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´╗┐Title: Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum
Author: Pengilly, Mary Huestis
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum" ***

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Provincial Lunatic Asylum,



    _The prison doors are open--I am free;
    Be this my messenger o'er land and sea._


     This little book is humbly dedicated to the Province of New
     Brunswick, and the State of Massachusetts, by one who has had so
     sad an experience in this, the sixty-second year of her age, that
     she feels it to be her imperative duty to lay it before the public
     in such a manner as shall reach the hearts of the people in this
     her native Province, as also the people of Massachusetts, with whom
     she had a refuge since driven from her own home by the St. John
     fire of 1877. She sincerely hopes it may be read in every State of
     the Union, as well as throughout the Dominion of Canada, that it
     may help to show the inner workings of their Hospitals and Asylums,
     and prompt them to search out better methods of conducting them, as
     well for the benefit of the superintendent as the patient.

December.--They will not allow me to go home, and I must write these
things down for fear I forget. It will help to pass the time away. It is
very hard to endure this prison life, and know that my sons think me
insane when I am not.

How unkind Mrs. Mills is today; does she think this sort of treatment is
for the good of our health? I begged for milk today, and she can't spare
me any; she has not enough for all the old women, she says. I don't wish
to deprive any one of that which they require, but have I not a right to
all I require to feed me and make me well? All I do need is good
nourishing food, and I know better than any one else can what I require
to build me up and make me as I was before I met with this strange
change of condition. I remember telling the Doctor, on his first visit
to my room, that I only needed biscuit and milk and beef tea to make me
well. He rose to his feet and said, "I know better than any other man."
That was all I heard him say, and he walked out, leaving me without a
word of sympathy, or a promise that I should have anything. I say to
myself (as I always talk aloud to myself when not well), "You don't know
any more than this old woman does." I take tea with Mrs. Mills; I don't
like to look at those patients who look so wretched.

I can't bear to see myself in the glass, I am so wasted--so miserable.
My poor boys, no wonder you look so sad, to see your mother looking so
badly, and be compelled to leave her here alone among strangers who know
nothing about her past life. They don't seem to have any respect for me.
If I were the most miserable woman in the city of St. John, I would be
entitled to better treatment at the hands of those who are paid by the
Province to make us as comfortable as they can, by keeping us warmed and
fed, as poor feeble invalids should be kept.

December 20.--I have made myself quite happy this week, thinking of what
Christmas may bring to many childish hearts, and how I once tried to
make my own dear boys happy at Christmas time. I helped poor Maggy to
make artificial flowers for a wreath she herself had made of cedar. She
was making it for some friend in the Asylum. She never goes out; she
wishes to go sometimes, but Mrs. Mills scolds her a little, then she
works on and says no more about it. Poor Maggy! there is nothing ailing
her but a little too much temper. She does all the dining-room
work--washes dishes and many other things.

January.--They have had a festival; it was made, I suppose, to benefit
some one here; I don't know whom. It certainly did not benefit me any;
no one invited me to go to the church where the festival was held, but
Dr. Crookshank, the Assistant Physician, looked at me very kindly and
said, "Do come, Mrs. Pengilly, you may as well come." I looked at my
dress (it is grey flannel, and I have had no other to change since I
came here), "I can't go looking like this; I must be a little better
dressed to go into a public meeting of any kind; I am not accustomed to
go looking like this, with nothing on my neck." He said, "Very well,
something shall come to you;" and Mrs. Hays, who is Assistant Nurse in
our Ward, brought me a plate of food and fruit, such as is generally had
at festivals.

I have not had my trunk yet; sure the boys did not leave me here without
my trunk. Perhaps they do not wish me to go in sight of people from the
city, for fear they will recognize me, and I should make my complaints
known to them. I have entreated them to give me my trunk so many times
in vain that I have given it up. I did ask Mrs. Mills, and she says,
"Ask Mrs. Murphy, she has charge of the trunk room." I asked her; she
says she will see, and she will bring me whatever I need that is in it.
She puts me off with a soft answer, until I begin to think there is
nothing done for any one here, only what they cannot avoid. It is a
self-running establishment, I guess, for no one seems to know how or
when to do anything I wish to have done, whatever they may do for

February.--The weather is cold. I have more to occupy my time now. I
have learned how to let off the cold air from the radiators, and then we
get more heat. I do it when no one sees me. I shall do all I can to make
myself comfortable, and they all share it. When I arise in the morning,
my first thought is to look up the hall to see if there is fire in the
grate--the one little grate in that large hall, to give warmth and
comfort to us poor prisoners. If the fire is there, I feel pleased; I go
up as soon as the sweeping is done, and try to feel at home. I tell the
nurse I will tend the fire, if she will have the coal left beside the
grate. Sometimes they allow it willingly, and I enjoy it. I brush up the
hearth, and make it look cheerful and homelike as possible. I draw up
the huge, uncomfortable seats to form a circle; they stand round until I
get there; they are happy to sit with me, but they don't know enough to
draw up a seat for themselves. I have found pleasure in this; it cheers
my heart. There is no situation in life, however unpleasant it may be,
but has some bright places in it. I love to cheat Mrs. Mills; I watch my
chance when she is not near, and let off the cold air in the radiator
until the warm air comes, and then close it. I add coal to the fire,
saying to myself, "This castle belongs to the Province, and so do I. We
have a right to all the comforts of life here, and especially so when
five dollars a week is paid for our board; let us have a nice fire and
bask in its comforting rays." I love the heat; if the seats at the grate
get filled up, I come back to the radiator. Perhaps it is warm enough to
afford to have the window open a few moments, to let the impure air
escape--just a little of it; then I sit close by it, calling it my
kitchen fire-place. I am regulating the comfort of this ward in a
measure, but they don't know it.

