Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

I do not know where to even start with this. The fact that this was non fiction just blew my mind. I've read fiction books that take place in mad houses during the 19th century, but the fiction was more of a reality than I had originally thought.

Nellie Bly is a journalist and gets an assignment in 1887 to go undercover and spend ten days in a mad-house and report her findings. She goes about this by purchasing a room in a women's boarding house and acting peculiar. She says that all the other women are crazy; she sits up all night; she keeps asking where her trunks are. None of this is even remotely crazy behavior, but the other boarders become agitated and the police are called in. Just goes to show how quickly a label was placed on somebody. Eventually, she is declared mad and sent off to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.

When Nellie is in the mad house, she discovers that absolutely nothing is being done to help anyone, and just how quickly women were admitted. Some women were just getting over physical illnesses, some women couldn't even speak English! Nellie acts perfectly sane once she arrives, but no matter what she says, it's blown over as 'ravings.' Someone women actually ask the doctors to test them to see if they are insane or not, but they are ignored. And the doctors do absolutely nothing. They do not even listen to the women. Everything they say is written off as ravings of a mad woman.

The women were fed food that wasn't even fit for animal consumption. There was absolutely no heat, so the women practically froze to death. The women were given baths in cold water that wasn't even changed until the water got thick. ICK. The nurses used physical violence, along with agitating some of the women to act mad in front of the doctors. Some women were afraid to report this to the doctors, but it was no use if they did, because the doctors didn't listen, anyhow. There were no activities to stimulate the minds of the patients, so, if anything, these so-call "hospitals' actually made most of the patients - who weren't even mad to begin with - actually mad.

When Bly left, her reports launched a jury investigation, and surprise surprise! Things started to improve.

This book was riveting. It mad me angry; it disgusted me. Nellie Bly was truly an amazing woman. I suggest reading more about her.


Katy said...

This sounds amazing! I didn't even know this book existed!

Lisa said...

I have only ever heard of Nellie Bly except for the around-the-world-in-80-days bit. This sounds fascinating.