreigners just landed. They have all lost their trunks, and it
takes most of our time to help find them for them.”
We entered the courtroom. It was the Essex Market Police
Courtroom. At last the question of my sanity or insanity was to be

Ten Days in a Mad-House
decided. Judge Duffy sat behind the high desk, wearing a look which
seemed to indicate that he was dealing out the milk of human
kindness by wholesale. I rather feared I would not get the fate I
sought, because of the kindness I saw on every line of his face, and it
was with rather a sinking heart that I followed Mrs. Stanard as she
answered the summons to go up to the desk, where Tom Bockert
had just given an account of the affair.
“Come here,” said an officer. “What is your name?”
“Nellie Brown,” I replied, with a little accent. “I have lost my trunks,
and would like if you could find them.”
“When did you come to New York?” he asked.
“I did not come to New York,” I replied (while I added, mentally,
“because I have been here for some time.”)
“But you are in New York now,” said the man.
“No,” I said, looking as incredulous as I thought a crazy person
could, “I did not come to New York.”
“That girl is from the west,” he said, in a tone that made me tremble.
“She has a western accent.”
Some one else who had been listening to the brief dialogue here
asserted that he had lived south and that my accent was southern,
while another officer was positive it was eastern. I felt much relieved
when the first spokesman turned to the judge and said:
“Judge, here is a peculiar case of a young woman who doesn’t know
who she is or where she came from. You had better attend to it at
I commenced to shake with more than the cold, and I looked around
at the strange crowd about me, composed of poorly dressed men and
women with stories printed on their faces of hard lives, abuse and

Ten Days in a Mad-House
poverty. Some were consulting eagerly with friends, while others sat
still with a look of utter hopelessness. Everywhere was a sprinkling
of well-dressed, well-fed officers watching the scene passively and
almost indifferently. It was only an old story with them. One more
unfortunate added to a long list which had long since ceased to be of
any interest or concern to them.

“Come here, girl, and lift your veil,” called out Judge Duffy, in tones
which surprised me by a harshness which I did not think from the
kindly face he possessed.
“Who are you speaking to?” I inquired, in my stateliest manner.
“Come here, my dear, and lift your veil. You know the Queen of
England, if she were here, would have to lift her veil,” he said, very
“That is much better,” I replied. “I am not the Queen of England, but
I’ll lift my veil.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
As I did so the little judge looked at me, and then, in a very kind and
gentle tone, he said:
“My dear child, what is wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong except that I have lost my trunks, and this man,”
indicating Policeman Bockert, “promised to bring me where they
could be found.”
“What do you know about this child?” asked the judge, sternly, of
Mrs. Stanard, who stood, pale and trembling, by my side.
“I know nothing of her except that she came to the home yesterday
and asked to remain overnight.”
“The home! What do you mean by the home?” asked Judge Duffy,
“It is a temporary home kept for working women at No. 84 Second
“What is your position there?”
“I am assistant matron.”
“Well, tell us all you know of the case.”
“When I was going into the home yesterday I noticed her coming
down the avenue. She was all alone. I had just got into the house
when the bell rang and she came in. When I talked with her she
wanted to know if she could stay all night, and I said she could.
After awhile she said all the people in the house looked crazy, and
she was afraid of them. Then she would not go to bed, but sat up all
the night.”
“Had she any money?”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Yes,” I replied, answering for her, “I paid her for everything, and
the eating was the worst I ever tried.”
There was a general smile at this, and some murmurs of “She’s not
so crazy on the food question.”
“Poor child,” said Judge Duffy, “she is well dressed, and a lady. Her
English is perfect, and I would stake everything on her being a good
girl. I am positive she is somebody’s darling.”
At this announcement everybody laughed, and I put my
handkerchief over my face and endeavored to choke the laughter
that threatened to spoil my plans, in despite of my resolutions.
“I mean she is some woman’s darling,” hastily amended the judge.
“I am sure some one is searching for her. Poor girl, I will be good to
her, for she looks like my sister, who is dead.”
There was a hush for a moment after this announcement, and the
officers glanced at me more kindly, while I silently blessed the kind-
hearted judge, and hoped that any poor creatures who might be
afflicted as I pretended to be should have as kindly a man to deal
with as Judge Duffy.
“I wish the reporters were here,” he said at last. “They would be able
to find out something about her.”
I got very much frightened at this, for if there is any one who can
ferret out a mystery it is a reporter. I felt that I would rather face a
mass of expert doctors, policemen, and detectives than two bright
specimens of my craft, so I said:
“I don’t see why all this is needed to help me find my trunks. These
men are impudent, and I do not want to be stared at. I will go away.
I don’t want to stay here.”
So saying, I pulled down my veil and secretly hoped the reporters
would be detained elsewhere until I was sent to the asylum.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“I don’t know what to do with the poor child,” said the worried
judge. “She must be taken care of.”
“Send her to the Island,” suggested one of the officers.
“Oh, don’t!” said Mrs. Stanard, in evident alarm. “Don’t! She is a
lady and it would kill her to be put on the Island.”
For once I felt like shaking the good woman. To think the Island was
just the place I wanted to reach and here she was trying to keep me
from going there! It was very kind of her, but rather provoking
under the circumstances.
“There has been some foul work here,” said the judge. “I believe this
child has been drugged and brought to this city. Make out the papers
and we will send her to Bellevue for examination. Probably in a few
days the effect of the drug will pass off and she will be able to tell us
a story that will be startling. If the reporters would only come!”
I dreaded them, so I said something about not wishing to stay there
any longer to be gazed at. Judge Duffy then told Policeman Bockert
to take me to the back office. After we were seated there Judge Duffy
came in and asked me if my home was in Cuba.
“Yes,” I replied, with a smile. “How did you know?”
“Oh, I knew it, my dear. Now, tell me were was it? In what part of
“On the hacienda,” I replied.
“Ah,” said the judge, “on a farm. Do you remember Havana?”
“Si, senor,” I answered; “it is near home. How did you know?”
“Oh, I knew all about it. Now, won’t you tell me the name of your
home?” he asked, persuasively.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“That’s what I forget,” I answered, sadly. “I have a headache all the
time, and it makes me forget things. I don’t want them to trouble me.
Everybody is asking me questions, and it makes my head worse,”
and in truth it did.
“Well, no one shall trouble you any more. Sit down here and rest
awhile,” and the genial judge left me alone with Mrs. Stanard.
Just then an officer came in with a reporter. I was so frightened, and
thought I would be recognized as a journalist, so I turned my head
away and said, “I don’t want to see any reporters; I will not see any;
the judge said I was not to be troubled.”
“Well, there is no insanity in that,” said the man who had brought
the reporter, and together they left the room. Once again I had a fit of
fear. Had I gone too far in not wanting to see a reporter, and was my
sanity detected? If I had given the impression that I was sane, I was
determined to undo it, so I jumped up and ran back and forward
through the office, Mrs. Stanard clinging terrified to my arm.
“I won’t stay here; I want my trunks! Why do they bother me with so
many people?” and thus I kept on until the ambulance surgeon came
in, accompanied by the judge.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

“HERE is a poor girl who has been drugged,” explained the judge.
“She looks like my sister, and any one can see she is a good girl. I am
interested in the child, and I would do as much for her as if she were
my own. I want you to be kind to her,” he said to the ambulance
surgeon. Then, turning to Mrs. Stanard, he asked her if she could not
keep me for a few days until my case was inquired into. Fortunately,
she said she could not, because all the women at the Home were
afraid of me, and would leave if I were kept there. I was very much
afraid she would keep me if the pay was assured her, and so I said
something about the bad cooking and that I did not intend to go
back to the Home. Then came the examination; the doctor looked
clever and I had not one hope of deceiving him, but I determined to
keep up the farce.
“Put out your tongue,” he ordered, briskly.
I gave an inward chuckle at the thought.
“Put out your tongue when I tell you,” he said.
“I don’t want to,” I answered, truthfully enough.
“You must. You are sick, and I am a doctor.”
“I am not sick and never was. I only want my trunks.”
But I put out my tongue, which he looked at in a sagacious manner.
Then he felt my pulse and listened to the beating of my heart. I had
not the least idea how the heart of an insane person beat, so I held
my breath all the while he listened, until, when he quit, I had to give
a gasp to regain it. Then he tried the effect of the light on the pupils
of my eyes. Holding his hand within a half inch of my face, he told
me to look at it, then, jerking it hastily away, he would examine my
eyes. I was puzzled to know what insanity was like in the eye, so I

Ten Days in a Mad-House
thought the best thing under the circumstances was to stare. This I
did. I held my eyes riveted unblinkingly upon his hand, and when
he removed it I exerted all my strength to still keep my eyes from

“What drugs have you been taking?” he then asked me.
“Drugs!” I repeated, wonderingly. “I do not know what drugs are.”
“The pupils of her eyes have been enlarged ever since she came to
the Home. They have not changed once,” explained Mrs. Stanard. I
wondered how she knew whether they had or not, but I kept quiet.
“I believe she has been using belladonna,” said the doctor, and for
the first time I was thankful that I was a little near-sighted, which of
course answers for the enlargement of the pupils. I thought I might
as well be truthful when I could without injuring my case, so I told
him I was near-sighted, that I was not in the least ill, had never been
sick, and that no one had a right to detain me when I wanted to find
my trunks. I wanted to go home. He wrote a lot of things in a long,
slender book, and then said he was going to take me home. The
judge told him to take me and to be kind to me, and to tell the people

Ten Days in a Mad-House
at the hospital to be kind to me, and to do all they could for me. If we
only had more such men as Judge Duffy, the poor unfortunates
would not find life all darkness.
I began to have more confidence in my own ability now, since one
judge, one doctor, and a mass of people had pronounced me insane,
and I put on my veil quite gladly when I was told that I was to be
taken in a carriage, and that afterward I could go home. “I am so
glad to go with you,” I said, and I meant it. I was very glad indeed.
Once more, guarded by Policeman Brockert, I walked through the
little, crowded courtroom. I felt quite proud of myself as I went out a
side door into an alleyway, where the ambulance was waiting. Near
the closed and barred gates was a small office occupied by several
men and large books. We all went in there, and when they began to
ask me questions the doctor interposed and said he had all the
papers, and that it was useless to ask me anything further, because I
was unable to answer questions. This was a great relief to me, for my
nerves were already feeling the strain. A rough-looking man wanted
to put me into the ambulance, but I refused his aid so decidedly that
the doctor and policeman told him to desist, and they performed that
gallant office themselves. I did not enter the ambulance without
protest. I made the remark that I had never seen a carriage of that
make before, and that I did not want to ride in it, but after awhile I
let them persuade me, as I had right along intended to do.
I shall never forget that ride. After I was put in flat on the yellow
blanket, the doctor got in and sat near the door. The large gates were
swung open, and the curious crowd which had collected swayed
back to make way for the ambulance as it backed out. How they
tried to get a glimpse at the supposed crazy girl! The doctor saw that
I did not like the people gazing at me, and considerately put down
the curtains, after asking my wishes in regard to it. Still that did not
keep the people away. The children raced after us, yelling all sorts of
slang expressions, and trying to get a peep under the curtains. It was
quite an interesting drive, but I must say that it was an
excruciatingly rough one. I held on, only there was not much to hold
on to, and the driver drove as if he feared some one would catch up
with us.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

AT last Bellevue was reached, the third station on my way to the
island. I had passed through successfully the ordeals at the home
and at Essex Market Police Court, and now felt confident that I
should not fail. The ambulance stopped with a sudden jerk and the
doctor jumped out. “How many have you?” I heard some one
inquire. “Only one, for the pavilion,” was the reply. A rough-looking
man came forward, and catching hold of me attempted to drag me
out as if I had the strength of an elephant and would resist. The
doctor, seeing my look of disgust, ordered him to leave me alone,
saying that he would take charge of me himself. He then lifted me
carefully out and I walked with the grace of a queen past the crowd
that had gathered curious to see the new unfortunate. Together with
the doctor I entered a small dark office, where there were several
men. The one behind the desk opened a book and began on the long
string of questions which had been asked me so often.
I refused to answer, and the doctor told him it was not necessary to
trouble me further, as he had all the papers made out, and I was too
insane to be able to tell anything that would be of consequence. I felt
relieved that it was so easy here, as, though still undaunted, I had
begun to feel faint for want of food. The order was then given to take
me to the insane pavilion, and a muscular man came forward and
caught me so tightly by the arm that a pain ran clear through me. It
made me angry, and for a moment I forgot my role as I turned to him
and said:
“How dare you touch me?” At this he loosened his hold somewhat,
and I shook him off with more strength than I thought I possessed.
“I will go with no one but this man,” I said, pointing to the
ambulance-surgeon. “The judge said that he was to take care of me,
and I will go with no one else.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
At this the surgeon said that he would take me, and so we went arm
in arm, following the man who had at first been so rough with me.
We passed through the well-cared-for grounds and finally reached
the insane ward. A white-capped nurse was there to receive me.
“This young girl is to wait here for the boat,” said the surgeon, and
then he started to leave me. I begged him not to go, or to take me
with him, but he said he wanted to get his dinner first, and that I
should wait there for him. When I insisted on accompanying him he
claimed that he had to assist at an amputation, and it would not look
well for me to be present. It was evident that he believed he was
dealing with an insane person. Just then the most horrible insane
cries came from a yard in the rear. With all my bravery I felt a chill at
the prospect of being shut up with a fellow-creature who was really
insane. The doctor evidently noticed my nervousness, for he said to
the attendant;
“What a noise the carpenters make.”
Turning to me he offered me explanation to the effect that new
buildings were being erected, and that the noise came from some of
the workmen engaged upon it. I told him I did not want to stay there
without him, and to pacify me he promised soon to return. He left
me and I found myself at last an occupant of an insane asylum.
I stood at the door and contemplated the scene before me. The long,
uncarpeted hall was scrubbed to that peculiar whiteness seen only in
public institutions. In the rear of the hall were large iron doors
fastened by a padlock. Several still-looking benches and a number of
willow chairs were the only articles of furniture. On either side of the
hall were doors leading into what I supposed and what proved to be
bedrooms. Near the entrance door, on the right-hand side, was a
small sitting-room for the nurses, and opposite it was a room where
dinner was dished out. A nurse in a black dress, white cap and apron
and armed with a bunch of keys had charge of the hall. I soon
learned her name, Miss Ball.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
An old Irishwoman was maid-of-all-work. I heard her called Mary,
and I am glad to know that there is such a good-hearted woman in
that place. I experienced only kindness and the utmost consideration
from her. There were only three patients, as they are called. I made
the fourth. I thought I might as well begin work at once, for I still
expected that the very first doctor might declare me sane and send
me out again into the wide, wide world. So I went down to the rear
of the room and introduced myself to one of the women, and asked
her all about herself. Her name, she said, was Miss Anne Neville,
and she had been sick from overwork. She had been working as a
chambermaid, and when her health gave way she was sent to some
Sisters’ Home to be treated. Her nephew, who was a waiter, was out
of work, and, being unable to pay her expenses at the Home, had
had her transferred to Bellevue.
“Is there anything wrong with you mentally as well?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. “The doctors have been asking me many curious
questions and confusing me as much as possible, but I have nothing
wrong with my brain.”
“Do you know that only insane people are sent to this pavilion?” I
“Yes, I know; but I am unable to do anything. The doctors refuse to
listen to me, and it is useless to say anything to the nurses.”
Satisfied from various reasons that Miss Neville was as sane as I was
myself, I transferred my attentions to one of the other patients. I
found her in need of medical aid and quite silly mentally, although I
have seen many women in the lower walks of life, whose sanity was
never questioned, who were not any brighter.
The third patient, Mrs. Fox, would not say much. She was very quiet,
and after telling me that her case was hopeless refused to talk. I
began now to feel surer of my position, and I determined that no
doctor should convince me that I was sane so long as I had the hope
of accomplishing my mission. A small, fair-complexioned nurse