February.--My dear Lewis has been to see me today. We chat together as
usual; how can he think me crazy? Dr. Steeves tells him I am, I suppose,
and so he thinks it must be so. He is so happy to see me looking better;
he is more loving than ever; he holds my hand in his and tells me he
will take me out for a drive when the weather is fine. And I said, "Oh
Lewis, my dear boy, I am well enough to go home with you to your hotel
now." I so long for some of Mrs. Burns' good dinners; her meals are all
nice, and here we have such horrid stuff. Dark-colored, sour bakers'
bread, with miserable butter, constitutes our breakfast and tea; there
is oatmeal porridge and cheap molasses at breakfast, but I could not eat
that, it would be salts and senna for me. At noon we have plenty of meat
and vegetables, indifferently cooked, but we don't require food suitable
for men working out of doors. We need something to tempt the appetite a

No matter what I say, how earnestly I plead, he believes Dr. Steeves in
preference to me. If I should die here, he will still believe Dr.
Steeves, who looks so well they cannot think he would do so great a
wrong. When I first began to realize that I must stay here all winter, I
begged the Doctor to take me to his table, or change his baker; "I
cannot live on such fare as you give us here." His reply was, "I don't
keep a boarding house." Who does keep this boarding house? Is there any
justice on earth or under heaven? Will this thing always be allowed to
go on? Sometimes I almost sink in despair. One consolation is left
me--some day death will unlock those prison doors, and my freed spirit
will go forth rejoicing in its liberty.

There is a dear girl here whose presence has helped to pass the time
more pleasantly, and yet I am more anxious on her account. How can her
mother leave her so long in such care as this? Ah, they cannot know how
she is faring; she often says, "I used to have nice cake at home, and
could make it, too." She has been teaching school, has over-worked, had
a fever, lost her reason, and came here last June. She is well enough
to go home. I fear if they leave her here much longer she will never
recover her spirits. She is afraid of Mrs. Mills, and dare not ask for
any favor. Mrs. Mills is vexed if she finds her in my room, and does not
like to see us talking. I suppose she fears we will compare notes to her
disadvantage, or detrimental to the rules of the house. I think it is
against the rules of this house that we should be indulged in any of the
comforts of life.

March.--At last I have my trunk: why it should have been detained so
long I cannot conceive. I feel rich in the possession of the little
needful articles it contains.

I enquired of Dr. Steeves, some time ago, if he had not in the Asylum a
supply of necessary articles for our use, telling him I wanted a paper
of pins very much. He said they were for the indigent patients, so I got
none. My son, Tom, gave me some small silver some weeks ago, but I was
no better off. No one would do me an errand outside. I begged Mrs. Mills
at different times to buy me some pins, and to buy me an extra quart of
milk. I was so hungry for milk, but she said it was against the rules of
the house. She gives me now a glass nearly full at bed time, with one
soda biscuit. This is the only luxury we have here; some others get the
same. It is because I have tried to make her think we are her children,
left in her care. I said to her, "'Feed my lambs,' you are our
Shepherd;" and she is if she only knew it. I have quoted the words of
Him whose example we should all follow: "Do good unto others." I am
watching over those poor lambs now, to see how they are tended, and I
will tell the Commissioners in whose care the Asylum is left by the
Province. The people of New Brunswick suppose they attend to it. The
Commissioners have placed it in the care of Dr. Steeves, and they
believe him quite capable of conducting it properly. Is this the way it
should be done? I don't think so.

I observed Miss Fowler today holding her hand to her eye, which is
looking inflamed; she is blind; a well-educated, delicate, gentle-woman.
I take more than usual interest in her for that reason. I often sit
beside her and she tells me of her mother, and wants me to go home with
her to number one. She does not seem a lunatic, and she is neglected. I
tied her eye up with my own handkerchief, and a wet rag on it. I did not
mean to offend, I had done so before and it was not observed. Mrs. Mills
came along just as I had done it; she jerked it off in anger, and threw
it on the floor. I said to her, "That is not a Christian act," but she
pays no heed; perhaps her morning work makes her feel cross.

