I got a few minutes today to glance through the rooms of the Commonwealth Museum while I was waiting for some materials I requested to be brought up from the vault. The Museum features the history of Massachusetts with displays about immigration, the founding of the Commonwealth, child labour, slavery, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I was just poking along (I was really interested in how they were displaying documents – see photo bottom left) until suddenly I came across Dorothea Dix’s photo! There was a whole display about Dix’s work (pictured top right) in Massachusetts to help improve the conditions of institutions and the treatment of their inmates (prisoners, the insane, the poor). I also learned that apparently she was listed as “Dolly” Dix in the Massachusetts legislative records – I’ve never heard that before!
The bulk of the day was spent with annual reports: from Worcester State Hospital, from the State Board of Lunacy & Charity, and from Danvers State Hospital. Saw some neat photos of beautiful gardens at Danvers and got lost in a series of farm and pathology reports (a strange link, I know). I also learned that apparently in 1899, after several years of complaints from the Trustees, the male attendants at Danvers were given some sort of uniform to help differentiate them from the male patients (in similar fashion to how the uniform of a female nurse made them instantly distinguishable from female patients) – the only problem is that the description I found literally says: “…it is now possible, upon entering a male ward, to discover which are patients and which are attendants. The uniform for the male nurses is appropriate, distinguishing and becoming” (Twenty-second Annual Report of the Trustees of the Danvers Insane Hospital, for the year ending September 30, 1899). But they never DESCRIBE the uniform! Staff photos seem like an obvious place to go but, unfortunately, I have not been granted access to the bulk of the photograph collection due to state privacy restrictions so that’s not an option. I’m not giving up though – there must be another way of tracking down what the uniform looked like….(all my luck and it’ll just be a plain old suit like everywhere else!)