Ten Days in a Mad-House
arrived, and, after putting on her cap, told Miss Ball to go to dinner.
The new nurse, Miss Scott by name, came to me and said, rudely:
“Take off your hat.”
“I shall not take off my hat,” I answered. “I am waiting for the boat,
and I shall not remove it.”
“Well, you are not going on any boat. You might as well know it
now as later. You are in an asylum for the insane.”
Although fully aware of that fact, her unvarnished words gave me a
shock. “I did not want to come here; I am not sick or insane, and I
will not stay,” I said.
“It will be a long time before you get out if you don’t do as you are
told,” answered Miss Scott. “You might as well take off your hat, or I
shall use force, and if I am not able to do it, I have but to touch a bell
and I shall get assistance. Will you take it off?”
“No, I will not. I am cold, and I want my hat on, and you can’t make
me take it off.”
“I shall give you a few more minutes, and if you don’t take it off then
I shall use force, and I warn you it will not be very gentle.”
“If you take my hat off I shall take your cap off; so now.”
Miss Scott was called to the door then, and as I feared that an
exhibition of temper might show too much sanity I took off my hat
and gloves and was sitting quietly looking into space when she
returned. I was hungry, and was quite pleased to see Mary make
preparations for dinner. The preparations were simple. She merely
pulled a straight bench up along the side of a bare table and ordered
the patients to gather ‘round the feast; then she brought out a small
tin plate on which was a piece of boiled meat and a potato. It could
not have been colder had it been cooked the week before, and it had
no chance to make acquaintance with salt or pepper. I would not go

Ten Days in a Mad-House
up to the table, so Mary came to where I sat in a corner, and while
handing out the tin plate, asked:
“Have ye any pennies about ye, dearie?”
“What?” I said, in my surprise.
“Have ye any pennies, dearie, that ye could give me. They’ll take
them all from ye any way, dearie, so I might as well have them.”
I understood it fully now, but I had no intention of feeing Mary so
early in the game, fearing it would have an influence on her
treatment of me, so I said I had lost my purse, which was quite true.
But though I did not give Mary any money, she was none the less
kind to me. When I objected to the tin plate in which she had
brought my food she fetched a china one for me, and when I found it
impossible to eat the food she presented she gave me a glass of milk
and a soda cracker.
All the windows in the hall were open and the cold air began to tell
on my Southern blood. It grew so cold indeed as to be almost
unbearable, and I complained of it to Miss Scott and Miss Ball. But
they answered curtly that as I was in a charity place I could not
expect much else. All the other women were suffering from the cold,
and the nurses themselves had to wear heavy garments to keep
themselves warm. I asked if I could go to bed. They said “No!” At
last Miss Scott got an old gray shawl, and shaking some of the moths
out of it, told me to put it on.
“It’s rather a bad-looking shawl,” I said.
“Well, some people would get along better if they were not so
proud,” said Miss Scott. “People on charity should not expect
anything and should not complain.”
So I put the moth-eaten shawl, with all its musty smell, around me,
and sat down on a wicker chair, wondering what would come next,
whether I should freeze to death or survive. My nose was very cold,

Ten Days in a Mad-House
so I covered up my head and was in a half doze, when the shawl was
suddenly jerked from my face and a strange man and Miss Scott
stood before me. The man proved to be a doctor, and his first
greetings were:
“I’ve seen that face before.”
“Then you know me?” I asked, with a great show of eagerness that I
did not feel.
“I think I do. Where did you come from?”
“From home.”
“Where is home?”
“Don’t you know? Cuba.”

He then sat down beside me, felt my pulse, and examined my
tongue, and at last said:

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Tell Miss Scott all about yourself.”
“No, I will not. I will not talk with women.”
“What do you do in New York?”
“Can you work?”
“No, senor.”
“Tell me, are you a woman of the town?”
“I do not understand you,” I replied, heartily disgusted with him.
“I mean have you allowed the men to provide for you and keep
I felt like slapping him in the face, but I had to maintain my
composure, so I simply said:
“I do not know what you are talking about. I always lived at home.”
After many more questions, fully as useless and senseless, he left me
and began to talk with the nurse. “Positively demented,” he said. “I
consider it a hopeless case. She needs to be put where some one will
take care of her.”
And so I passed my second medical expert.
After this, I began to have a smaller regard for the ability of doctors
than I ever had before, and a greater one for myself. I felt sure now
that no doctor could tell whether people were insane or not, so long
as the case was not violent.
Later in the afternoon a boy and a woman came. The woman sat
down on a bench, while the boy went in and talked with Miss Scott.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
In a short time he came out, and, just nodding good-bye to the
woman, who was his mother, went away. She did not look insane,
but as she was German I could not learn her story. Her name,
however, was Mrs. Louise Schanz. She seemed quite lost, but when
the nurses put her at some sewing she did her work well and
quickly. At three in the afternoon all the patients were given a gruel
broth, and at five a cup of tea and a piece of bread. I was favored; for
when they saw that it was impossible for me to eat the bread or
drink the stuff honored by the name of tea, they gave me a cup of
milk and a cracker, the same as I had had at noon.
Just as the gas was being lighted another patient was added. She was
a young girl, twenty-five years old. She told me that she had just
gotten up from a sick bed. Her appearance confirmed her story. She
looked like one who had had a severe attack of fever. “I am now
suffering from nervous debility,” she said, “and my friends have
sent me here to be treated for it.” I did not tell her where she was,
and she seemed quite satisfied. At 6.15 Miss Ball said that she
wanted to go away, and so we would all have to go to bed. Then
each of us–we now numbered six–were assigned a room and told to
undress. I did so, and was given a short, cotton-flannel gown to wear
during the night. Then she took every particle of the clothing I had
worn during the day, and, making it up in a bundle, labeled it
“Brown,” and took it away. The iron-barred window was locked,
and Miss Ball, after giving me an extra blanket, which, she said, was
a favor rarely granted, went out and left me alone. The bed was not a
comfortable one. It was so hard, indeed, that I could not make a dent
in it; and the pillow was stuffed with straw. Under the sheet was an
oilcloth spread. As the night grew colder I tried to warm that
oilcloth. I kept on trying, but when morning dawned and it was still
as cold as when I went to bed, and had reduced me too, to the
temperature of an iceberg, I gave it up as an impossible task.
I had hoped to get some rest on this my first night in an insane
asylum. But I was doomed to disappointment. When the night
nurses came in they were curious to see me and to find out what I
was like. No sooner had they left than I heard some one at my door
inquiring for Nellie Brown, and I began to tremble, fearing always

Ten Days in a Mad-House
that my sanity would be discovered. By listening to the conversation
I found it was a reporter in search of me, and I heard him ask for my
clothing so that he might examine it. I listened quite anxiously to the
talk about me, and was relieved to learn that I was considered
hopelessly insane. That was encouraging. After the reporter left I
heard new arrivals, and I learned that a doctor was there and
intended to see me. For what purpose I knew not, and I imagined all
sorts of horrible things, such as examinations and the rest of it, and
when they got to my room I was shaking with more than fear.
“Nellie Brown, here is the doctor; he wishes to speak with you,” said
the nurse. If that’s all he wanted I thought I could endure it. I
removed the blanket which I had put over my head in my sudden
fright and looked up. The sight was reassuring.
He was a handsome young man. He had the air and address of a
gentleman. Some people have since censured this action; but I feel
sure, even if it was a little indiscreet, that they young doctor only
meant kindness to me. He came forward, seated himself on the side
of my bed, and put his arm soothingly around my shoulders. It was
a terrible task to play insane before this young man, and only a girl
can sympathize with me in my position.
“How do you feel to-night, Nellie?” he asked, easily.
“Oh, I feel all right.”
“But you are sick, you know,” he said.
“Oh, am I?” I replied, and I turned by head on the pillow and smiled.
“When did you leave Cuba, Nellie?”
“Oh, you know my home?” I asked.
“Yes, very well. Don’t you remember me? I remember you.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Do you?” and I mentally said I should not forget him. He was
accompanied by a friend who never ventured a remark, but stood
staring at me as I lay in bed. After a great many questions, to which I
answered truthfully, he left me. Then came other troubles. All night
long the nurses read one to the other aloud, and I know that the
other patients, as well as myself, were unable to sleep. Every half-
hour or hour they would walk heavily down the halls, their boot-
heels resounding like the march of a private of dragoons, and take a
look at every patient. Of course this helped to keep us awake. Then
as it came toward morning, they began to beat eggs for breakfast,
and the sound made me realize how horribly hungry I was.
Occasional yells and cries came from the male department, and that
did not aid in making the night pass more cheerfully. Then the
ambulance-gong, as it brought in more unfortunates, sounded as a
knell to life and liberty. Thus I passed my first night as an insane girl
at Bellevue.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

AT 6 o’clock on Sunday morning, Sept. 25, the nurses pulled the
covering from my bed. “Come, it’s time for you to get out of bed,”
they said, and opened the window and let in the cold breeze. My
clothing was then returned to me. After dressing I was shown to a
washstand, where all the other patients were trying to rid their faces
of all traces of sleep. At 7 o’clock we were given some horrible mess,
which Mary told us was chicken broth. The cold, from which we had
suffered enough the day previous, was bitter, and when I
complained to the nurse she said it was one of the rules of the
institution not to turn the heat on until October, and so we would
have to endure it, as the steam-pipes had not even been put in order.
The night nurses then, arming themselves with scissors, began to
play manicure on the patients. They cut my nails to the quick, as
they did those of several of the other patients. Shortly after this a
handsome young doctor made his appearance and I was conducted
into the sitting-room.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Nellie Moreno,” I replied.
“Then why did you give the name of Brown?” he asked. “What is
wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I did not want to come here, but they brought me. I want
to go away. Won’t you let me out?”
“If I take you out will you stay with me? Won’t you run away from
me when you get on the street?”
“I can’t promise that I will not,” I answered, with a smile and a sigh,
for he was handsome.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
He asked me many other questions. Did I ever see faces on the wall?
Did I ever hear voices around? I answered him to the best of my
“Do you ever hear voices at night?” he asked.
“Yes, there is so much talking I cannot sleep.”
“I thought so,” he said to himself. Then turning to me, he asked:
“What do these voices say?”
“Well, I do not listen to them always. But sometimes, very often,
they talk about Nellie Brown, and then on other subjects that do not
interest me half so much,” I answered, truthfully.
“That will do,” he said to Miss Scott, who was just on the outside.
“Can I go away?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, with a satisfied laugh, “we’ll soon send you away.”
“It is so very cold here, I want to go out,” I said.
“That’s true,” he said to Miss Scott. “The cold is almost unbearable in
here, and you will have some cases of pneumonia if you are not
With this I was led away and another patient was taken in. I sat right
outside the door and waited to hear how he would test the sanity of
the other patients. With little variation the examination was exactly
the same as mine. All the patients were asked if they saw faces on
the wall, heard voices, and what they said. I might also add each
patient denied any such peculiar freaks of sight and hearing. At 10
o’clock we were given a cup of unsalted beef tea; at noon a bit of cold
meat and a potatoe, at 3 o’clock a cup of oatmeal gruel and at 5.30 a
cup of tea and a slice of unbuttered bread. We were all cold and
hungry. After the physician left we were given shawls and told to
walk up and down the halls in order to get warm. During the day

Ten Days in a Mad-House
the pavilion was visited by a number of people who were curious to
see the crazy girl from Cuba. I kept my head covered, on the plea of
being cold, for fear some of the reporters would recognize me. Some
of the visitors were apparently in search of a missing girl, for I was
made take down the shawl repeatedly, and after they looked at me
they would say, “I don’t know her,” “or [sic], “she is not the one,”
for which I was secretly thankful. Warden O’Rourke visited me, and
tried his arts on an examination. Then he brought some well-dressed
women and some gentlemen at different times to have a glance at
the mysterious Nellie Brown.
The reporters were the most troublesome. Such a number of them!
And they were all so bright and clever that I was terribly frightened
lest they should see that I was sane. They were very kind and nice to
me, and very gentle in all their questionings. My late visitor the night
previous came to the window while some reporters were
interviewing me in the sitting-room, and told the nurse to allow
them to see me, as they would be of assistance in finding some clew
as to my identity.
In the afternoon Dr. Field came and examined me. He asked me only
a few questions, and one that had no bearing on such a case. The
chief question was of my home and friends, and if I had any lovers
or had ever been married. Then he made me stretch out my arms
and move my fingers, which I did without the least hesitation, yet I
heard him say my case was hopeless. The other patients were asked
the same questions.
As the doctor was about to leave the pavilion Miss Tillie Mayard
discovered that she was in an insane ward. She went to Dr. Field and
asked him why she had been sent there.
“Have you just found out you are in an insane asylum?” asked the
“Yes; my friends said they were sending me to a convalescent ward
to be treated for nervous debility, from which I am suffering since
my illness. I want to get out of this place immediately.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Well, you won’t get out in a hurry,” he said, with a quick laugh.
“If you know anything at all,” she responded, “you should be able to
tell that I am perfectly sane. Why don’t you test me?”
“We know all we want to on that score,” said the doctor, and he left
the poor girl condemned to an insane asylum, probably for life,
without giving her one feeble chance to prove her sanity.
Sunday night was but a repetition of Saturday. All night long we
were kept awake by the talk of the nurses and their heavy walking
through the uncarpeted halls. On Monday morning we were told
that we should be taken away at 1.30. The nurses questioned me
unceasingly about my home, and all seemed to have an idea that I
had a lover who had cast me forth on the world and wrecked my
brain. The morning brought many reporters. How untiring they are
in their efforts to get something new. Miss Scott refused to allow me
to be seen, however, and for this I was thankful. Had they been
given free access to me, I should probably not have been a mystery
long, for many of them knew me by sight. Warden O’Rourke came
for a final visit and had a short conversation with me. He wrote his
name in my notebook, saying to the nurse that I would forget all
about it in an hour. I smiled and thought I wasn’t sure of that. Other
people called to see me, but none knew me or could give any
information about me.
Noon came. I grew nervous as the time approached to leave for the
Island. I dreaded every new arrival, fearful that my secret would be
discovered at the last moment. Then I was given a shawl and my hat
and gloves. I could hardly put them on, my nerves were so unstrung.
At last the attendant arrived, and I bade good-bye to Mary as I
slipped “a few pennies” into her hand. “God bless you,” she said; “I
shall pray for you. Cheer up, dearie. You are young, and will get
over this.” I told her I hoped so, and then I said good-bye to Miss
Scott in Spanish. The rough-looking attendant twisted his arms
around mine, and half-led, half-dragged me to an ambulance. A
crowd of the students had assembled, and they watched us
curiously. I put the shawl over my face, and sank thankfully into the

Ten Days in a Mad-House
wagon. Miss Neville, Miss Mayard, Mrs. Fox, and Mrs. Schanz were
all put in after me, one at a time. A man got in with us, the doors
were locked, and we were driven out of the gates in great style on
toward the Insane Asylum and victory! The patients made no move
to escape. The odor of the male attendant’s breath was enough to
make one’s head swim.
When we reached the wharf such a mob of people crowded around
the wagon that the police were called to put them away, so that we
could reach the boat. I was the last of the procession. I was escorted
down the plank, the fresh breeze blowing the attendants’ whisky
breath into my face until I staggered. I was taken into a dirty cabin,
where I found my companions seated on a narrow bench. The small
windows were closed, and, with the smell of the filthy room, the air
was stifling. At one end of the cabin was a small bunk in such a
condition that I had to hold my nose when I went near it. A sick girl
was put on it. An old woman, with an enormous bonnet and a dirty
basket filled with chunks of bread and bits of scrap meat, completed
our company. The door was guarded by two female attendants. One
was clad in a dress made of bed-ticking and the other was dressed
with some attempt at style. They were coarse, massive women, and
expectorated tobacco juice about on the floor in a manner more
skillful than charming. One of these fearful creatures seemed to have
much faith in the power of the glance on insane people, for, when
any one of us would move or go to look out of the high window she
would say “Sit down,” and would lower her brows and glare in a
way that was simply terrifying. While guarding the door they talked
with some men on the outside. They discussed the number of
patients and then their own affairs in a manner neither edifying nor
The boat stopped and the old woman and the sick girl were taken
off. The rest of us were told to sit still. At the next stop my
companions were taken off, one at a time. I was last, and it seemed to
require a man and a woman to lead me up the plank to reach the
shore. An ambulance was standing there, and in it were the four
other patients.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

“What is this place?” I asked of the man, who had his fingers sunk
into the flesh of my arm.
“Blackwell’s Island, an insane place, where you’ll never get out of.”
With this I was shoved into the ambulance, the springboard was put
up, an officer and a mail-carrier jumped on behind, and I was swiftly
driven to the Insane Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

AS the wagon was rapidly driven through the beautiful lawns up to
the asylum my feelings of satisfaction at having attained the object of
my work were greatly dampened by the look of distress on the faces
of my companions. Poor women, they had no hopes of a speedy
delivery. They were being driven to a prison, through no fault of
their own, in all probability for life. In comparison, how much easier
it would be to walk to the gallows than to this tomb of living horrors!
On the wagon sped, and I, as well as my comrades, gave a
despairing farewell glance at freedom as we came in sight of the long
stone buildings. We passed one low building, and the stench was so
horrible that I was compelled to hold my breath, and I mentally
decided that it was the kitchen. I afterward found I was correct in my
surmise, and smiled at the signboard at the end of the walk: “Visitors
are not allowed on this road.” I don’t think the sign would be
necessary if they once tried the road, especially on a warm day.