I come back to my own room and write again; what shall I do? I
cannot--how can I stay here any longer! and I cannot get away, locked in
as prisoners in our rooms at night, fed like paupers. If I were
committed to the penitentiary for a crime, I would not be used any worse
than I am here. My heart longs for sympathy, and has it not. I have
tried to soften Mrs. Mills' heart, and win her sympathy, but I cannot,
and I cannot withhold my pity for those poor invalids who fare even
worse than I.

March 13.--I must write this while fresh in my mind, for fear I may
forget. There is a Miss Short here--a fair-haired, nice-looking girl;
she stands up and reads in the Testament as if she were in
Sunday-school, recites poetry, and tries to play on the piano. I did not
think her much out of order when she came, but she is now. She has grown
steadily worse. Her father came to see her, and she cried to go home
with him. I wished very much to tell him to take her home, but Mrs.
Mills did not leave them, and I dared not speak to him. She has grown so
much worse, she tears her dress off, so they have to put leather
hand-cuffs on her wrists so tight they make her hands swell. I say, "Oh,
Mrs. Mills, don't you see they are too tight, her hands look ready to
burst--purple with blood." She paid no heed: "It does not hurt her
any." Yesterday she tied a canvas belt round her waist so tight that it
made my heart ache to look at it. I am sure it would have stopped my
breath in a short time; they tied her to the back of the seat with the
ends of it.

March 17.--Another poor victim has come to our ward today--a black-eyed,
delicate-looking girl. She looked _so sad_, I was drawn to her at once.
I sat beside her in Mrs. Mills' absence, and enquired the cause of her
trouble; she said her food gave her pain--she is dyspeptic. If the
Doctor would question the patients and their friends as to the cause of
their insanity, they might, as in other cases of illness, know what
remedy to apply. This dear child has been living at Dr. Wm. Bayards'
three years--chambermaid--that is enough to assure me she is a good
girl. I think she wears her dress too tight. I unloosened her laces and
underskirts to make them easy; they are all neat and tidy, as if she had
come from a good home.

Another day is here. That poor girl is in great trouble yet. When I went
out into the hall this morning, she was kneeling by the door; she laid
her cheek on the bare floor, praying for her sins to be forgiven,
murmuring something of those who had gone before. I cannot think she has
sinned; poor child! she has lost her health in some way; she has
transgressed some law of nature. I think it has been tight lacing that
caused some of the trouble, for she sat up on the floor when I invited
her to stand up for fear some one would open the door and walk over her,
and rubbed the calf of her leg, saying it was all numb. Anything too
tight causes pain and distress by interrupting the free circulation of
the blood. She is so pitiful and sad! How could Mrs. Mills speak so
unkindly to her, pushing her with her foot to make her rise up? She
treats them like wicked school-boys who have done something to torment
her and merit punishment. I cannot but pity Mrs. Mills, for this is an
uncomfortable position to fill, and if she has always obeyed her
Superintendent, she has done her duty, and deserves a retired allowance.
The younger nurses are all learning from her, and will grow
hard-hearted, for they think she is one to teach them; they come to her
for help in case of emergency, and they go all together, and are able to
conquer by main strength what might in most cases be done by a gentle
word. "A soft answer turneth away wrath;" I have known this all my life,
but I never felt it so forcibly as now.

There is a lady here from Westmoreland; her hair is cut short, and her
eyes are black and wild. The first time I spoke to her she struck me,
lightly, and I walked away; I knew she was crazy. After I had met her a
few times and found she was not dangerous, I ventured to sit down beside
her. She was lying on her couch in a room off the dining-room; she lay
on her back knitting, talking in a rambling way: "Do you know what kind
of a place this is? Aren't you afraid I'll kill you? I wish I was like
you." I smoothed her hair with my hand as I would a child. I thought,
perhaps, she had done some great wrong. She said she had killed her
mother. Often before, I had stood beside her, for I looked at her a
number of times before I ventured to sit by her. I had no recollection
of seeing her when I first came, till I found her in this room. I
suppose she was so violent they shut her in here to keep her from
striking or injuring any one. I could not discover the cause of her
trouble, but I comforted her all I could, and she has always been
friendly with me since, and listened to my words as if I were her
mother. She has been here a long time. Last Friday--bathing day--two
young, strong nurses were trying to take her from her room to the
bath-room (I suppose she was unwilling to be washed, for I have noticed
when I saw her in that room on the couch, she was not clean as she
should be--her clothes did not have a good air about them). The nurses
were using force, and she struggled against it. They used the means they
often use; I suppose that is their surest method of conquering the
obstinate spirit that will rise up to defend itself in any child or
woman. She was made more violent by her hair being pulled; one nurse had
her hands, and the other caught her by her hair, which is just long
enough to hold by. They made her walk. I was walking near them when I
saw one seize her by the hair; she tried to bite her on the arm. I
started forward, and laid my hand on her arm, with--"Don't, my poor
child, don't do so; be gentle with her, girls, and she will go." She
looked at me, and her face softened; that angry spirit melted within
her, and they went on to the bath-room. Shortly after that I met her
looking fresh and nice; she was in Mrs. Mills' room, in her
rocking-chair. Sometimes I look in there to see if that chair is empty,
to have a rock in it myself. I think it better for her health to knit in
the rocking-chair than to lay down and knit or read either, so I leave
her there. Perhaps she has read too much and injured her brain; if so, I
would not let her read so much.

