Lewis Hein Photo www.archives.gov
This primary source consists of one ginormous book! It contains court records (1887-1895) about people being committed to state mental hospitals and parents giving up children due to poverty or because of bad (incorrigible) behavior. The information is organized this way: One court record about insanity, one about poverty, and one about incorrigible behavior. Throughout the book the order repeats itself: insanity, poverty, and incorrigible behavior. Eventually the book begins to focus on just insanity cases. Each case record is very short, but when read as a whole the book provides a very powerful look into how Wisconsinites understood insanity, the life of the poor, and unruly children. This source is written in cursive.
Below are just a few examples showing the language that was used and the problems people brought before the court. As stated above, this source is most powerful when all the cases – or all the cases of the same type – are read.
Frank Battams was a 14 year-old boy committed to the State Industrial School for Boys because he was a “vagabond,” and a “rag-picker.” Frank’s grandfather brought the boy to court.
Ole J. Sokken was epileptic, and committed himself to the La Crosse County Asylum for the Chronically Insane. (It becomes clear by reading a number of the insanity cases that many of the people committed as insane were actually epileptic.)
John Delongey, age 15, was brought to the court and sent away from home because he was “incorrigible,” “vicious,” and without morals. He stayed out late and disobeyed his mother.
A mother gave up her two children because she was poor. Also, the mother could not write and so she signed her signature with an X.
Ten-year old Edwin Delongey was also sent away because he stayed out late and disobeyed his mother.
An impoverished parent brought in his four children to the court. They were sent to different institutions throughout the state.
Reviewed by: Patricia Stovey