The wagon stopped, and the nurse and officer in charge told us to
get out. The nurse added: “Thank God! they came quietly.” We

Ten Days in a Mad-House
obeyed orders to go ahead up a flight of narrow, stone steps, which
had evidently been built for the accommodation of people who climb
stairs three at a time. I wondered if my companions knew where we
were, so I said to Miss Tillie Mayard:
“Where are we?”
“At the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum,” she answered, sadly.
“Are you crazy?” I asked.
“No,” she replied; “but as we have been sent here we will have to be
quiet until we find some means of escape. They will be few, though,
if all the doctors, as Dr. Field, refuse to listen to me or give me a
chance to prove my sanity.” We were ushered into a narrow
vestibule, and the door was locked behind us.
In spite of the knowledge of my sanity and the assurance that I
would be released in a few days, my heart gave a sharp twinge.
Pronounced insane by four expert doctors and shut up behind the
unmerciful bolts and bars of a madhouse! Not to be confined alone,
but to be a companion, day and night, of senseless, chattering
lunatics; to sleep with them, to eat with them, to be considered one
of them, was an uncomfortable position. Timidly we followed the
nurse up the long uncarpeted hall to a room filled by so-called crazy
women. We were told to sit down, and some of the patients kindly
made room for us. They looked at us curiously, and one came up to
me and asked:
“Who sent you here?”
“The doctors,” I answered.
“What for?” she persisted.
“Well, they say I am insane,” I admitted.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Insane!” she repeated, incredulously. “It cannot be seen in your
This woman was too clever, I concluded, and was glad to answer the
roughly given orders to follow the nurse to see the doctor. This
nurse, Miss Grupe, by the way, had a nice German face, and if I had
not detected certain hard lines about the mouth I might have
expected, as did my companions, to receive but kindness from her.
She left us in a small waiting-room at the end of the hall, and left us
alone while she went into a small office opening into the sitting or
“I like to go down in the wagon,” she said to the invisible party on
the inside. “It helps to break up the day.” He answered her that the
open air improved her looks, and she again appeared before us all
smiles and simpers.

“Come here, Tillie Mayard,” she said. Miss Mayard obeyed, and,
though I could not see into the office, I could hear her gently but
firmly pleading her case. All her remarks were as rational as any I
ever heard, and I thought no good physician could help but be
impressed with her story. She told of her recent illness, that she was
suffering from nervous debility. She begged that they try all their
tests for insanity, if they had any, and give her justice. Poor girl, how
my heart ached for her! I determined then and there that I would try
by every means to make my mission of benefit to my suffering

Ten Days in a Mad-House
sisters; that I would show how they are committed without ample
trial. Without one word of sympathy or encouragement she was
brought back to where we sat.
Mrs. Louise Schanz was taken into the presence of Dr. Kinier, the
medical man.
“Your name?” he asked, loudly. She answered in German, saying
she did not speak English nor could she understand it. However,
when he said Mrs. Louise Schanz, she said “Yah, yah.” Then he tried
other questions, and when he found she could not understand one
world of English, he said to Miss Grupe:
“You are German; speak to her for me.”
Miss Grupe proved to be one of those people who are ashamed of
their nationality, and she refused, saying she could understand but
few worlds of her mother tongue.
“You know you speak German. Ask this woman what her husband
does,” and they both laughed as if they were enjoying a joke.
“I can’t speak but a few words,” she protested, but at last she
managed to ascertain the occupation of Mr. Schanz.
“Now, what was the use of lying to me?” asked the doctor, with a
laugh which dispelled the rudeness.
“I can’t speak any more,” she said, and she did not.
Thus was Mrs. Louise Schanz consigned to the asylum without a
chance of making herself understood. Can such carelessness be
excused, I wonder, when it is so easy to get an interpreter? If the
confinement was but for a few days one might question the
necessity. But here was a woman taken without her own consent
from the free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove
her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars,
without even being told in her language the why and wherefore.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his
innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance
for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape? Mrs. Schanz
begged in German to know where she was, and pleaded for liberty.
Her voice broken by sobs, she was led unheard out to us.

Mrs. Fox was then put through this weak, trifling examination and
brought from the office, convicted. Miss Annie Neville took her turn,
and I was again left to the last. I had by this time determined to act
as I do when free, except that I would refuse to tell who I was or
where my home was.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

“NELLIE BROWN, the doctor wants you,” said Miss Grupe. I went
in and was told to sit down opposite Dr. Kinier at the desk.
“What is your name?” he asked, without looking up.
“Nellie Brown,” I replied easily.
“Where is your home?” writing what I had said down in a large
“In Cuba.”
“Oh!” he ejaculated, with sudden understanding–then, addressing
the nurse:
“Did you see anything in the papers about her?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I saw a long account of this girl in the Sun on
Sunday.” Then the doctor said:
“Keep her here until I go to the office and see the notice again.”
He left us, and I was relieved of my hat and shawl. On his return, he
said he had been unable to find the paper, but he related the story of
my debut, as he had read it, to the nurse.
“What’s the color of her eyes?”
Miss Grupe looked, and answered “gray,” although everybody had
always said my eyes were brown or hazel.
“What’s your age?” he asked; and as I answered, “Nineteen last
May,” he turned to the nurse, and said, “When do you get your next
pass?” This I ascertained was a leave of absence, or “a day off.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Next Saturday,” she said, with a laugh.
“You will go to town?” and they both laughed as she answered in
the affirmative, and he said:
“Measure her.” I was stood under a measure, and it was brought
down tightly on my head.
“What is it?” asked the doctor.
“Now you know I can’t tell,” she said.
“Yes, you can; go ahead. What height?”
“I don’t know; there are some figures there, but I can’t tell.”
“Yes, you can. Now look and tell me.”
“I can’t; do it yourself,” and they laughed again as the doctor left his
place at the desk and came forward to see for himself.
“Five feet five inches; don’t you see?” he said, taking her hand and
touching the figures.
By her voice I knew she did not understand yet, but that was no
concern of mine, as the doctor seemed to find a pleasure in aiding
her. Then I was put on the scales, and she worked around until she
got them to balance.
“How much?” asked the doctor, having resumed his position at the
“I don’t know. You will have to see for yourself,” she replied, calling
him by his Christian name, which I have forgotten. He turned and
also addressing her by her baptismal name, he said:
“You are getting too fresh!” and they both laughed. I then told the
weight–112 pounds–to the nurse, and she in turn told the doctor.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“What time are you going to supper?” he asked, and she told him.
He gave the nurse more attention than he did me, and asked her six
questions to every one of me. Then he wrote my fate in the book
before him. I said, “I am not sick and I do not want to stay here. No
one has a right to shut me up in this manner.” He took no notice of
my remarks, and having completed his writings, as well as his talk
with the nurse for the moment, he said that would do, and with my
companions, I went back to the sitting-room.
“You play the piano?” they asked.
“Oh, yes; ever since I was a child,” I replied.
Then they insisted that I should play, and they seated me on a
wooden chair before an old-fashioned square. I struck a few notes,
and the untuned response sent a grinding chill through me.
“How horrible,” I exclaimed, turning to a nurse, Miss McCarten,
who stood at my side. “I never touched a piano as much out of
“It’s a pity of you,” she said, spitefully; “we’ll have to get one made
to order for you.”
I began to play the variations of “Home Sweet Home.” The talking
ceased and every patient sat silent, while my cold fingers moved
slowly and stiffly over the keyboard. I finished in an aimless fashion
and refused all requests to play more. Not seeing an available place
to sit, I still occupied the chair in the front of the piano while I “sized
up” my surroundings.
It was a long, bare room, with bare yellow benches encircling it.
These benches, which were perfectly straight, and just as
uncomfortable, would hold five people, although in almost every
instance six were crowded on them. Barred windows, built about
five feet from the floor, faced the two double doors which led into
the hall. The bare white walls were somewhat relieved by three
lithographs, one of Fritz Emmet and the others of negro minstrels. In

Ten Days in a Mad-House
the center of the room was a large table covered with a white bed-
spread, and around it sat the nurses. Everything was spotlessly clean
and I thought what good workers the nurses must be to keep such
order. In a few days after how I laughed at my own stupidity to
think the nurses would work. When they found I would not play
any more, Miss McCarten came up to me saying, roughly:
“Get away from here,” and closed the piano with a bang.
“Brown, come here,” was the next order I got from a rough, red-
faced woman at the table. “What have you on?”
“My clothing,” I replied.
She lifted my dress and skirts and wrote down one pair shoes, one
pair stockings, one cloth dress, one straw sailor hat, and so on.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

THIS examination over, we heard some one yell, “Go out into the
hall.” One of the patients kindly explained that this was an invitation
to supper. We late comers tried to keep together, so we entered the
hall and stood at the door where all the women had crowded. How
we shivered as we stood there! The windows were open and the
draught went whizzing through the hall. The patients looked blue
with cold, and the minutes stretched into a quarter of an hour. At
last one of the nurses went forward and unlocked a door, through
which we all crowded to a landing of the stairway. Here again came
a long halt directly before an open window.
“How very imprudent for the attendants to keep these thinly clad
women standing here in the cold,” said Miss Neville.
I looked at the poor crazy captives shivering, and added,
emphatically, “It’s horribly brutal.” While they stood there I thought
I would not relish supper that night. They looked so lost and
hopeless. Some were chattering nonsense to invisible persons, others
were laughing or crying aimlessly, and one old, gray-haired woman
was nudging me, and, with winks and sage noddings of the head
and pitiful uplifting of the eyes and hands, was assuring me that I
must not mind the poor creatures, as they were all mad. “Stop at the
heater,” was then ordered, “and get in line, two by two.” “Mary, get
a companion.” “How many times must I tell you to keep in line?”
“Stand still,” and, as the orders were issued, a shove and a push
were administered, and often a slap on the ears. After this third and
final halt, we were marched into a long, narrow dining-room, where
a rush was made for the table.
The table reached the length of the room and was uncovered and
uninviting. Long benches without backs were put for the patients to
sit on, and over these they had to crawl in order to face the table.
Placed closed together all along the table were large dressing-bowls
filled with a pinkish-looking stuff which the patients called tea. By

Ten Days in a Mad-House
each bowl was laid a piece of bread, cut thick and buttered. A small
saucer containing five prunes accompanied the bread. One fat
woman made a rush, and jerking up several saucers from those
around her emptied their contents into her own saucer. Then while
holding to her own bowl she lifted up another and drained its
contents at one gulp. This she did to a second bowl in shorter time
than it takes to tell it. Indeed, I was so amused at her successful
grabbings that when I looked at my own share the woman opposite,
without so much as by your leave, grabbed my bread and left me
without any.
Another patient, seeing this, kindly offered me hers, but I declined
with thanks and turned to the nurse and asked for more. As she
flung a thick piece down on the table she made some remark about
the fact that if I forgot where my home was I had not forgotten how
to eat. I tried the bread, but the butter was so horrible that one could
not eat it. A blue-eyed German girl on the opposite side of the table
told me I could have bread unbuttered if I wished, and that very few
were able to eat the butter. I turned my attention to the prunes and
found that very few of them would be sufficient. A patient near
asked me to give them to her. I did so. My bowl of tea was all that
was left. I tasted, and one taste was enough. It had no sugar, and it
tasted as if it had been made in copper. It was as weak as water. This
was also transferred to a hungrier patient, in spite of the protest of
Miss Neville.
“You must force the food down,” she said, “else you will be sick, and
who know but what, with these surroundings, you may go crazy. To
have a good brain the stomach must be cared for.”
“It is impossible for me to eat that stuff,” I replied, and, despite all
her urging, I ate nothing that night.
It did not require much time for the patients to consume all that was
eatable on the table, and then we got our orders to form in line in the
hall. When this was done the doors before us were unlocked and we
were ordered to proceed back to the sitting-room. Many of the
patients crowded near us, and I was again urged to play, both by

Ten Days in a Mad-House
them and by the nurses. To please the patients I promised to play
and Miss Tillie Mayard was to sing. The first thing she asked me to
play was “Rock-a-bye Baby,” and I did so. She sang it beautifully.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

A FEW more songs and we were told to go with Miss Grupe. We
were taken into a cold, wet bathroom, and I was ordered to undress.
Did I protest? Well, I never grew so earnest in my life as when I tried
to beg off. They said if I did not they would use force and that it
would not be very gentle. At this I noticed one of the craziest women
in the ward standing by the filled bathtub with a large, discolored
rag in her hands. She was chattering away to herself and chuckling
in a manner which seemed to me fiendish. I knew now what was to
be done with me. I shivered. They began to undress me, and one by
one they pulled off my clothes. At last everything was gone
excepting one garment. “I will not remove it,” I said vehemently, but
they took it off. I gave one glance at the group of patients gathered at
the door watching the scene, and I jumped into the bathtub with
more energy than grace.