March 20.--Poor Mrs. Mills has served thirty-two years here, and has
become hardened as one will to any situation or surroundings. She is too
old a woman, and her temper has been too much tried. She is tidy, and
works well for so old a woman, but she is not fit for a nurse. If she
were a British soldier, and had served her country so long, she would be
entitled to a pension.

Poor Miss Short! Last week I saw her lying on the floor nearly under the
bed, her dress torn, her hair disheveled. How can her friends leave her
so long! Some ladies came to see her a short time ago, and as they left
the hall I heard her call them to take her with them. If they knew all
as I do, they would not leave her here another day.

There is a Miss Snow here from St. Stephens. I remember distinctly when
I first came, she raved all the time. I did not dare to look in her

I must write something of myself today. I can look back and see plainly
all my journey here. The day may come when I shall be laid away in the
grave, and my boys--the dear boys I have loved so well--will look over
my trunk and find this manuscript; they will then perhaps believe I am
not crazy. I know Dr. Steeves tells them I am a lunatic yet. They will
weep over this, as they think of the mother they have left here to die
among strangers. It would be happiness to die surrounded by my friends,
to be able to tell them they have only to live well that they may die
well. To be true to ourselves and to our fellows, is all the good we
need. That I have always striven to do, does now my spirit feed.

I have been so near the grave, the border land of heaven. I heard
angels' voices; they talked with me even as they did with John on the
Isle of Patmos, when they said to him, "Worship God who sent me."

I was very much alone, engaged in writing a book on the laws of health.
My desire to write increased; I became so absorbed with my work I forgot
to eat, and, after a day or two, I seemed to think I had done some
wrong. The angel voices whispered me that I must fast and pray; I know I
had plenty of food in my closet, but I don't remember eating any more. I
fasted eight days, and felt comfortable and happy most of the time. I
sang to myself, "O death, where is thy sting, where is thy victory,
boasting grave." I wept for my own sins, and wished to die, the world to
save. I was trying to perform some ancient right or vow, one day, and my
sons came in. I ordered them away, but they would not go. They said they
would bring me home, for Lewis, who was living with me near Boston, sent
for my son, T. M. Pengilly, who is proprietor of a drug store in St.
John. I suppose he discovered I was fasting, and saw me failing so fast
he telegraphed to Tom to come to his assistance. I remember I kissed him
when he came, asked him what he came for, and bade him leave me. I know
now how unreasonable that was, for we had no other room but Lewis'
bed-room, and in it there was no fire. We had rented rooms, as Lewis
took his meals at a boarding-house near. Poor boys, they went in and
out; it seemed to me they did not eat or sleep for some days; I thought
they were as crazy as I was in the cars.

They brought Dr. Hunter to see me. I had been acquainted with him some
time previous. I told him I was sorry they had brought him to see me,
for I needed no physicians, I only needed to fast and pray. "I know you
are a good man, Dr. Hunter, but you need not come to see me again; I
will be all right in time; God and His angels will keep me always."
These were my words to him; I know not what prompted me; I suppose it
was my insanity. I think I told them to nail up the doors and leave me
there till summer. That was the last week of October. My poor boys, how
tried and worried they must have been. They watched me night and day
alternately. I told them I had not talked with them enough of my own
religion. I begged Tom to read the Bible and kneel and pray, but he
would not; I think he fell asleep in my rocking-chair (how often I have
wished for that rocking-chair since I came here).

On Sunday morning I heard them say, "We will go home in the first
train." Lewis went out to see about it, and I told Tom I wished to take
the sacrament, and he should give it to me, for he would yet be bishop
of St. John--"St. Thomas" he should be called. I can but laugh when I
think of it now, but it was very real to me then. I had been a member--a
communicant--of St. James' Church, Episcopal, some years; I had taken my
boys to Sunday School, to receive that religious instruction which I was
not qualified to give. They had accompanied me to church, always, but I
felt as if I had not spoken to them on religious subjects as I ought to
have done.

It is fourteen years, I think, since I was christened in St. James'
Church, by Rev. William Armstrong, whose voice I always loved to hear in
the beautiful service of our church. I was confirmed by Bishop John
Fredricton, in Trinity Church. I well remember the pressure of that
reverend hand upon my head, and the impressive words of his address to
us who were that day received into the church--"Let your inner life be
as good or better than your outer life, if you would be worthily known
as His children." He desired the young men in particular to take up some
useful study, to occupy their leisure hours--something outside of their
every-day business of life. What better words could have been said; I
would that the young men of the present day should often hear those
words and accept them as a rule of their life. I float away from
thoughts of my insanity to the days when I was at home going to church
with my children. I must return to my subject.

