The Asylum Movement: Nellie Bly

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Before the eighteenth century, mental illness was thought to be a problem spiritually. Whenever people started acting weird ,they were thought to be wracked with sin or even possessed by demons (“The Asylum Movement”, 1997). One woman, Dorothea Dix, became a reformer for mentally ill patients. Dix was not alone, however. In addition, a woman named Nellie Bly, a journalist, also helped show the inhumane treatments of the mentally ill. Finally, they could not have had their success without stories like that of Rhoda Derry, a patient. The Asylum Movement would have never begun if it was not for the handiwork of Dorothea Dix, Nellie Bly, and Rhoda Derry. First, the woman who arguably did the most for the Asylum Movement was Dorothea Dix. Dorothea…show more content…
Nellie Bly was a journalist whose early assignment about the treatment of mentally ill patients in Blackwell’s Island Asylum in New York gave her massive success. While her real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, her most known identity was that of her pen name, Nellie Bly. Born in 1864, her influence on the Asylum Movement focused more on when mental asylums were starting to be built. In order to get the absolute truth, Bly went undercover as a madwoman and lived in the asylum for ten days (“Nellie Bly Biography”). While in the asylum, Bly witnessed many inhumane occurrences that she later published a book on, Ten Days in a Mad-House. During her stay, all of the women were given ice cold baths and had to sleep in cold rooms (37). This caused one of the women, Miss Mayard to freeze half to death and the nurses would not give her any more clothing. When she fell to the floor in a coughing fit, the nurses refused to help her in order to “teach her a lesson,” (46). For supper, the women ate buttered bread, a small bowl of prunes, and tea, all of which were completely disgusting (35). For breakfast, the women ate buttered bread, oatmeal with molasses, and tea (41). When Bly asked for bread that was not buttered, what she received was a dirty slice of something that may not have even been bread that had a spider in it. The women also did all of the labor at the asylum. They bathed each other, cleaned…show more content…
Rhoda Derry did not just spend a measly ten days in a mental asylum; she spent upwards to forty years in a poorhouse between the years of 1860 and 1904. Derry was what most people think about when they think of a lunatic. When she was young, she fell in love with a boy named Charles Phenix. Phenix’s mother did not approve of their relationship, and once engaged, the mother threatened to put a hex on Derry. This is what many people think caused her madness. She stayed with her family, until she was eventually brought to the Adams County Almshouse. Here, for forty years, she lived in a basket of straw. Her limbs became drawn up until her knees almost touched her chin. She was placed in a box that had holes for any excretions to drop out of. Rats and terrible small creatures made nests by her box because of this. It was also during this time that Derry’s fingernails grew long and she scratched out her eyes. After that, she began to beat herself all over, especially her face where she knocked out all of her teeth. Her case became known when she was sent to Bartonville Asylum in Peoria, Illinois. The doctors there actually tried to take care of her. Her primary doctor there, Dr. George A. Zeller was the only person she would respond to. During her stay at this asylum, Dr. Zeller invited state legislators to come look at her. Derry died in 1906 at the Bartonville Asylum (Nelson). While Derry herself
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