The water was ice-cold, and I again began to protest. How useless it
all was! I begged, at least, that the patients be made to go away, but
was ordered to shut up. The crazy woman began to scrub me. I can
find no other word that will express it but scrubbing. From a small

Ten Days in a Mad-House
tin pan she took some soft soap and rubbed it all over me, even all
over my face and my pretty hair. I was at last past seeing or
speaking, although I had begged that my hair be left untouched.
Rub, rub, rub, went the old woman, chattering to herself. My teeth
chattered and my limbs were goose-fleshed and blue with cold.
Suddenly I got, one after the other, three buckets of water over my
head–ice-cold water, too–into my eyes, my ears, my nose and my
mouth. I think I experienced some of the sensations of a drowning
person as they dragged me, gasping, shivering and quaking, from
the tub. For once I did look insane. I caught a glance of the
indescribable look on the faces of my companions, who had
witnessed my fate and knew theirs was surely following. Unable to
control myself at the absurd picture I presented, I burst into roars of
laughter. They put me, dripping wet, into a short canton flannel slip,
labeled across the extreme end in large black letters, “Lunatic
Asylum, B. I., H. 6.” The letters meant Blackwell’s Island, Hall 6.
By this time Miss Mayard had been undressed, and, much as I hated
my recent bath, I would have taken another if by it I could have
saved her the experience. Imagine plunging that sick girl into a cold
bath when it made me, who have never been ill, shake as if with
ague. I heard her explain to Miss Grupe that her head was still sore
from her illness. Her hair was short and had mostly come out, and
she asked that the crazy woman be made to rub more gently, but
Miss Grupe said:
“There isn’t much fear of hurting you. Shut up, or you’ll get it
worse.” Miss Mayard did shut up, and that was my last look at her
for the night.
I was hurried into a room where there were six beds, and had been
put into bed when some one came along and jerked me out again,
“Nellie Brown has to be put in a room alone to-night, for I suppose
she’s noisy.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
I was taken to room 28 and left to try and make an impression on the
bed. It was an impossible task. The bed had been made high in the
center and sloping on either side. At the first touch my head flooded
the pillow with water, and my wet slip transferred some of its
dampness to the sheet. When Miss Grupe came in I asked if I could
not have a night-gown.
“We have not such things in this institution,” she said.
“I do not like to sleep without,” I replied.
“Well, I don’t care about that,” she said. “You are in a public
institution now, and you can’t expect to get anything. This is charity,
and you should be thankful for what you get.”
“But the city pays to keep these places up,” I urged, “and pays
people to be kind to the unfortunates brought here.”
“Well, you don’t need to expect any kindness here, for you won’t get
it,” she said, and she went out and closed the door.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
A sheet and an oilcloth were under me, and a sheet and black wool
blanket above. I never felt anything so annoying as that wool blanket
as I tried to keep it around my shoulders to stop the chills from
getting underneath. When I pulled it up I left my feet bare, and when
I pulled it down my shoulders were exposed. There was absolutely
nothing in the room but the bed and myself. As the door had been
locked I imagined I should be left alone for the night, but I heard the
sound of the heavy tread of two women down the hall. They
stopped at every door, unlocked it, and in a few moments I could
hear them relock it. This they did without the least attempt at
quietness down the whole length of the opposite side of the hall and
up to my room. Here they paused. The key was inserted in the lock
and turned. I watched those about to enter. In they came, dressed in
brown and white striped dresses, fastened by brass buttons, large,
white aprons, a heavy green cord about the waist, from which
dangled a bunch of large keys, and small, white caps on their heads.
Being dressed as were the attendants of the day, I knew they were
nurses. The first one carried a lantern, and she flashed its light into
my face while she said to her assistant:
“This is Nellie Brown.” Looking at her, I asked:
“Who are you?”
“The night nurse, my dear,” she replied, and, wishing that I would
sleep well, she went out and locked the door after her. Several times
during the night they came into my room, and even had I been able
to sleep, the unlocking of the heavy door, their loud talking, and
heavy tread, would have awakened me.
I could not sleep, so I lay in bed picturing to myself the horrors in
case a fire should break out in the asylum. Every door is locked
separately and the windows are heavily barred, so that escape is
impossible. In the one building alone there are, I think Dr. Ingram
told me, some three hundred women. They are locked, one to ten to
a room. It is impossible to get out unless these doors are unlocked. A
fire is not improbable, but one of the most likely occurrences. Should
the building burn, the jailers or nurses would never think of

Ten Days in a Mad-House
releasing their crazy patients. This I can prove to you later when I
come to tell of their cruel treatment of the poor things intrusted to
their care. As I say, in case of fire, not a dozen women could escape.
All would be left to roast to death. Even if the nurses were kind,
which they are not, it would require more presence of mind than
women of their class possess to risk the flames and their own lives
while they unlocked the hundred doors for the insane prisoners.
Unless there is a change there will some day be a tale of horror never
In this connection is an amusing incident which happened just
previous to my release. I was talking with Dr. Ingram about many
things, and at last told him what I thought would be the result of a
“The nurses are expected to open the doors,” he said.
“But you know positively that they would not wait to do that,” I
said, “and these women would burn to death.”
He sat silent, unable to contradict my assertion.
“Why don’t you have it changed?” I asked.
“What can I do?” he replied. “I offer suggestions until my brain is
tired, but what good does it do? What would you do?” he asked,
turning to me, the proclaimed insane girl.
“Well, I should insist on them having locks put in, as I have seen in
some places, that by turning a crank at the end of the hall you can
lock or unlock every door on the one side. Then there would be some
chance of escape. Now, every door being locked separately, there is
absolutely none.”
Dr. Ingram turned to me with an anxious look on his kind face as he
asked, slowly:

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Nellie Brown, what institution have you been an inmate of before
you came here?”
“None. I never was confined in any institution, except boarding-
school, in my life.”
“Where then did you see the locks you have described?”
I had seen them in the new Western Penitentiary at Pittsburg, Pa.,
but I did not dare say so. I merely answered:
“Oh, I have seen them in a place I was in–I mean as a visitor.”
“There is only one place I know of where they have those locks,” he
said, sadly, “and that is at Sing Sing.”
The inference is conclusive. I laughed very heartily over the implied
accusation, and tried to assure him that I had never, up to date, been
an inmate of Sing Sing or even ever visited it.
Just as the morning began to dawn I went to sleep. It did not seem
many moments until I was rudely awakened and told to get up, the
window being opened and the clothing pulled off me. My hair was
still wet and I had pains all through me, as if I had the rheumatism.
Some clothing was flung on the floor and I was told to put it on. I
asked for my own, but was told to take what I got and keep quiet by
the apparently head nurse, Miss Grady. I looked at it. One underskirt
made of coarse dark cotton goods and a cheap white calico dress
with a black spot in it. I tied the strings of the skirt around me and
put on the little dress. It was made, as are all those worn by the
patients, into a straight tight waist sewed on to a straight skirt. As I
buttoned the waist I noticed the underskirt was about six inches
longer than the upper, and for a moment I sat down on the bed and
laughed at my own appearance. No woman ever longed for a mirror
more than I did at that moment.
I saw the other patients hurrying past in the hall, so I decided not to
lose anything that might be going on. We numbered forty-five

Ten Days in a Mad-House
patients in Hall 6, and were sent to the bathroom, where there were
two coarse towels. I watched crazy patients who had the most
dangerous eruptions all over their faces dry on the towels and then
saw women with clean skins turn to use them. I went to the bathtub
and washed my face at the running faucet and my underskirt did
duty for a towel.
Before I had completed my ablutions a bench was brought into the
bathroom. Miss Grupe and Miss McCarten came in with combs in
their hands. We were told so sit down on the bench, and the hair of
forty-five women was combed with one patient, two nurses, and six
combs. As I saw some of the sore heads combed I thought this was
another dose I had not bargained for. Miss Tillie Mayard had her
own comb, but it was taken from her by Miss Grady. Oh, that
combing! I never realized before what the expression “I’ll give you a
combing” meant, but I knew then. My hair, all matted and wet from
the night previous, was pulled and jerked, and, after expostulating to
no avail, I set my teeth and endured the pain. They refused to give
me my hairpins, and my hair was arranged in one plait and tied with
a red cotton rag. My curly bangs refused to stay back, so that at least
was left of my former glory.
After this we went to the sitting-room and I looked for my
companions. At first I looked vainly, unable to distinguish them
from the other patients, but after awhile I recognized Miss Mayard
by her short hair.
“How did you sleep after your cold bath?”
“I almost froze, and then the noise kept me awake. It’s dreadful! My
nerves were so unstrung before I came here, and I fear I shall not be
able to stand the strain.”
I did the best I could to cheer her. I asked that we be given additional
clothing, at least as much as custom says women shall wear, but they
told me to shut up; that we had as much as they intended to give us.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
We were compelled to get up at 5.30 o’clock, and at 7.15 we were
told to collect in the hall, where the experience of waiting, as on the
evening previous, was repeated. When we got into the dining-room
at last we found a bowl of cold tea, a slice of buttered bread and a
saucer of oatmeal, with molasses on it, for each patient. I was
hungry, but the food would not down. I asked for unbuttered bread
and was given it. I cannot tell you of anything which is the same
dirty, black color. It was hard, and in places nothing more than dried
dough. I found a spider in my slice, so I did not eat it. I tried the
oatmeal and molasses, but it was wretched, and so I endeavored, but
without much show of success, to choke down the tea.
After we were back to the sitting-room a number of women were
ordered to make the beds, and some of the patients were put to
scrubbing and others given different duties which covered all the
work in the hall. It is not the attendants who keep the institution so
nice for the poor patients, as I had always thought, but the patients,
who do it all themselves–even to cleaning the nurses’ bedrooms and
caring for their clothing.
About 9.30 the new patients, of which I was one, were told to go out
to see the doctor. I was taken in and my lungs and my heart were
examined by the flirty young doctor who was the first to see us the
day we entered. The one who made out the report, if I mistake not,
was the assistant superintendent, Ingram. A few questions and I was
allowed to return to the sitting-room.
I came in and saw Miss Grady with my note-book and long lead
pencil, bought just for the occasion.
“I want my book and pencil,” I said, quite truthfully. “It helps me
remember things.”
I was very anxious to get it to make notes in and was disappointed
when she said:
“You can’t have it, so shut up.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
Some days after I asked Dr. Ingram if I could have it, and he
promised to consider the matter. When I again referred to it, he said
that Miss Grady said I only brought a book there; and that I had no
pencil. I was provoked, and insisted that I had, whereupon I was
advised to fight against the imaginations of my brain.
After the housework was completed by the patients, and as day was
fine, but cold, we were told to go out in the hall and get on shawls
and hats for a walk. Poor patients! How eager they were for a breath
of air; how eager for a slight release from their prison. They went
swiftly into the hall and there was a skirmish for hats. Such hats!

Ten Days in a Mad-House

I SHALL never forget my first walk. When all the patients had
donned the white straw hats, such as bathers wear at Coney Island, I
could not but laugh at their comical appearances. I could not
distinguish one woman from another. I lost Miss Neville, and had to
take my hat off and search for her. When we met we put our hats on
and laughed at one another. Two by two we formed in line, and
guarded by the attendants we went out a back way on to the walks.
We had not gone many paces when I saw, proceeding from every
walk, long lines of women guarded by nurses. How many there
were! Every way I looked I could see them in the queer dresses,
comical straw hats and shawls, marching slowly around. I eagerly
watched the passing lines and a thrill of horror crept over me at the
sight. Vacant eyes and meaningless faces, and their tongues uttered
meaningless nonsense. One crowd passed and I noted by nose as
well as eyes, that they were fearfully dirty.
“Who are they?” I asked of a patient near me.
“They are considered the most violent on the island,” she replied.
“They are from the Lodge, the first building with the high steps.”
Some were yelling, some were cursing, others were singing or
praying or preaching, as the fancy struck them, and they made up
the most miserable collection of humanity I had ever seen. As the din
of their passing faded in the distance there came another sight I can
never forget:
A long cable rope fastened to wide leather belts, and these belts
locked around the waists of fifty-two women. At the end of the rope
was a heavy iron cart, and in it two women–one nursing a sore foot,
another screaming at some nurse, saying: “You beat me and I shall
not forget it. You want to kill me,” and then she would sob and cry.
The women “on the rope,” as the patients call it, were each busy on
their individual freaks. Some were yelling all the while. One who

Ten Days in a Mad-House
had blue eyes saw me look at her, and she turned as far as she could,
talking and smiling, with that terrible, horrifying look of absolute
insanity stamped on her. The doctors might safely judge on her case.
The horror of that sight to one who had never been near an insane
person before, was something unspeakable.
“God help them!” breathed Miss Neville. “It is so dreadful I cannot
On they passed, but for their places to be filled by more. Can you
imagine the sight? According to one of the physicians there are 1600
insane women on Blackwell’s Island.
Mad! what can be half so horrible? My heart thrilled with pity when
I looked on old, gray-haired women talking aimlessly to space. One
woman had on a straightjacket, and two women had to drag her
along. Crippled, blind, old, young, homely, and pretty; one senseless
mass of humanity. No fate could be worse.
I looked at the pretty lawns, which I had once thought was such a
comfort to the poor creatures confined on the Island, and laughed at
my own notions. What enjoyment is it to them? They are not allowed
on the grass–it is only to look at. I saw some patients eagerly and
caressingly lift a nut or a colored leaf that had fallen on the path. But
they were not permitted to keep them. The nurses would always
compel them to throw their little bit of God’s comfort away.
As I passed a low pavilion, where a crowd of helpless lunatics were
confined, I read a motto on the wall, “While I live I hope.” The
absurdity of it struck me forcibly. I would have liked to put above
the gates that open to the asylum, “He who enters here leaveth hope
During the walk I was annoyed a great deal by nurses who had
heard my romantic story calling to those in charge of us to ask which
one I was. I was pointed out repeatedly.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

It was not long until the dinner hour arrived and I was so hungry
that I felt I could eat anything. The same old story of standing for a
half and three-quarters of an hour in the hall was repeated before we
got down to our dinners. The bowls in which we had had our tea
were now filled with soup, and on a plate was one cold boiled potato
and a chunk of beef, which on investigation, proved to be slightly
spoiled. There were no knives or forks, and the patients looked fairly
savage as they took the tough beef in their fingers and pulled in
opposition to their teeth. Those toothless or with poor teeth could
not eat it. One tablespoon was given for the soup, and a piece of
bread was the final entree. Butter is never allowed at dinner nor
coffee or tea. Miss Mayard could not eat, and I saw many of the sick
ones turn away in disgust. I was getting very weak from the want of
food and tried to eat a slice of bread. After the first few bites hunger
asserted itself, and I was able to eat all but the crusts of the one slice.
Superintendent Dent went through the sitting-room, giving an
occasional “How do you do?” “How are you to-day?” here and there
among the patients. His voice was as cold as the hall, and the
patients made no movement to tell him of their sufferings. I asked

Ten Days in a Mad-House
some of them to tell how they were suffering from the cold and
insufficiency of clothing, but they replied that the nurse would beat
them if they told.
I was never so tired as I grew sitting on those benches. Several of the
patients would sit on one foot or sideways to make a change, but
they were always reproved and told to sit up straight. If they talked
they were scolded and told to shut up; if they wanted to walk
around in order to take the stiffness out of them, they were told to sit
down and be still. What, excepting torture, would produce insanity
quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be
cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me
for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane
and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 A. M. until
8 P. M. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move
during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of
the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and
see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would
make her a mental and physical wreck.
I have described my first day in the asylum, and as my other nine
were exactly the same in the general run of things it would be
tiresome to tell about each. In giving this story I expect to be
contradicted by many who are exposed. I merely tell in common
words, without exaggeration, of my life in a mad-house for ten days.
The eating was one of the most horrible things. Excepting the first
two days after I entered the asylum, there was no salt for the food.
The hungry and even famishing women made an attempt to eat the
horrible messes. Mustard and vinegar were put on meat and in soup
to give it a taste, but it only helped to make it worse. Even that was
all consumed after two days, and the patients had to try to choke
down fresh fish, just boiled in water, without salt, pepper or butter;
mutton, beef and potatoes without the faintest seasoning. The most
insane refused to swallow the food and were threatened with
punishment. In our short walks we passed the kitchen were food
was prepared for the nurses and doctors. There we got glimpses of
melons and grapes and all kinds of fruits, beautiful white bread and
nice meats, and the hungry feeling would be increased tenfold. I