They brought the table to my bedside; I kept my eyes closed; I received
the bread from the hand of one son, and the wine from the hand of the
other. I tasted it, and my fast was broken. I discovered, to my great
surprise, it was only toast and tea. They had improved upon my wish, and
thought to feed me, their poor wasted mother. They dressed me for the
journey; I would not assist them any; they had not obeyed my wish to be
left alone in my room all winter; so, when I yielded to them, I left all
for them to do; the only thing I did myself was to take from the closet
this grey flannel dress--I had made it for traveling, before I left
Lowell for Old Orchard. They did not seem to know what they were doing.
I had two bonnets, but they never mentioned them, as I remember. They
left my night-cap on, and tied a silk handkerchief over it. They carried
me down stairs in their arms, and lifted me in the coach. After we were
on our way in the cars, I found my hair was hanging down my back; I had
nothing to fasten it up with, and I arranged the handkerchief to cover
it. I began to feel happy with the thought of going home. I tried to
cheer them, and they could not help smiling at me. I wondered they were
not ashamed of me, I looked so badly. I told them not to call me
mother, to say I was old Mrs. Sinnett; that they were bringing me home
to my friends.

Poor boys, I wonder if they remember that journey in the cars as I do.
At my request, Tom brought me a goblet of milk, at two stopping places,
and when I found they had brought me to an Asylum I felt no fear; I
thought I had only to ask and receive what I needed. I knew they thought
me crazy, so I would not bid them good-bye, when they left me, but
concluded to play lunatic. I refused to kiss Lewis when he left me, that
dear boy who had watched over me so faithfully, carrying me in his arms
from one car to the other. When we changed cars, he placed me in a
Pullman car, and I thought I was safely hidden from something, I knew
not what. I only know I was so happy while I was with my sons; nothing
troubled me. I sang and chatted to Lewis; he would not leave me a
moment; he kneeled beside my berth, and I called him my best of sons,
and smoothed his hair with my hand. All my journey through I heard the
voice of angels whispering to me, "Hold on by the hand of your sons;
keep them with you and you will be safe; they are your sons, they are
the sons of God,"--and they are. All who do their duty as they were
doing, to the best of their ability, are the children of God; for, if we
do the best we can, angels can do no more.

I thought I was perfectly safe here, and if the Doctor had given me the
food which should be given to an invalid, or if he had granted any
requests I made to him in a reasonable manner, I should not have been
prompted to write these lines or recall those memories of the past.

One thought brings another. When, on the morning after my arrival, I
begged for milk and biscuit, they refused, and then brought a bowl of
common looking soup with black looking bakers' bread. I refused to eat
it; if it had been beef tea with soda biscuit in it, I would have taken
it myself. They did not live to coax crazy people. Mrs. Mills called in
her help, and it did not need many, I was so weak; they held me back,
and she stuffed the soup down my throat.

When I came here first, I told the nurse my name was Mary Huestis; that
was my maiden name; I hardly know why I prefer that to my sons' name,
for they are sons no mother need be ashamed of. My prayers for them have
always been, that they might be a benefit to their fellows; that they
grow to be good men; to be able to fill their places in the world as
useful members of society, not living entirely for themselves, but for
the good of others, an honor to themselves and a blessing to the world.
If we live well, we will not be afraid to die. "Perfect love casteth out
fear." I must write no more today.

March 24.--Two years ago today I was watching by the bedside of my dying
child. Driven from our home by the fire, I was tarrying for her to
complete her education in the city of Lowell, which is second to no city
in the world for its educational privileges. Free schools, with books
free to all its children, and excellent teachers. To Lowell schools and
to my darling child, I must here pay this tribute. The day after her
death, the principal of the school she attended addressed the school
with these words--"Clara Pengilly has attended this school two years,
and I have never heard a fault found with her; there has never been a
complaint brought to me by teacher or schoolmates concerning her." Her
teacher brought me two large bouquets to ornament the room at her
funeral, sent by the pupils and teachers of the school where she had
been a happy attendant, for she loved her teachers, and always told me
how good and kind they were to her; no wonder every one loved her, for
she had a loving heart and a nature so full of sunshine she could not be
unhappy. We had boarded eight months with a lady whose only daughter was
blind from her birth. Clara loved to lead her out for a walk, and read
to her at home; no pleasure was complete unless shared with her blind
friend, who was younger than herself, and whose life she could brighten
by her willingness to devote her unoccupied time to her service. Dear
Lorelle, we all loved her for her goodness, and pitied her for her
infirmity. The boarders and others at her home sent flowers too. Her
mother arranged a green vine and flowers around her face and in her
hand. When she had finished, she said, "That is the last we can do for
you, Clara; I know she was so fond of flowers, she would be pleased if
she could see them." I cared not for the flowers, I only knew that
loving heart was stilled in death, and I was left alone; with an effort,
I said, "Lorelle will never know a truer friend than she who lies here."
My tears unbidden flow; why do I go back in memory to those sorrowful
days? I know she is happy now. Let me draw the veil of charity over the
past with all its troubles, remembering only the many acts of kindness
done for us by our friends at that time.

