Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Strange Delusion

A sad story. Am I bad for wanting
to know more?
Perhaps one of the saddest things about his story is that it ended up in the newspapers at all. Still, I can understand why the newspaper ran the following story. It was just too tempting. It’s pure voyeurism. I’m going to simultaneously disapprove of it and write it up anyway. I’ll feel guilty later. But this is why newspapers run tittilating stories, right?

The short version: A woman, who had been married only a few months, went insane. Feel free to read on. This appeared in the San Francisco Call on October 1, 1912.
OAKLAND, Sept. 30—Married in June of this year, Mrs. Maude Bradley, 18 years old, is detained in the receiving hospital with the delusion that her diet has been that of a cannibal. She underwent treatment in a private sanitarium after she had purchased a large quantity of candy and had hidden it along the street for children to find. The insanity affidavit was sworn to by Mrs. Clara Vivian, her grandmother. They live in Hayward.
There’s a bit of confusion about what happens here. It seems first she hid candy on the street (which doesn’t seem all that problematic), then she was in a private sanitarium (that is to say, mental health hospital), and then she developed the delusion that her meals were made of human flesh, finally, she was sent to another hospital for diagnosis and treatment. It’s a sad story.

It seems like an awful lot to happen between June and September, so perhaps at some point between when she hid candy along the street and the delusion about her food, she married. Did her husband know that she had had some mental health problems?

Eight years later, in 1920, Mrs. Bradley was still institutionalized. The census entries for the Agnews State Hospital for the Insane, in Santa Clara, California, run for pages, which hundreds of patients (the first 36 pages are patient names, ending on the thirtieth line of fifty; do the math). The buildings are now used by Sun Microsystems. Mrs. Bradley is not listed among those buried in the cemetery grounds.

A Sad Update: I did a little more searching and found the 1930 Census record. Her description had gone from "patient" to "inmate." In the 1930 record, all data beyond the name was filled in—for the whole page—with "ukn." This was the tragic truth of the mental health world in the early twentieth century: her humanity had been erased.
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