Ten Days in a Mad-House
spoke to some of the physicians, but it had no effect, and when I was
taken away the food was yet unsalted.
My heart ached to see the sick patients grow sicker over the table. I
saw Miss Tillie Mayard so suddenly overcome at a bite that she had
to rush from the dining-room and then got a scolding for doing so.
When the patients complained of the food they were told to shut up;
that they would not have as good if they were at home, and that it
was too good for charity patients.
A German girl, Louise–I have forgotten her last name–did not eat for
several days and at last one morning she was missing. From the
conversation of the nurses I found she was suffering from a high
fever. Poor thing! she told me she unceasingly prayed for death. I
watched the nurses make a patient carry such food as the well ones
were refusing up to Louise’s room. Think of that stuff for a fever
patient! Of course, she refused it. Then I saw a nurse, Miss McCarten,
go to test her temperature, and she returned with a report of it being
some 150 degrees. I smiled at the report, and Miss Grupe, seeing it,
asked me how high my temperature had ever run. I refused to
answer. Miss Grady then decided to try her ability. She returned
with the report of 99 degrees.
Miss Tillie Mayard suffered more than any of us from the cold, and
yet she tried to follow my advice to be cheerful and try to keep up
for a short time. Superintendent Dent brought in a man to see me.
He felt my pulse and my head and examined my tongue. I told them
how cold it was, and assured them that I did not need medical aid,
but that Miss Mayard did, and they should transfer their attentions
to her. They did not answer me, and I was pleased to see Miss
Mayard leave her place and come forward to them. She spoke to the
doctors and told them she was ill, but they paid no attention to her.
The nurses came and dragged her back to the bench, and after the
doctors left they said, “After awhile, when you see that the doctors
will not notice you, you will quit running up to them.” Before the
doctors left me I heard one say–I cannot give it in his exact words–
that my pulse and eyes were not that of an insane girl, but
Superintendent Dent assured him that in cases such as mine such

Ten Days in a Mad-House
tests failed. After watching me for awhile he said my face was the
brightest he had ever seen for a lunatic. The nurses had on heavy
undergarments and coats, but they refused to give us shawls.
Nearly all night long I listened to a woman cry about the cold and
beg for God to let her die. Another one yelled “Murder!” at frequent
intervals and “Police!” at others until my flesh felt creepy.
The second morning, after we had begun our endless “set” for the
day, two of the nurses, assisted by some patients, brought the
woman in who had begged the night previous for God to take her
home. I was not surprised at her prayer. She appeared easily seventy
years old, and she was blind. Although the halls were freezing-cold,
that old woman had no more clothing on than the rest of us, which I
have described. When she was brought into the sitting-room and
placed on the hard bench, she cried:
“Oh, what are you doing with me? I am cold, so cold. Why can’t I
stay in bed or have a shawl?” and then she would get up and
endeavor to feel her way to leave the room. Sometimes the
attendants would jerk her back to the bench, and again they would
let her walk and heartlessly laugh when she bumped against the
table or the edge of the benches. At one time she said the heavy
shoes which charity provides hurt her feet, and she took them off.
The nurses made two patients put them on her again, and when she
did it several times, and fought against having them on, I counted
seven people at her at once trying to put the shoes on her. The old
woman then tried to lie down on the bench, but they pulled her up
again. It sounded so pitiful to hear her cry:
“Oh, give me a pillow and pull the covers over me, I am so cold.”
At this I saw Miss Grupe sit down on her and run her cold hands
over the old woman’s face and down inside the neck of her dress. At
the old woman’s cries she laughed savagely, as did the other nurses,
and repeated her cruel action. That day the old woman was carried
away to another ward.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

MISS TILLIE MAYARD suffered greatly from cold. One morning she
sat on the bench next to me and was livid with the cold. Her limbs
shook and her teeth chattered. I spoke to the three attendants who
sat with coats on at the table in the center of the floor.
“It is cruel to lock people up and then freeze them,” I said. They
replied she had on as much as any of the rest, and she would get no
more. Just then Miss Mayard took a fit and every patient looked
frightened. Miss Neville caught her in her arms and held her,
although the nurses roughly said:
“Let her fall on the floor and it will teach her a lesson.” Miss Neville
told them what she thought of their actions, and then I got orders to
make my appearance in the office.
Just as I reached there Superintendent Dent came to the door and I
told him how we were suffering from the cold, and of Miss Mayard’s
condition. Doubtless, I spoke incoherently, for I told of the state of
the food, the treatment of the nurses and their refusal to give more
clothing, the condition of Miss Mayard, and the nurses telling us,
because the asylum was a public institution we could not expect
even kindness. Assuring him that I needed no medical aid, I told him
to go to Miss Mayard. He did so. From Miss Neville and other
patients I learned what transpired. Miss Mayard was still in the fit,
and he caught her roughly between the eyebrows or thereabouts,
and pinched until her face was crimson from the rush of blood to the
head, and her senses returned. All day afterward she suffered from
terrible headache, and from that on she grew worse.
Insane? Yes, insane; and as I watched the insanity slowly creep over
the mind that had appeared to be all right I secretly cursed the
doctors, the nurses and all public institutions. Some one may say that
she was insane at some time previous to her consignment to the
asylum. Then if she were, was this the proper place to send a woman

Ten Days in a Mad-House
just convalescing, to be given cold baths, deprived of sufficient
clothing and fed with horrible food?
On this morning I had a long conversation with Dr. Ingram, the
assistant superintendent of the asylum. I found that he was kind to
the helpless in his charge. I began my old complaint of the cold, and
he called Miss Grady to the office and ordered more clothing given
the patients. Miss Grady said if I made a practice of telling it would
be a serious thing for me, she warned me in time.
Many visitors looking for missing girls came to see me. Miss Grady
yelled in the door from the hall one day:
“Nellie Brown, you’re wanted.”
I went to the sitting-room at the end of the hall, and there sat a
gentleman who had known me intimately for years. I saw by the
sudden blanching of his face and his inability to speak that the sight
of me was wholly unexpected and had shocked him terribly. In an
instant I determined, if he betrayed me as Nellie Bly, to say I had
never seen him before. However, I had one card to play and I risked
it. With Miss Grady within touching distance I whispered hurriedly
to him, in language more expressive than elegant:
“Don’t give me away.”
I knew by the expression of his eye that he understood, so I said to
Miss Grady:
“I do not know this man.”
“Do you know her?” asked Miss Grady.
“No; this is not the young lady I came in search of,” he replied, in a
strained voice.
“If you do not know her you cannot stay here,” she said, and she
took him to the door. All at once a fear struck me that he would

Ten Days in a Mad-House
think I had been sent there through some mistake and would tell my
friends and make an effort to have me released. So I waited until
Miss Grady had the door unlocked. I knew that she would have to
lock it before she could leave, and the time required to do so would
give me opportunity to speak, so I called:
“One moment, senor.” He returned to me and I asked aloud:
“Do you speak Spanish, senor?” and then whispered, “It’s all right.
I’m after an item. Keep still.” “No,” he said, with a peculiar
emphasis, which I knew meant that he would keep my secret.
People in the world can never imagine the length of days to those in
asylums. They seemed never ending, and we welcomed any event
that might give us something to think about as well as talk of. There
is nothing to read, and the only bit of talk that never wears out is
conjuring up delicate food that they will get as soon as they get out.
Anxiously the hour was watched for when the boat arrived to see if
there were any new unfortunates to be added to our ranks. When
they came and were ushered into the sitting-room the patients
would express sympathy to one another for them and were anxious
to show them little marks of attention. Hall 6 was the receiving hall,
so that was how we saw all newcomers.
Soon after my advent a girl called Urena Little-Page was brought in.
She was, as she had been born, silly, and her tender spot was, as with
many sensible women, her age. She claimed eighteen, and would
grow very angry if told to the contrary. The nurses were not long in
finding this out, and then they teased her.
“Urena,” said Miss Grady, “the doctors say that you are thirty-three
instead of eighteen,” and the other nurses laughed. They kept up this
until the simple creature began to yell and cry, saying she wanted to
go home and that everybody treated her badly. After they had gotten
all the amusement out of her they wanted and she was crying, they
began to scold and tell her to keep quiet. She grew more hysterical
every moment until they pounced upon her and slapped her face
and knocked her head in a lively fashion. This made the poor

Ten Days in a Mad-House
creature cry the more, and so they choked her. Yes, actually choked
her. Then they dragged her out to the closet, and I heard her terrified
cries hush into smothered ones. After several hours’ absence she
returned to the sitting-room, and I plainly saw the marks of their
fingers on her throat for the entire day.
This punishment seemed to awaken their desire to administer more.
They returned to the sitting-room and caught hold of an old gray-
haired woman whom I have heard addressed both as Mrs. Grady
and Mrs. O’Keefe. She was insane, and she talked almost continually
to herself and to those near her. She never spoke very loud, and at
the time I speak of was sitting harmlessly chattering to herself. They
grabbed her, and my heart ached as she cried:
“For God sake, ladies, don’t let them beat me.”
“Shut up, you hussy!” said Miss Grady as she caught the woman by
her gray hair and dragged her shrieking and pleading from the
room. She was also taken to the closet, and her cries grew lower and
lower, and then ceased.
The nurses returned to the room and Miss Grady remarked that she
had “settled the old fool for awhile.” I told some of the physicians of
the occurrence, but they did not pay any attention to it.
One of the characters in Hall 6 was Matilda, a little old German
woman, who, I believe, went insane over the loss of money. She was
small, and had a pretty pink complexion. She was not much trouble,
except at times. She would take spells, when she would talk into the
steam-heaters or get up on a chair and talk out of the windows. In
these conversations she railed at the lawyers who had taken her
property. The nurses seemed to find a great deal of amusement in
teasing the harmless old soul. One day I sat beside Miss Grady and
Miss Grupe, and heard them tell her perfectly vile things to call Miss
McCarten. After telling her to say these things they would send her
to the other nurse, but Matilda proved that she, even in her state, had
more sense than they.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“I cannot tell you. It is private,” was all she would say. I saw Miss
Grady, on a pretense of whispering to her, spit in her ear. Matilda
quietly wiped her ear and said nothing.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

BY this time I had made the acquaintance of the greater number of
the forty-five women in hall 6. Let me introduce a few. Louise, the
pretty German girl who I have spoken of formerly as being sick with
fever, had the delusion that the spirits of her dead parents were with
her. “I have gotten many beatings from Miss Grady and her
assistants,” she said, “and I am unable to eat the horrible food they
give us. I ought not to be compelled to freeze for want of proper
clothing. Oh! I pray nightly that I may be taken to my papa and
mamma. One night, when I was confined at Bellevue, Dr. Field came;
I was in bed, and weary of the examination. At last I said: ‘I am tired
of this. I will talk no more.’ ‘Won’t you?’ he said, angrily. ‘I’ll see if I
can’t make you.’ With this he laid his crutch on the side of the bed,
and, getting up on it, he pinched me very severely in the ribs. I
jumped up straight in bed, and said: ‘What do you mean by this?’ ‘I
want to teach you to obey when I speak to you,’ he replied. If I could
only die and go to papa!” When I left she was confined to bed with a
fever, and maybe by this time she has her wish.
There is a Frenchwoman confined in hall 6, or was during my stay,
whom I firmly believe to be perfectly sane. I watched her and talked
with her every day, excepting the last three, and I was unable to find
any delusion or mania in her. Her name is Josephine Despreau, if
that is spelled correctly, and her husband and all her friends are in
France. Josephine feels her position keenly. Her lips tremble, and she
breaks down crying when she talks of her helpless condition. “How
did you get here?” I asked.
“One morning as I was trying to get breakfast I grew deathly sick,
and two officers were called in by the woman of the house, and I was
taken to the station-house. I was unable to understand their
proceedings, and they paid little attention to my story. Doings in this
country were new to me, and before I realized it I was lodged as an
insane woman in this asylum. When I first came I cried that I was
here without hope of release, and for crying Miss Grady and her

Ten Days in a Mad-House
assistants choked me until they hurt my throat, for it has been sore
ever since.”
A pretty young Hebrew woman spoke so little English I could not
get her story except as told by the nurses. They said her name is
Sarah Fishbaum, and that her husband put her in the asylum because
she had a fondness for other men than himself. Granting that Sarah
was insane, and about men, let me tell you how the nurses tried to
cure(?) her. They would call her up and say:
“Sarah, wouldn’t you like to have a nice young man?”
“Oh, yes; a young man is all right,” Sarah would reply in her few
English words.
“Well, Sarah, wouldn’t you like us to speak a good word to some of
the doctors for you? Wouldn’t you like to have one of the doctors?”
And then they would ask her which doctor she preferred, and advise
her to make advances to him when he visited the hall, and so on.
I had been watching and talking with a fair-complexioned woman
for several days, and I was at a loss to see why she had been sent
there, she was so sane.
“Why did you come here?” I asked her one day, after we had
indulged in a long conversation.
“I was sick,” she replied.
“Are you sick mentally?” I urged.
“Oh, no; what gave you such an idea? I had been overworking
myself, and I broke down. Having some family trouble, and being
penniless and nowhere to go, I applied to the commissioners to be
sent to the poorhouse until I would be able to go to work.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“But they do not send poor people here unless they are insane,” I
said. “Don’t you know there are only insane women, or those
supposed to be so, sent here?”
“I knew after I got here that the majority of these women were
insane, but then I believed them when they told me this was the
place they sent all the poor who applied for aid as I had done.”
“How have you been treated?” I asked. “Well, so far I have escaped a
beating, although I have been sickened at the sight of many and the
recital of more. When I was brought here they went to give me a
bath, and the very disease for which I needed doctoring and from
which I was suffering made it necessary that I should not bathe. But
they put me in, and my sufferings were increased greatly for weeks
A Mrs. McCartney, whose husband is a tailor, seems perfectly
rational and has not one fancy. Mary Hughes and Mrs. Louise
Schanz showed no obvious traces of insanity.
One day two new-comers were added to our list. The one was an
idiot, Carrie Glass, and the other was a nice-looking German girl–
quite young, she seemed, and when she came in all the patients
spoke of her nice appearance and apparent sanity. Her name was
Margaret. She told me she had been a cook, and was extremely neat.
One day, after she had scrubbed the kitchen floor, the chambermaids
came down and deliberately soiled it. Her temper was aroused and
she began to quarrel with them; an officer was called and she was
taken to an asylum.
“How can they say I am insane, merely because I allowed my temper
to run away with me?” she complained. “Other people are not shut
up for crazy when they get angry. I suppose the only thing to do is to
keep quiet and so avoid the beatings which I see others get. No one
can say one word about me. I do everything I am told, and all the
work they give me. I am obedient in every respect, and I do
everything to prove to them that I am sane.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
One day an insane woman was brought in. She was noisy, and Miss
Grady gave her a beating and blacked her eye. When the doctors
noticed it and asked if it was done before she came there the nurses
said it was.
While I was in hall 6 I never heard the nurses address the patients
except to scold or yell at them, unless it was to tease the. They spent
much of their time gossiping about the physicians and about the
other nurses in a manner that was not elevating. Miss Grady nearly
always interspersed her conversation with profane language, and
generally began her sentences by calling on the name of the Lord.
The names she called the patients were of the lowest and most
profane type. One evening she quarreled with another nurse while
we were at supper about the bread, and when the nurse had gone
out she called her bad names and made ugly remarks about her.
In the evenings a woman, whom I supposed to be head cook for the
doctors, used to come up and bring raisins, grapes, apples, and
crackers to the nurses. Imagine the feelings of the hungry patients as
they sat and watched the nurses eat what was to them a dream of
One afternoon, Dr. Dent was talking to a patient, Mrs. Turney, about
some trouble she had had with a nurse or matron. A short time after
we were taken down to supper and this woman who had beaten
Mrs. Turney, and of whom Dr. Dent spoke, was sitting at the door of
our dining-room. Suddenly Mrs. Turney picked up her bowl of tea,
and, rushing out of the door flung it at the woman who had beat her.
There was some loud screaming and Mrs. Turney was returned to
her place. The next day she was transferred to the “rope gang,”
which is supposed to be composed of the most dangerous and most
suicidal women on the island.
At first I could not sleep and did not want to so long as I could hear
anything new. The night nurses may have complained of the fact. At
any rate one night they came in and tried to make me take a dose of
some mixture out of a glass “to make me sleep,” they said. I told
them I would do nothing of the sort and they left me, I hoped, for the