It is this waiting so long a prisoner, begging to be liberated. My hands
will not remain folded or my brain idle. I must write again of poor Miss
Snow. I ventured into her room, feeling anxious to help her by coaxing
her into a better frame of mind. She is wasted to a shadow; I am sure if
she had any food to tempt her to eat she would grow stronger; some nice
bread and milk at bed time would help her to sleep. I soothed her as I
would a child in trouble, until she ceased her raving, and then
questioned her to discover the cause of her disease. She is a
well-educated, intelligent lady. In her ravings she often says she is
the only lady in the hall, and seems to have a temper of her own, which
has been made more than violent by her stay in this ward. She is very
fond of drawing small pencil sketches, and works at them late at night,
which I think is certainly injurious. I conclude she is the victim of
late hours and fancy work; she acknowledges she used to sew until after
twelve, working for bazaars. If the ladies would only come here and
study the needs of these poor victims of insanity, and make better
arrangements for their welfare, they would find a higher calling than
exhausting their energies working for bazaars, and leaving us to the
care of those who care nothing for us and will not learn. Too much
temper and too much indolence rule here. I go in sometimes and coax her
to stop talking and lie down. I cover her up to keep her warm; she is
blue with the cold. If I could keep her in a nice warm room, with kind
treatment and nourishing food! She could not eat that horrible, sour
bakers' bread with poor butter. Sometimes her food would set in her room
a long time. I guess she only eats when she is so starved she can't help
it. I eat because I am determined to live until I find some one who will
help me out of this castle on the hill, that I may tell the
Commissioners all about it. Sometimes I term it a college, in which I am
finishing my education, and I shall graduate some day--when will it be?
My impatient spirit chafes at this long delay. I sit at the grated
window and think, if I were one of those little pigeons on the window
sill I would be happy; content to be anything if only at liberty.

April.--The friends of Miss Short have been here and taken her home, and
word returned that she is better. I am thankful to think she is with her
mother, and I do not see her so improperly treated; it made me feel
wretched to think of her.

Poor Katy Dugan's friends came one day. I watched my chance and told one
of them to let her mother know she was getting worse and was not well
treated. I had many heart-aches for that girl; I scarcely know why. They
must have seen she looked worse; her dress of flannel, trimmed with
satin of the same color, which looked so nice when she came, was filthy
with spots of gruel and milk they had been forcing her to eat. This day,
I remember, was worse than common days of trouble. I had been excited by
seeing one of the most inoffensive inmates pushed and spoken to very
roughly, without having done any wrong. They attempted to comb that
poor girl's hair; she will not submit, begs and cries to go down there.
I go to the bath-room door to beg them to be gentle with her. Mrs. Mills
slammed the door in my face. She is vexed at any expression of sympathy.
Again I hear that pitiful cry, and I go up the hall to see what the
trouble is. They had taken her in a room to hold her on the floor, by
those heavy, strong nurses sitting on her arms and feet, while they
force her to eat. I return, for I can't endure the sight. I met Mrs.
Mills, with a large spoon, going to stuff her as she did me. (I was not
dyspeptic; I had fasted and would have eaten if they had given me milk,
as I requested.) She was angry at me again; she ordered me to my room,
and threatened to lock me in. What have I done to merit such treatment?
How can I endure this any longer!

April 3.--Yesterday was election day of the Aldermen of the city of St.
John. Dr. Steeves came in this morning and congratulated me very
pleasantly that my son was elected Alderman. I thanked him and said I
was not at all surprised, for he was very popular in his ward; always
kind and courteous to every one, he had made many friends. He must know
I am perfectly sane, but I can't persuade him to tell my son I am well
enough to go home.

My dear Lewis has gone eight hundred miles beyond Winnipeg surveying. I
am sorry to have him go so far. Will I ever see him again? But I feel so
badly when he comes to see me, and refuses to take me home with him; and
I say to myself, "I would die here alone rather than that he, my darling
boy, should be shut in here and treated as I am;" for his temper, if so
opposed, would make him a maniac. I have dreamed of seeing him looking
wretched and crying for fresh air, for he was suffocating. All the time
I had those troubled dreams, I was smothering with gas coming in my room
through the small grating intended to admit heat to make us comfortable,
but it did not. I was obliged to open the window to be able to breathe;
my lungs required oxygen to breathe when I was lying in bed, not gas
from hard coal.

There is one lady whose room is carpeted and furnished well, but she is
so cold she sits flat on the carpet beside the little grate, trying to
be warm. She has not enough clothing on to keep her warm. Her friends
call often, but they never stay long enough to know that her room is
cold. They cannot know how uncomfortable she is, or what miserable food
she has, for we all fare alike.

April is nearly gone. Tom has promised to come for me on Monday; I feel
so happy to think I am going to be free once more. I sat on my favorite
seat in the window sill, looking at those poor men working on the
grounds. There were three; they did not look like lunatics, no overseer
near them; they were shoveling or spading, and three ducks followed
them. Fed by the All-Father's hand, they gather food for themselves; the
men never disturb them; they cannot be violent. Many a farmer would be
willing to give one of those men a permanent home for his services. The
knowledge that this home is here for them to return to, would ensure
them kind treatment at the hand of the farmer, and I am sure they would
prefer life on a farm, with good palatable food and liberty, to being
shut up here as prisoners and fed as paupers, as we in the ladies' ward
are, without one word or look of sympathy or respect extended to us.