Ten Days in a Mad-House
night. My hopes were vain, for in a few minutes they returned with a
doctor, the same that received us on our arrival. He insisted that I
take it, but I was determined not to lose my wits even for a few
hours. When he saw that I was not to be coaxed he grew rather
rough, and said he had wasted too much time with me already. That
if I did not take it he would put it into my arm with a needle. It
occurred to me that if he put it into my arm I could not get rid of it,
but if I swallowed it there was one hope, so I said I would take it. I
smelt it and it smelt like laudanum, and it was a horrible dose. No
sooner had they left the room and locked me in than I tried so see
how far down my throat my finger would go, and the chloral was
allowed to try its effect elsewhere.
I want to say that the night nurse, Burns, in hall 6, seemed very kind
and patient to the poor, afflicted people. The other nurses made
several attempts to talk to me about lovers, and asked me if I would
not like to have one. They did not find me very communicative on
the–to them–popular subject.
Once a week the patients are given a bath, and that is the only time
they see soap. A patient handed me a piece of soap one day about
the size of a thimble, I considered it a great compliment in her
wanting to be kind, but I thought she would appreciate the cheap
soap more than I, so I thanked her but refused to take it. On bathing
day the tub is filled with water, and the patients are washed, one
after the other, without a change of water. This is done until the
water is really thick, and then it is allowed to run out and the tub is
refilled without being washed. The same towels are used on all the
women, those with eruptions as well as those without. The healthy
patients fight for a change of water, but they are compelled to submit
to the dictates of the lazy, tyrannical nurses. The dresses are seldom
changed oftener than once a month. If the patient has a visitor, I have
seen the nurses hurry her out and change her dress before the visitor
comes in. This keeps up the appearance of careful and good

Ten Days in a Mad-House
The patients who are not able to take care of themselves get into
beastly conditions, and the nurses never look after them, but order
some of the patients to do so.
For five days we were compelled to sit in the room all day. I never
put in such a long time. Every patient was stiff and sore and tired.
We would get in little groups on benches and torture our stomachs
by conjuring up thoughts of what we would eat first when we got
out. If I had not known how hungry they were and the pitiful side of
it, the conversation would have been very amusing. As it was it only
made me sad. When the subject of eating, which seemed to be the
favorite one, was worn out, they used to give their opinions of the
institution and its management. The condemnation of the nurses and
the eatables was unanimous.
As the days passed Miss Tillie Mayard’s condition grew worse. She
was continually cold and unable to eat of the food provided. Day
after day she sang in order to try to maintain her memory, but at last
the nurse made her stop it. I talked with her daily, and I grieved to
find her grow worse so rapidly. At last she got a delusion. She
thought that I was trying to pass myself off for her, and that all the
people who called to see Nellie Brown were friends in search of her,
but that I, by some means, was trying to deceive them into the belief
that I was the girl. I tried to reason with her, but found it impossible,
so I kept away from her as much as possible, lest my presence
should make her worse and feed the fancy.
One of the patients, Mrs. Cotter, a pretty, delicate woman, one day
thought she saw her husband coming up the walk. She left the line in
which she was marching and ran to meet him. For this act she was
sent to the Retreat. She afterward said:
“The remembrance of that is enough to make me mad. For crying the
nurses beat me with a broom-handle and jumped on me, injuring me
internally, so that I shall never get over it. Then they tied my hands
and feet, and, throwing a sheet over my head, twisted it tightly
around my throat, so I could not scream, and thus put me in a
bathtub filled with cold water. They held me under until I gave up

Ten Days in a Mad-House
every hope and became senseless. At other times they took hold of
my ears and beat my head on the floor and against the wall. Then
they pulled out my hair by the roots, so that it will never grow in
Mrs. Cotter here showed me proofs of her story, the dent in the back
of her head and the bare spots where the hair had been taken out by
the handful. I give her story as plainly as possible: “My treatment
was not as bad as I have seen others get in there, but it has ruined
my health, and even if I do get out of here I will be a wreck. When
my husband heard of the treatment given me he threatened to
expose the place if I was not removed, so I was brought here. I am
well mentally now. All that old fear has left me, and the doctor has
promised to allow my husband to take me home.”
I made the acquaintance of Bridget McGuinness, who seems to be
sane at the present time. She said she was sent to Retreat 4, and put
on the “rope gang.” “The beating I got there were something
dreadful. I was pulled around by the hair, held under the water until
I strangled, and I was choked and kicked. The nurses would always
keep a quiet patient stationed at the window to tell them when any
of the doctors were approaching. It was hopeless to complain to the
doctors, for they always said it was the imagination of our diseased
brains, and besides we would get another beating for telling. They
would hold patients under the water and threaten to leave them to
die there if they did not promise not to tell the doctors. We would all
promise, because we knew the doctors would not help us, and we
would do anything to escape the punishment. After breaking a
window I was transferred to the Lodge, the worst place on the
island. It is dreadfully dirty in there, and the stench is awful. In the
summer the flies swarm the place. The food is worse than we get in
other wards and we are given only tin plates. Instead of the bars
being on the outside, as in this ward, they are on the inside. There
are many quiet patients there who have been there for years, but the
nurses keep them to do the work. Among other beating I got there,
the nurses jumped on me once and broke two of my ribs.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“While I was there a pretty young girl was brought in. She had been
sick, and she fought against being put in that dirty place. One night
the nurses took her and, after beating her, they held her naked in a
cold bath, then they threw her on her bed. When morning came the
girl was dead. The doctors said she died of convulsions, and that
was all that was done about it.
“They inject so much morphine and chloral that the patients are
made crazy. I have seen the patients wild for water from the effect of
the drugs, and the nurses would refuse it to them. I have heard
women beg for a whole night for one drop and it was not given
them. I myself cried for water until my mouth was so parched and
dry that I could not speak.”
I saw the same thing myself in hall 7. The patients would beg for a
drink before retiring, but the nurses–Miss Hart and the others–
refused to unlock the bathroom that they might quench their thirst.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

THERE is little in the wards to help one pass the time. All the asylum
clothing is made by the patients, but sewing does not employ one’s
mind. After several months’ confinement the thoughts of the busy
world grow faint, and all the poor prisoners can do is to sit and
ponder over their hopeless fate. In the upper halls a good view is
obtained of the passing boats and New York. Often I tried to picture
to myself as I looked out between the bars to the lights faintly
glimmering in the city, what my feelings would be if I had no one to
obtain my release.
I have watched patients stand and gaze longingly toward the city
they in all likelihood will never enter again. It means liberty and life;
it seems so near, and yet heaven is not further from hell.
Do the women pine for home? Excepting the most violent cases, they
are conscious that they are confined in an asylum. An only desire
that never dies is the one for release, for home.
One poor girl used to tell me every morning, “I dreamed of my
mother last night. I think she may come to-day and take me home.”
That one thought, that longing, is always present, yet she has been
confined some four years.
What a mysterious thing madness is. I have watched patients whose
lips are forever sealed in a perpetual silence. They live, breathe, eat;
the human form is there, but that something, which the body can live
without, but which cannot exist without the body, was missing. I
have wondered if behind those sealed lips there were dreams we ken
not of, or if all was blank?
Still, as sad are those cases when the patients are always conversing
with invisible parties. I have seen them wholly unconscious of their
surroundings and engrossed with an invisible being. Yet, strange to
say, that any command issued to them is always obeyed, in about the

Ten Days in a Mad-House
same manner as a dog obeys his master. One of the most pitiful
delusions of any of the patients was that of a blue-eyed Irish girl,
who believed she was forever damned because of one act in her life.
Her horrible cry, morning and night, “I am damned for all eternity!”
would strike horror to my soul. Her agony seemed like a glimpse of
the inferno.
After being transferred to hall 7 I was locked in a room every night
with six crazy women. Two of them seemed never to sleep, but spent
the night in raving. One would get out of her bed and creep around
the room searching for some one she wanted to kill. I could not help
but think how easy it would be for her to attack any of the other
patients confined with her. It did not make the night more
One middle-aged woman, who used to sit always in the corner of the
room, was very strangely affected. She had a piece of newspaper,
and from it she continually read the most wonderful things I ever
heard. I often sat close by her and listened. History and romance fell
equally well from her lips.
I saw but one letter given a patient while I was there. It awakened a
big interest. Every patient seemed thirsty for a word from the world,
and they crowded around the one who had been so fortunate and
asked hundreds of questions.
Visitors make but little interest and a great deal of mirth. Miss Mattie
Morgan, in hall 7, played for the entertainment of some visitors one
day. They were close about her until one whispered that she was a
patient. “Crazy!” they whispered, audibly, as they fell back and left
her alone. She was amused as well as indignant over the episode.
Miss Mattie, assisted by several girls she has trained, makes the
evenings pass very pleasantly in hall 7. They sing and dance. Often
the doctors come up and dance with the patients.
One day when we went down to dinner we heard a weak little cry in
the basement. Every one seemed to notice it, and it was not long
until we knew there was a baby down there. Yes, a baby. Think of it–

Ten Days in a Mad-House
a little, innocent babe born in such a chamber of horrors! I can
imagine nothing more terrible.
A visitor who came one day brought in her arms her babe. A mother
who had been separated from her five little children asked
permission to hold it. When the visitor wanted to leave, the woman’s
grief was uncontrollable, as she begged to keep the babe which she
imagined was her own. It excited more patients than I had ever seen
excited before at one time.
The only amusement, if so it may be called, given the patients
outside, is a ride once a week, if the weather permits, on the “merry-
go-round.” It is a change, and so they accept it with some show of
A scrub-brush factory, a mat factory, and the laundry, are where the
mild patients work. They get no recompense for it, but they get
hungry over it.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

THE day Pauline Moser was brought to the asylum we heard the
most horrible screams, and an Irish girl, only partly dressed, came
staggering like a drunken person up the hall, yelling, “Hurrah! Three
cheers! I have killed the divil! Lucifer, Lucifer, Lucifer,” and so on,
over and over again. Then she would pull a handful of hair out,
while she exultingly cried, “How I deceived the divils. They always
said God made hell, but he didn’t.” Pauline helped the girl to make
the place hideous by singing the most horrible songs. After the Irish
girl had been there an hour or so, Dr. Dent came in, and as he
walked down the hall, Miss Grupe whispered to the demented girl,
“Here is the devil coming, go for him.” Surprised that she would
give a mad woman such instructions, I fully expected to see the
frenzied creature rush at the doctor. Luckily she did not, but
commenced to repeat her refrain of “Oh, Lucifer.” After the doctor
left, Miss Grupe again tried to excite the woman by saying the
pictured minstrel on the wall was the devil, and the poor creature
began to scream, “You divil, I’ll give it to you,” so that two nurses
had to sit on her to keep her down. The attendants seemed to find
amusement and pleasure in exciting the violent patients to do their
I always made a point of telling the doctors I was sane and asking to
be released, but the more I endeavored to assure them of my sanity
the more they doubted it.
“What are you doctors here for?” I asked one, whose name I cannot
“To take care of the patients and test their sanity,” he replied.
“Very well,” I said. “There are sixteen doctors on this island, and
excepting two, I have never seen them pay any attention to the
patients. How can a doctor judge a woman’s sanity by merely
bidding her good morning and refusing to hear her pleas for release?

Ten Days in a Mad-House
Even the sick ones know it is useless to say anything, for the answer
will be that it is their imagination.” “Try every test on me,” I have
urged others, “and tell me am I sane or insane? Try my pulse, my
heart, my eyes; ask me to stretch out my arm, to work my fingers, as
Dr. Field did at Bellevue, and then tell me if I am sane.” They would
not heed me, for they thought I raved.
Again I said to one, “You have no right to keep sane people here. I
am sane, have always been so and I must insist on a thorough
examination or be released. Several of the women here are also sane.
Why can’t they be free?”
“They are insane,” was the reply, “and suffering from delusions.”
After a long talk with Dr. Ingram, he said, “I will transfer you to a
quieter ward.” An hour later Miss Grady called me into the hall, and,
after calling me all the vile and profane names a woman could ever
remember, she told me that it was a lucky thing for my “hide” that I
was transferred, or else she would pay me for remembering so well
to tell Dr. Ingram everything. “You d—n hussy, you forget all about
yourself, but you never forget anything to tell the doctor.” After
calling Miss Neville, whom Dr. Ingram also kindly transferred, Miss
Grady took us to the hall above, No. 7.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
In hall 7 there are Mrs. Kroener, Miss Fitzpatrick, Miss Finney, and
Miss Hart. I did not see as cruel treatment as down-stairs, but I heard
them make ugly remarks and threats, twist the fingers and slap the
faces of the unruly patients. The night nurse, Conway I believe her
name is, is very cross. In hall 7, if any of the patients possessed any
modesty, they soon lost it. Every one was compelled to undress in
the hall before their own door, and to fold their clothes and leave
them there until morning. I asked to undress in my room, but Miss
Conway told me if she ever caught me at such a trick she would give
me cause not to want to repeat it.
The first doctor I saw here–Dr. Caldwell–chucked me under the chin,
and as I was tired refusing to tell where my home was, I would only
speak to him in Spanish.
Hall 7 looks rather nice to a casual visitor. It is hung with cheap
pictures and has a piano, which is presided over by Miss Mattie
Morgan, who formerly was in a music store in this city. She has been
training several of the patients to sing, with some show of success.
The artiste of the hall is Under, pronounced Wanda, a Polish girl. She
is a gifted pianist when she chooses to display her ability. The most
difficult music she reads at a glance, and her touch and expression
are perfect.
On Sunday the quieter patients, whose names have been handed in
by the attendants during the week, are allowed to go to church. A
small Catholic chapel is on the island, and other services are also
A “commissioner” came one day, and made the rounds with Dr.
Dent. In the basement they found half the nurses gone to dinner,
leaving the other half in charge of us, as was always done.
Immediately orders were given to bring the nurses back to their
duties until after the patients had finished eating. Some of the
patients wanted to speak about their having no salt, but were

Ten Days in a Mad-House
The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is
easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out. I had
intended to have myself committed to the violent wards, the Lodge
and Retreat, but when I got the testimony of two sane women and
could give it, I decided not to risk my health–and hair–so I did not
get violent.
I had, toward the last, been shut off from all visitors, and so when
the lawyer, Peter A. Hendricks, came and told me that friends of
mine were willing to take charge of me if I would rather be with
them than in the asylum, I was only too glad to give my consent. I
asked him to send me something to eat immediately on his arrival in
the city, and then I waited anxiously for my release.
It came sooner than I had hoped. I was out “in line” taking a walk,
and had just gotten interested in a poor woman who had fainted
away while the nurses were trying to compel her to walk. “Good-
bye; I am going home,” I called to Pauline Moser, as she went past
with a woman on either side of her. Sadly I said farewell to all I
knew as I passed them on my way to freedom and life, while they
were left behind to a fate worse than death. “Adios,” I murmured to
the Mexican woman. I kissed my fingers to her, and so I left my
companions of hall 7.
I had looked forward so eagerly to leaving the horrible place, yet
when my release came and I knew that God’s sunlight was to be free
for me again, there was a certain pain in leaving. For ten days I had
been one of them. Foolishly enough, it seemed intensely selfish to
leave them to their sufferings. I felt a Quixotic desire to help them by
sympathy and presence. But only for a moment. The bars were down
and freedom was sweeter to me than ever.
Soon I was crossing the river and nearing New York. Once again I
was a free girl after ten days in the mad-house on Blackwell’s Island.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