One day this week, I had been watching one of the men working at the
strawberry beds, thinking I would like to live on a farm now, that I
might cultivate those lovely berries. The Doctor came in to make his
usual morning call, in the hall, with a book and pencil in his hand;
that is all he ever does for us. I thought I would make him think I
thought him a gentleman, which he is not, and perhaps he would be more
willing to let me go home. It has taken effect. I suppose he thinks I
have forgotten all the doings of the past winter, and that I will not
dare to say anything against such a mighty man as he is. I am glad I
have taken it down in black and white, so as not to forget the wrongs of
the Province, and the wrongs of those poor neglected women, of whom I am
one. I ought not to write in this manner, but my indignation overcomes
me sometimes, and I cannot help it. He is a little more social now than
usual, and I suggest that if he bring blackberry bushes from the field,
and set them around the fence, keeping the ground irrigated round the
roots, he might have as nice fruit as the cultivated. He said yes, he
would send some of his men out to his farm and get some, and he left as
pleasant as he came. That was the first time he ever left me without
being driven away by my making some request, and being refused.

This reminds me of the day I begged so hard for a pot of Holloway's
Ointment. I had asked my boys several times to bring it to me, and I
thought they always forgot it. I had used it many years, not constantly,
only for a little rash on my face at times; it has annoyed me very much
lately. This day I had urged him all I could, and he left me, saying he
had too much on his mind today. I followed him to the door, saying, "I
don't want to think so ill of you, Doctor, as that you will not grant me
so small a favor--a twenty-five cent favor--and I will pay for it

Saturday Morning.--I am so impatient! I hardly dare to hope. Will I be
free to breathe the air of heaven again, to walk out in the warmth of
His sunshine? Perhaps I am punished for questioning the exact truth of
that story, so long ago, that I could not quite explain to myself or
believe how it could be handed down over so many years. I have stood
almost where He has stood, once before in my life. "The foxes have
holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not
where to lay his head." I have been "led by the spirit into the
wilderness." Pontius Pilate is not here to say, "I find no sin in this
man," but there are those here who would lock me in, and never let me
set my foot outside of these walls, if they knew I was writing this with
the hope of laying it before the Province.

Yesterday was bathing-day--a cold, damp April day. No steam on; I tried
the radiators, but there was no hot air to come. The young teacher--in
whom I was so much interested, and whose name I will not give here, as
she always begged me not to mention her name--she stood with me at the
radiator trying to find some heat. The Doctor came in and I say,
"Doctor, can't you send up some coal, there is only a few red coals in
the grate, no steam on, and we are nearly frozen?" He said, "The hard
coal is all gone." "Well, send us some soft coal, wood, anything to keep
us warm." He left us; no coal came till after dinner. I met one of the
nurses in the next ward; I told her our wants, and she sent it by a
young man who was always attentive and respectful, but we could not
always find a messenger who would take the trouble to find him.

The Doctor has been in again: Mary and I were together as usual. He
looked at us very pleasantly, and I said, "You will be able to send us
home now soon, surely." He drew me away from her, saying, "I don't wish
her to hear this. Don't you know, Mr. Ring went to Annapolis and hung
himself?" "They did not watch him well," said I, and he left, thinking,
I suppose, that he had silenced me effectually. I went to Mrs. Mills,
and enquired about Mr. Ring, and learned that he had never been here,
and was quite an old man. What had that to do with us? We have no wish
to harm ourselves or any one else. I see now that is the influence he
uses to induce people to leave their friends here. My son told me one
day he had kept the Asylum so well the public were perfectly satisfied
with him; no wonder he conducts it so well when there are so few
lunatics here. I suppose he has left me here waiting for me to get
satisfied too; well, I am, but as soon as I am out I shall write to
Mary's mother to come for her, for I can hardly go and leave her here.
I have taken her in my heart as my own; she is so good a girl, wasting
her precious life here for the amusement of others--I don't see anything
else in it.

St. John's Hotel, April 30.--At last I am free! Seated in my own room at
the hotel, I look back at that prison on the hill. I had won a little
interest in the hearts of the nurses in our ward; they expressed regret
at my leaving. Ellen Regan, who was the first to volunteer me any
kindness, said, "We shall miss you, Mrs. Pengilly, for you always had a
cheerful word for every one." I did not bid all the patients good-bye,
for I hope soon to return and stay with them. I would like so much to
look after these poor women, who are so neglected. I will ask the
Commissioners to allow me to remain with them, if only one year, to
superintend the female department, not under the jurisdiction of the
present Superintendent, but with the assistance of the Junior Physician
and the nurses, who each understand the work of their own departments,
and will be willing to follow my instructions. I will teach them to
think theirs is no common servitude--merely working for pay--but a
higher responsibility is attached to this work, of making comfortable
those poor unfortunates entrusted to their care, and they will learn to
know they are working for a purpose worth living for; and they will be
worthy of the title, "Sisters of Mercy."