SOON after I had bidden farewell to the Blackwell’s Island Insane
Asylum, I was summoned to appear before the Grand Jury. I
answered the summons with pleasure, because I longed to help
those of God’s most unfortunate children whom I had left prisoners
behind me. If I could not bring them that boon of all boons, liberty, I
hoped at least to influence others to make life more bearable for
them. I found the jurors to be gentlemen, and that I need not tremble
before their twenty-three august presences.
I swore to the truth of my story, and then I related all–from my start
at the Temporary Home until my release. Assistant District-Attorney
Vernon M. Davis conducted the examination. The jurors then
requested that I should accompany them on a visit to the Island. I
was glad to consent.
No one was expected to know of the contemplated trip to the Island,
yet we had not been there very long before one of the commissioners
of charity and Dr. MacDonald, of Ward’s Island, were with us. One
of the jurors told me that in conversation with a man about the
asylum, he heard that they were notified of our coming an hour
before we reached the Island. This must have been done while the
Grand Jury were examining the insane pavilion at Bellevue.
The trip to the island was vastly different to my first. This time we
went on a clean new boat, while the one I had traveled in, they said,
was laid up for repairs.
Some of the nurses were examined by the jury, and made
contradictory statements to one another, as well as to my story. They
confessed that the jury’s contemplated visit had been talked over
between them and the doctor. Dr. Dent confessed that he had no
means by which to tell positively if the bath was cold and of the
number of women put into the same water. He knew the food was
not what it should be, but said it was due to the lack of funds.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
If nurses were cruel to their patients, had he any positive means of
ascertaining it? No, he had not. He said all the doctors were not
competent, which was also due to the lack of means to secure good
medical men. In the conversation with me, he said:
“I am glad you did this now, and had I known your purpose, I
would have aided you. We have no means of learning the way
things are going except to do as you did. Since your story was
published I found a nurse at the Retreat who had watches set for our
approach, just as you had stated. She was dismissed.”
Miss Anne Neville was brought down, and I went into the hall to
meet her, knowing that the sight of so many strange gentlemen
would excite her, even if she be sane. It was as I feared. The
attendants had told her she was going to be examined by a crowd of
men, and she was shaking with fear. Although I had left her only
two weeks before, yet she looked as if she had suffered a severe
illness, in that time, so changed was her appearance. I asked her if
she had taken any medicine, and she answered in the affirmative. I
then told her that all I wanted her to do was tell the jury all we had
done since I was brought with her to the asylum, so they would be
convinced that I was sane. She only knew me as Miss Nellie Brown,
and was wholly ignorant of my story.
She was not sworn, but her story must have convinced all hearers of
the truth of my statements.
“When Miss Brown and I were brought here the nurses were cruel
and the food was too bad to eat. We did not have enough clothing,
and Miss Brown asked for more all the time. I thought she was very
kind, for when a doctor promised her some clothing she said she
would give it to me. Strange to say, ever since Miss Brown has been
taken away everything is different. The nurses are very kind and we
are given plenty to wear. The doctors come to see us often and the
food is greatly improved.”
Did we need more evidence?

Ten Days in a Mad-House
The jurors then visited the kitchen. It was very clean, and two barrels
of salt stood conspicuously open near the door! The bread on
exhibition was beautifully white and wholly unlike what was given
us to eat.
We found the halls in the finest order. The beds were improved, and
in hall 7 the buckets in which we were compelled to wash had been
replaced by bright new basins.
The institution was on exhibition, and no fault could be found.
But the women I had spoken of, where were they? Not one was to be
found where I had left them. If my assertions were not true in regard
to these patients, why should the latter be changed, so to make me
unable to find them? Miss Neville complained before the jury of
being changed several times. When we visited the hall later she was
returned to her old place.
Mary Hughes, of whom I had spoken as appearing sane, was not to
be found. Some relatives had taken her away. Where, they knew not.
The fair woman I spoke of, who had been sent here because she was
poor, they said had been transferred to another island. They denied
all knowledge of the Mexican woman, and said there never had been
such a patient. Mrs. Cotter had been discharged, and Bridget
McGuinness and Rebecca Farron had been transferred to other
quarters. The German girl, Margaret, was not to be found, and
Louise had been sent elsewhere from hall 6. The Frenchwoman,
Josephine, a great, healthy woman, they said was dying of paralysis,
and we could not see her. If I was wrong in my judgment of these
patients’ sanity, why was all this done? I saw Tillie Mayard, and she
had changed so much for the worse that I shuddered when I looked
at her.
I hardly expected the grand jury to sustain me, after they saw
everything different from what it had been while I was there. Yet
they did, and their report to the court advises all the changes made
that I had proposed.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
I have one consolation for my work–on the strength of my story the
committee of appropriation provides $1,000,000 more than was ever
before given, for the benefit of the insane.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

Miscellaneous Sketches.



ONE but the initiated know what a great
question the servant question is and how many
perplexing sides it has. The mistresses and
servants, of course, fill the leading roles. Then, in
the lesser, but still important parts, come the
agencies, which despite the many voices
clamoring against them, declare themselves
public benefactors. Even the “funny man”
manages to fill a great deal of space with the
subject. It is a serious question, since it affects all
one holds dear in life–one’s dinner, one’s bed,
and one’s linen. I had heard so many complaints
from long-suffering mistresses, worked-out servants, agencies, and
lawyers, that I determined to investigate the subject to my own
satisfaction. There was only one way to do it. That was to personate
a servant and apply for a situation. I knew that there might be such
things as “references” required, and, as I had never tested my
abilities in this line, I did not know how to furnish them. Still, it
would not do to allow a little thing like a “reference “ to stop me in
my work, and I would not ask any friend to commit herself to
further my efforts. Many girls must at one time be without
references, I thought, and this encouraged me to make the risk.
On Monday afternoon a letter came to the World office from a
lawyer, complaining of an agency where, he claimed, a client of his
had paid for a servant, and the agent then refused to produce a girl.
This shop I decided to make my first essay. Dressed to look the
character I wanted to represent, I walked up Fourth Avenue until I
found No. 69, the place I wanted. It was a low frame building which

Ten Days in a Mad-House
retained all the impressions of old age. The room on the first floor
was filled with a conglomeration of articles which gave it the
appearance of a second-hand store. By a side door, leaning against
the wall, was a large sign which told the passing public that that was
the entrance to the “Germania Servants’ Agency.” On a straight, blue
board, fastened lengthwise to a second-story window, was, in large,
encouraging white letters, the ominous word “Servants.”
I entered the side door, and as there was nothing before me but the
dirty, uncarpeted hall and a narrow, rickety-looking staircase, I went
on to my fate. I passed two closed doors on the first landing, and on
the third I saw the word “Office.” I did not knock, but turned the
knob of the door, and, as it stuck top and bottom, I pressed my
shoulder against it. It gave way, so did I, and I entered on my career
as a servant with a tumble. It was a small room, with a low ceiling, a
dusty ingrain carpet and cheaply papered walls. A heavy railing and
a high desk and counter which divided the room gave it the
appearance of a police court. Around the walls were hung colored
advertisements of steamship lines and maps. Above the mantel,
which was decorated with two plaster-paris busts, was a square
sheet of white paper. I viewed the large black letters on this paper
with a quaking heart. “References Investigated!!” with two
exclamation points. Now, if it had only been put quietly and mildly,
or even with one exclamation point, but two–dreadful. It was a death
warrant to the idea I had of writing my own references if any were
A young woman who was standing with a downcast head by the
window turned to look at the abrupt newcomer. A man who had
apparently been conversing with her came hastily forward to the
desk. He was a middle-sized man, with a sharp, gray eye, a bald
head, and a black frock-coat buttoned up tightly, showing to
disadvantage his rounded shoulders.
“Well?” he said to me, in a questioning manner, as he glanced
quickly over my “get up.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House

“Are you the man who gets places for girls?” I asked, as if there were
but one such man.
“Yes, I’m the man. Do you want a place?” he asked, with a decidedly
German twang.
“Yes, I want a place,” I replied.
“What did you work at last?”
“Oh, I was a chambermaid. Can you get me a position, do you
“Yes, I can do that,” he replied. “You’re a nice-looking girl and I can
soon get you a place. Just the other day I got a girl a place for $20 a
month, just because she was nice-looking. Many gentlemen, and
ladies also, will pay more when girls are nice-looking. Where did
you work last?”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“I worked in Atlantic City,” I replied, with a mental cry for
“Have you no city references?”
“No, none whatever; but I want a job in this city, that’s why I came
“Well, I can get you a position, never fear, only some people are
mighty particular about references.”
“Have you no place you can send me to now?” I said, determined to
get at my business as soon as possible.
“You have to pay to get your name entered on the book first,” he
said, opening a large ledger as he asked, “What is your name?”
“How much do you charge?” I asked, in order to give me time to
decide on a name.
“I charge you one dollar for the use of the bureau for a month, and if
I get you a big salary you will have to pay more.”
“How much more?”
“That depends entirely on your salary,” he answered, non-
committal. “Your name?”
“Now, if I give you a dollar you will assure me a situation?”
“Certainly, that’s what I’m here for.”
“And you guarantee me work in this city?” I urged.
“Oh, certainly, certainly; that’s what this agency is for. I’ll get you a
place, sure enough.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“All right, I’ll give you a dollar, which is a great deal for a girl out of
work. My name is Sally Lees.”
“What shall I put you down for?” he asked.

“Oh, anything,” I replied, with a generosity that surprised myself.
“Then I shall put it chambermaid, waitress, nurse or seamstress.” So
my name, or the one assumed, was entered in the ledger, and as I
paid my dollar I ventured the information that if he gave me a
situation directly I should be pleased to give him more money. He
warmed up at this and told me he should advertise me in the
“Then you have no one in want of help now?”
“We have plenty of people, but not just now. They all come in the
morning. This is too late in the day. Where are you boarding?”
At this moment a woman clad in a blue dress, with a small, black
shawl wrapped around her, entered from a room in the rear. She also

Ten Days in a Mad-House
looked me over sharply, as if I was an article for sale, as the man told
her in German all that he knew about me.
“You can stay here,” she said, in broken, badly broken English, after
she had learned that I was friendless in the city. “Where is your
“I left my baggage where I paid for my lodging to-night,” I
answered. They tried to induce me to stop at their house. Only $2.50
a week, with board, or 20 cents a night for a bed. They urged that it
was immaterial to them, only I had a better chance to secure work if I
was always there; it was only for my own good they suggested it. I
had one glance of the adjoining bedroom, and that sight made me
firm in my determination to sleep elsewhere.
As the evening drew on I felt they would have no more applications
for servants that afternoon, and after asking the hour that I should
return in the morning, I requested a receipt for my money. “You
don’t need to be so particular,” he said, crossly, but I told him I was,
and insisted until he was forced to comply. It was not much of a
receipt. He wrote on the blank side of the agency’s advertising card:
“Sally Lees has paid $1. Good for one month use of bureau. 69 4th
On the following morning, about 10:30, I made my appearance at the
agency. Some eight or ten girls were in the room and the man who
had pocketed my fee on the previous afternoon still adorned the
throne back of the desk. No one said good-morning, or anything else
for that matter, so I quietly slid onto a chair near the door. The girls
were all comfortably dressed, and looked as if they had enjoyed
hearty breakfasts. All sat silent, with a dreamy expression on their
faces, except two who stood by the window watching the passing
throng and conversing in whispers with one another. I wanted to be
with or near them, so that I might hear what was said. After waiting
for some time I decided to awake the man to the fact that I wanted
work, not a rest.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Have you no place to send me this morning?”
“No; but I advertised you in the paper,” and he handed me the
Tribune of October 25 and pointed out the following notice:
“NURSE,&c.–By excellent, very neat English girl as nurse and
seamstress, chambermaid and waitress, or parlor maid. Call at 69 4th
ave.; no cards answered.”
I choked down a laugh as I read myself advertised in this manner,
and wondered what my role would be the next time. I began to hope
some one would soon call for the excellent girl, but when an aged
gentleman entered I wished just as fervently that he was not after
me. I was enjoying my position too much, and I fear I could not
restrain my gravity if any one began to question me. Poor old
gentleman! He looked around helplessly, as if he was at a loss to
know what to do. The agent did not leave him long in doubt. “You
want a girl, sir?”
“Yes, my wife read an advertisement in the Tribune this morning,
and she sent me here to see the girl.”
“Yes, yes, excellent girl, sir, come right back here,” opening the gates
and giving the gentleman a chair behind the high counter. “You
come here, Sally Lees,” indicating a chair beside the visitor for me. I
sat down with an inward chuckle and the agent leaned over the back
of a chair. The visitor eyed me nervously, and after clearing his
throat several times and making vain attempts at a beginning, he
“You are the girl who wants work?” And after I answered in the
affirmative, he said: “Of course you know how to do all these
things–you know what is required of a girl?”
“Oh, yes, I know,” I answered confidently.
“Yes–well, how much do you want a month?”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Oh, anything,” I answered, looking to the agent for aid. He
understood the look, for he began hurriedly:
“Fourteen dollars a month, sir. She is an excellent girl, good, neat,
quick and of an amiable disposition.”
I was astonished at his knowledge of my good qualities, but I
maintained a lofty silence.
“Yes, yes,” the visitor said, musingly. “My wife only pays ten dollars
a month, and then if the girl is all right she is willing to pay more,
you know. I really couldn’t, you know—”
“We have no ten-dollar-girls here, sir,” said the agent with dignity;
“you can’t get an honest, neat, and respectable girl for that amount.”
“H’m, yes; well, this girl has good references, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes; I know all about her,” said the agent, briskly and
confidently. “She is an excellent girl, and I can give you the best
personal reference–the best of references.”
Here I was, unknown to the agent. So far as he knew, I might be a
confidence woman, a thief, or everything wicked, and yet the agent
was vowing that he had good personal references.
“Well, I live in Bloomfield, N.J., and there are only four in the family.
Of course you are a good washer and ironer?” he said, turning to me.
Before I had time to assure him of my wonderful skill in that line, the
agent interposed: “This is not the girl you want. No, sir, this girl
won’t do general housework. This is the girl you are after,” bringing
up another. “She does general housework,” and he went on with a
long list of her virtues, which were similar to those he had professed
to find in me. The visitor got very nervous and began to insist that he
could not take a girl unless his wife saw her first. Then the agent,
when he found it impossible to make him take a girl, tried to induce
the gentleman to join the bureau. “It will only cost you $2 for the use
of the bureau for a month,” he urged, but the visitor began to get

Ten Days in a Mad-House
more nervous and to make his way to the door. I thought he was
frightened because it was an agency, and it amused me to hear how
earnestly he pleaded that really he dare not employ a girl without his
wife’s consent.
After the escape of this visitor we all resumed our former positions
and waited for another visitor. It came in the shape of a red-haired
Irish girl.
“Well, you are back again?” was the greeting given her.
“Yes. That woman was horrible. She and her husband fought all the
time, and the cook carried tales to the mistress. Sure and I wouldn’t
live at such a place. A splendid laundress, with a good ‘karacter,’
don’t need to stay in such places, I told them. The lady of the house
made me wash every other day; then she wanted me to be dressed
like a lady, sure, and wear a cap while I was at work. Sure and it’s no
good laundress who can be dressed up while at work, so I left her.”
The storm had scarcely passed when another girl with fiery locks
entered. She had a good face and a bright one, and I watched her
“So you are back, too. You are troublesome,” said the agent. Her
eyes flashed as she replied:
“Oh, I’m troublesome, am I? Well, you can take a poor girl’s money,
anyway, and then you tell her she’s troublesome. It wasn’t
troublesome when you took my money; and where is the position? I
have walked all over the city, wearing out my shoes and spending
my money in car-fare. Now, is this how you treat poor girls?”
“I did not mean anything by saying you were troublesome. That was
only my fun,” the agent tried to explain; and after awhile the girl
quieted down.
Another girl came and was told that as she had not made her
appearance the day previous she could not expect to obtain a

Ten Days in a Mad-House
situation. He refused to send her word if there was any chance. Then
a messenger boy called and said that Mrs. Vanderpool, of No. 36
West Thirty-ninth Street, wanted the girl advertised in the morning
paper. Irish girl No. 1 was sent, and she returned, after several
hours’ absence, to say that Mrs. Vanderpool said, when she learned
where the girl came from, that she knew all about agencies and their
schemes, and she did not propose to have a girl from them. The girl
buttoned Mrs. Vanderpool’s shoes, and returned to the agency to
take her post of waiting.
I succeeded at last in drawing one of the girls, Winifred Friel, into
conversation. She said she had been waiting for several days, and
that she had no chance of a place yet. The agency had a place out of
town to which they tried to force girls who declared they would not
leave the city. Quite strange they never offered the place to girls who
said they would work anywhere. Winifred Friel wanted it, but they
would not allow her to go, yet they tried to insist on me accepting it.
“Well, now, if you won’t take that I would like to see you get a place
this winter,” he said, angrily, when he found that I would not go out
of the city.
“Why, you promised that you would find me a situation in the city.”
“That’s no difference; if you won’t take what I offer you can do
without,” he said indifferently.
“Then give me my money,” I said.
“No, you can’t have your money. That goes into the bureau.” I urged
and insisted, to no avail, and so I left the agency, to return no more.
My second day I decided to apply to another agency, so I went to
Mrs. L. Seely’s, No. 68 Twenty-second Street. I paid my dollar fee
and was taken to the third story and put in a small room which was
packed as close with women as sardines in a box. After edging my
way in I was unable to move, so packed were we. A woman came
up, and, calling me “that tall girl,” told me roughly as I was new it

Ten Days in a Mad-House
was useless for me to wait there. Some of the girls said Mrs. Seely
was always cross to them, and that I should not mind it. How
horribly stifling those rooms were! There were fifty-two in the room
with me, and the two other rooms I could look into were equally
crowded, while groups stood on the stairs and in the hallway. It was
a novel insight I got of life. Some girls laughed, others were sad,
some slept, some ate, and others read, while all sat from morning till
night waiting a chance to earn a living. They are long waits too. One
girl had been there two months, others for days and weeks. It was
good to see the glad look when called out to see a lady, and sad to
see them return saying that they did not suit because they wore
bangs, or their hair in the wrong style, or that they looked bilious, or
that they were too tall, too short, too heavy, or too slender. One poor
woman could not obtain a place because she wore mourning, and so
the objections ran.
I got no chance the entire day, and I decided that I could not endure
a second day in that human pack for two situations, so framing some
sort of excuse I left the place, and gave up trying to be a servant.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

Nellie Bly as a White Slave.

ERY early the other morning I started out, not
with the pleasure-seekers, but with those who
toil the day long that they may live. Everybody
was rushing–girls of all ages and appearances
and hurrying men–and I went along, as one of
the throng. I had often wondered at the tales of
poor pay and cruel treatment that working girls
tell. There was one way of getting at the truth, and I determined to
try it. It was becoming myself a paper box factory girl. Accordingly, I
started out in search of work without experience, reference, or aught
to aid me.
It was a tiresome search, to say the least. Had my living depended on
it, it would have been discouraging, almost maddening. I went to a
great number of factories in and around Bleecker and Grand streets
and Sixth Avenue, where the workers number up into the hundreds.
“Do you know how to do the work?” was the question asked by
every one. When I replied that I did not, they gave me no further
“I am willing to work for nothing until I learn,” I urged.
“Work for nothing! Why, if you paid us for coming we wouldn’t
have you in our way,” said one.
“We don’t run an establishment to teach women trades,” said
another, in answer to my plea for work.
“Well, as they are not born with the knowledge, how do they ever
learn?” I asked.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

“The girls always have some friend who wants to learn. If she wishes
to lose time and money by teaching her, we don’t object, for we get
the work the beginner does for nothing.”
By no persuasion could I obtain an entree into the larger factories, so
I concluded at last to try a smaller one at No. 196 Elm Street. Quite
unlike the unkind, brusque men I had met at other factories, the man
here was very polite. He said: “If you have never done the work, I
don’t think you will like it. It is dirty work and a girl has to spend
years at it before she can make much money. Our beginners are girls
about sixteen years old, and they do not get paid for two weeks after
they come here.”
“What can they make afterward?”
“We sometimes start them at week work–$1.50 a week. When they
become competent they go on piecework–that is, they are paid by the
“How much do they earn then?”
“A good worker will earn from $5 to $9 a week.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Have you many girls here?”
“We have about sixty in the building and a number who take work
home. I have only been in this business for a few months, but if you
think you would like to try it, I shall speak to my partner. He has
had some of his girls for eleven years. Sit down until I find him.”
He left the office, and I soon heard him talking outside about me,
and rather urging that I be given a chance. He soon returned, and
with him a small man who spoke with a German accent. He stood by
me without speaking, so I repeated by request. “Well, give your
name to the gentleman at the desk, and come down on Monday
morning, and we will see what we can do for you.”
And so it was that I started out early in the morning. I had put on a
calico dress to work in and to suit my chosen trade. In a nice little
bundle, covered with brown paper with a grease-spot on the center
of it, was my lunch. I had an idea that every working girl carried a
lunch, and I was trying to give out the impression that I was quite
used to this thing. Indeed, I considered the lunch a telling stroke of
thoughtfulness in my new role, and eyed with some pride, in which
was mixed a little dismay, the grease-spot, which was gradually
growing in size.
Early as it was I found all the girls there and at work. I went through
a small wagon-yard, the only entrance to the office. After making my
excuses to the gentleman at the desk, he called to a pretty little girl,
who had her apron full of pasteboard, and said:
“Take this lady up to Norah.”
“Is she to work on boxes or cornucopias?” asked the girl.
“Tell Norah to put her on boxes.”
Following my little guide, I climbed the narrowest, darkest, and
most perpendicular stair it has ever been my misfortune to see. On
and on we went, through small rooms, filled with working girls, to

Ten Days in a Mad-House
the top floor–fourth or fifth story, I have forgotten which. Any way, I
was breathless when I got there.
“Norah, here is a lady you are to put on boxes,” called out my pretty
little guide.
All the girls that surrounded the long tables turned from their work
and looked at me curiously. The auburn-haired girl addressed as
Norah raised her eyes from the box she was making, and replied:
“See if the hatchway is down, and show her where to put her
Then the forewoman ordered one of the girls to “get the lady a
stool,” and sat down before a long table, on which was piled a lot of
pasteboard squares, labeled in the center. Norah spread some long
slips of paper on the table; then taking up a scrub-brush, she dipped
it into a bucket of paste and then rubbed it over the paper. Next she
took one of the squares of pasteboard and, running her thumb deftly
along, turned up the edges. This done, she took one of the slips of
paper and put it quickly and neatly over the corner, binding them
together and holding them in place. She quickly cut the paper off at
the edge with her thumb-nail and swung the thing around and did
the next corner. This I soon found made a box lid. It looked and was
very easy, and in a few moments I was able to make one.
I did not find the work difficult to learn, but rather disagreeable. The
room was not ventilated, and the paste and glue were very offensive.
The piles of boxes made conversation impossible with all the girls
except a beginner, Therese, who sat by my side. She was very timid
at first, but after I questioned her kindly she grew more
“I live on Eldrige Street with my parents. My father is a musician,
but he will not go on the streets to play. He very seldom gets an
engagement. My mother is sick nearly all the time. I have a sister
who works at passementerie. She can earn from $3 to $5 a week. I
have another sister who has been spooling silk in Twenty-third

Ten Days in a Mad-House
Street for five years now. She makes $6 a week. When she comes
home at night her face and hands and hair are all colored from the
silk she works on during the day. It makes her sick, and she is
always taking medicine.”
“Have you worked before?”
“Oh, yes; I used to work at passementerie on Spring Street. I worked
from 7 until 6 o’clock, piecework, and made about $3.50 a week. I left
because the bosses were not kind, and we only had three little oil
lamps to see to work by. The rooms were very dark, but they never
allowed us to burn the gas. Ladies used to come here and take the
work home to do. They did it cheap, for the pleasure of doing it, so
we did not get as much pay as we would otherwise.”
“What did you do after you left there?” I asked.
“I went to work in a fringe factory on Canal Street. A woman had the
place and she was very unkind to all the girls. She did not speak
English. I worked an entire week, from 8 to 6, with only a half-hour
for dinner, and at the end of the week she only paid me 35 cents. You
know a girl cannot live on 35 cents a week, so I left.”
“How do you like the box factory?”
“Well, the bosses seem very kind. They always say good-morning to
me, a thing never done in any other place I ever worked, but it is a
good deal for a poor girl to give two weeks’ work for nothing. I have
been here almost two weeks, and I have done a great deal of work.
It’s all clear gain to the bosses. They say they often dismiss a girl
after her first two weeks on the plea that she does not suit. After this
I am to get $1.50 a week.”
When the whistles of the surrounding factories blew at 12 o’clock the
forewoman told us we could quit work and eat our lunch. I was not
quite so proud of my cleverness in simulating a working girl when
one of them said:

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Do you want to send out for your lunch?”
“No; I brought it with me,” I replied.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, with a knowing inflection and amused smile.
“Is there anything wrong?” I asked, answering her smile.

“Oh, no,” quickly; “only the girls always make fun of any one who
carries a basket now. No working-girl will carry a lunch or basket. It
is out of style because it marks the girl at once as a worker. I would
like to carry a basket, but I don’t dare, because they would make so
much fun of me.”
The girls sent out for lunch and I asked of them the prices. For five
cents they get a good pint of coffee, with sugar and milk if desired.
Two cents will buy three slices of buttered bread. Three cents, a
sandwich. Many times a number of the girls will put all their money
together and buy quite a little food. A bowl of soup for five cents will

Ten Days in a Mad-House
give four girls a taste. By clubbing together they are able to buy
warm lunch.
At one o’clock we were all at work again. I having completed sixty-
four lids, and the supply being consumed was put at “molding in.”
This is fitting the bottom into the sides of the box and pasting it
there. It is rather difficult at first to make all the edges come closely
and neatly together, but after a little experience it can be done easily.
On my second day I was put at a table with some new girls and I
tried to get them to talk. I was surprised to find that they are very
timid about telling their names, where they live or how. I
endeavored by every means a woman knows, to get an invitation to
visit their homes, but did not succeed.
“How much can girls earn here?” I asked the forewoman.
“I do not know,” she said; “they never tell each other, and the bosses
keep their time.”
“Have you worked here long?” I asked.
“Yes, I have been here eight years, and in that time I have taught my
three sisters.”
“Is the work profitable?”
“Well, it is steady; but a girl must have many years’ experience
before she can work fast enough to earn much.”
The girls all seem happy. During the day they would make the little
building resound with their singing. A song would be begun on the
second floor, probably, and each floor would take it up in succession,
until all were singing. They were nearly always kind to one another.
Their little quarrels did not last long, nor were they very fierce. They
were all extremely kind to me, and did all they could to make my
work easy and pleasant. I felt quite proud when able to make an
entire box.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
There were two girls at one table on piecework who had been in a
great many box factories and had had a varied experience.
“Girls do not get paid half enough at any work. Box factories are no
worse than other places. I do not know anything a girl can do where
by hard work she can earn more than $6 a week. A girl cannot dress
and pay her boarding on that.”
“Where do such girls live?” I asked.
“There are boarding-places on Bleecker and Houston, and around
such places, where girls can get a room and meals for $3.50 a week.
The room may be only for two, in one bed, or it may have a dozen,
according to size. They have no conveniences or comforts, and
generally undesirable men board at the same place.”
“Why don’t they live at these homes that are run to accommodate
working women?”
“Oh, those homes are frauds. A girl cannot obtain any more home
comforts, and then the restrictions are more than they will endure. A
girl who works all day must have some recreation, and she never
finds it in homes.”
“Have you worked in box factories long?”
“For eleven years, and I can’t say that it has ever given me a living.
On an average I make $5 a week. I pay out $3.50 for board, and my
wash bill at the least is 75 cents. Can any one expect a woman to
dress on what remains?”
“What do you get paid for boxes?”
“I get 50 cents a hundred for one-pound candy boxes, and 40 cents a
hundred for half-pound boxes.”
“What work do you do on a box for that pay?”

Ten Days in a Mad-House
“Everything. I get the pasteboard cut in squares the same as you did.
I first ‘set up’ the lids, then I ‘mold in’ the bottoms. This forms a box.
Next I do the ‘trimming,’ which is putting the gilt edge around the
box lid. ‘Cover striping’ (covering the edge of the lid) is next, and
then comes the ‘top label,’ which finishes the lid entire. Then I paper
the box, do the ‘bottom labeling,’ and then put in two or four laces
(lace paper) on the inside as ordered. Thus you see one box passes
through my hands eight times before it is finished. I have to work
very hard and without ceasing to be able to make two hundred
boxes a day, which earns me $1. It is not enough pay. You see I
handle two hundred boxes sixteen hundred times for $1. Cheap
labor, isn’t it?”
One very bright girl, Maggie, who sat opposite me, told a story that
made my heart ache.
“This is my second week here,” she said, “and, of course, I won’t
receive any pay until next week, when I expect to receive $1.50 for
six days’ work. My father was a driver before he got sick. I don’t
know what is wrong, but the doctor says he will die. Before I left this
morning he said my father will die soon. I could hardly work
because of it. I am the oldest child, and I have a brother and two
sisters younger. I am sixteen, and my brother is twelve. He gets $2 a
week for being office-boy at a cigar-box factory.”
“Do you have much rent to pay?”
“We have two rooms in a house on Houston Street. They are small
and have low ceilings, and there are a great many Chinamen in the
same house. We pay for these rooms $14 per month. We do not have
much to eat, but then father doesn’t mind it because he can’t eat. We
could not live if father’s lodge did not pay our rent.”
“Did you ever work before?”
“Yes, I once worked in a carpet factory at Yonkers. I only had to
work there one week until I learned, and afterward I made at
piecework a dollar a day. When my father got so ill my mother

Ten Days in a Mad-House
wanted me at home, but now when we see I can earn so little they
wish I had remained there.”
“Why do you not try something else?” I asked.
“I wanted to, but could find nothing. Father sent me to school until I
was fourteen, and so I thought I would learn to be a telegraph
operator. I went to a place in Twenty-third Street, where it is taught,
but the man said he would not give me a lesson unless I paid fifty
dollars in advance. I could not do that.”
I then spoke of the Cooper Institute, which I thought every New
Yorker knew was for the benefit of just such cases. I was greatly
astonished to learn that such a thing as the Cooper Institute was
wholly unknown to all the workers around me.
“If my father knew that there was a free school he would send me,”
said one.
“I would go in the evenings,” said another, “if I had known there
was such a place.”
Again, when some of them were complaining of unjust wages, and
some of places where they had been unable to collect the amount
due them after working, I spoke of the mission of the Knights of
Labor, and the newly organized society for women. They were all
surprised to hear that there were any means to aid women in having
justice. I moralized somewhat on the use of any such societies unless
they entered the heart of these factories.
One girl who worked on the floor below me said they were not
allowed to tell what they earned. However, she had been working
here five years, and she did not average more than $5 a week. The
factory in itself was a totally unfit place for women. The rooms were
small and there was no ventilation. If case of fire there was
practically no escape.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
The work was tiresome, and after I had learned all I could from the
rather reticent girls I was anxious to leave. I noticed some rather
peculiar things on my trip to and from the factory. I noticed that men
were much quicker to offer their places to the working-girls on the
cars than they were to offer them to well-dressed women. Another
thing quite as noticeable, I had more men try to get up a flirtation
with me while I was a box-factory girl than I ever had before. The
girls were nice in their manners and as polite as ones reared at home.
They never forgot to thank one another for the slightest service, and
there was quite a little air of “good form” in many of their actions. I
have seen many worse girls in much higher positions than the white
slaves of New York.