Tuesday.--I have been to the Solicitor-General, and left with him a copy
of parts of my diary, and I am prepared to attest to its truth before
the Board of Commissioners, whenever it shall meet. He said he was
pleased to have my suggestions, as they now had the Provincial Lunatic
Asylum under consideration, and assured me he would attend to it. His
words and manners assure me he is a gentleman to be relied on, and I
feel safe in leaving my case in his hands.

June.--I have spent three weeks in Fredericton, the capital of New
Brunswick, while waiting for the Board of Commissioners to meet and
discuss the affairs of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, concerning which
my time at present is devoted. They are members of Government, and seem
to be too busy for anything. I called on the Attorney-General, with what
effect he himself best knows; it is not worth repeating here. I will
only say, neither he nor his partner quite understand the courtesy due
to a woman or lady. It cannot be expected of persons who are over-loaded
with business, that they shall have leisure sufficient to oversee the
arrangements of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, which needs, like any
other household, a woman's care to make it perfect.

In my wanderings since the fire of 1877, I boarded some weeks at the Y.
W. C. A. home in Boston, a beautiful institution, conducted entirely by
ladies. It was a comfortable, happy home, ruled by ladies who were like
mothers or friends to all its occupants, and under the supervision of a
committee of ladies who visit it every week. It is such arrangements we
need to perfect the working of our public institutions, where a woman's
care is required as in a home. Men are properly the outside agents, but
women should attend to the inner working of any home.

The Tewksbury affair of 1883, stands a disgrace to the New England
States, who had so long prided themselves on their many public
charitable institutions, and which have, without question, been an honor
to her people.

I am sorry to say they are not all perfect, as I learned from the lips
of a young man in this hotel, who looked as if he were going home to
die. He had been waiting some weeks in the Boston City Hospital, until
the warm weather should make his journey less dangerous in his weak
state. "If I should live a hundred years, I should never get that
hospital off my mind," were his words, as he lay back in his chair
looking so sad; "a disagreeable, unkind nurse, a cold ward, and
miserable food." His words touched a responsive chord in my heart, for
my experiences had been similar to his; I can never forget them.

Let me here entreat the ladies, wherever this book may be read, that
they take this work upon themselves. Rise up in your own strength, and
solicit the Governor to appoint you as Commissioners, as you are over
your Old Ladies' Homes. If the Governor has the authority or power to
appoint those who now form the Board of Commissioners of the Provincial
Lunatic Asylum, he can surely invest you with the same title, and you
will not any longer allow your fellow-sisters to be neglected by those
who cannot understand the weakness or the misfortunes that have brought
them under the necessity of being protected by the public.

Before leaving Fredericton, I called at the Government House to lay my
case before His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, hoping to awaken his
sympathy in our cause, and urge him to call an early meeting of the
Board. I was so anxious to return to the care of those poor feeble women
I had left in the Asylum; so anxious to right their wrongs, I could not
be restrained by friend or foe from finishing this work so near my
heart. Some of my friends really believe me insane on the subject. There
are those who can apply this to themselves, and others whose kindness
and hospitality I shall ever remember with grateful pleasure. They will
none of them doubt the truth of this statement.

Governor Wilmot did not doubt me. He received me very kindly, as did
also his good lady. After conversing with him on the subject until I
felt I ought not trespass any longer on his time, I rose to leave, and
at the door expressed a wish for a bunch of lilacs that grew in great
abundance on large bushes interspersed with trees, and which made the
grounds look very beautiful. He gathered me a bunch with his own hand,
for which I felt thankful and highly honored; as we walked together I
told him my father's name. "Lewis Huestis," said he, "I knew him well."
I had not known that, but I did know that Wilmot had always been an
honored name in my father's house. When bidding him good-bye, I again
referred to the old subject, by saying, "I have lost my home and
business by the fire; my sons are scattered abroad in the world and do
not need my care; I would like to devote my remaining years, as far as I
am able, to better the condition of those poor sufferers in the Asylum."
He answered, "I hope you will, for I think it will be well for them to
have your care, and I will do all I can to assist you." These were his
words, as near as I can remember, and I left the Government House,
feeling as if I had been making a pleasant call on an old friend. I
write these last few lines as a tribute of respect to the memory of the
name of Governor Wilmot, and that of my own father, who always had the
interests of his country at heart.

I returned to the city feeling cheered by the words of encouragement and
sympathy I had received. It well repaid me for the trouble of my journey
to Fredericton.

       *       *       *       *       *

I will leave this subject now in the hands of the ladies, wherever this
little book may find them, who, having leisure and influence, will not,
I hope, fail to use them for the benefit of suffering humanity,
remembering we are all children of one Father--Our Father in Heaven.
Improve the talent He has given you, that it may be said to you, "Well
done, thou good and faithful servant."

                                             M. H. P.

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