Saturday, March 2, 2013

Story and Public Policy I

"The Inertia of Despair": early Providence Journal story

Note: The Institute of Mental Health, or IMH, was the name of Rhode Island's principal institution for the mentally ill. It became synonymous with the poor treatment of warehousing of mentally ill people. Beginning in the 1950s, The Providence Journal published many stories and photographs that cumulatively help build wide public support for reducing the population to zero and opening community facilities. One of these stories was about Hope Lincoln...

[For more on Story in the Public Square, a partnership of The Providence Journal and the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, visit the Story website.]

[And to read more about the indignities and suffering of life at the old IMH, read my April 2016 post, Potter's Fields and the Forgotten Mentally Ill.]

CLINGING TO SANITY IN IMH BEDLAM: Agile-minded woman, 97, was 'put away' in 1931
Publication Date: March 22, 1987  Page: A-01  Section: NEWS  Edition: ALL 

THE MORNING of April 14, 1931, Hope K. Lincoln answered the door at her East Side home.

Could he come in? Chief Inspector John J. McGuire asked.

Please do, Hope said apprehensively.

Who is it? croaked Hope's 69-year-old ailing mother.

It's the police, Mumsie, Hope answered.

And what do they want?

Something about our debts. All those bad checks.

A tall, underweight woman of 41, Hope was unusually pale. Her dark hair, highlighted with henna, was uncombed and peppered with nits. Her clothes didn't fit. Her normally high-pitched voice was pitched even higher. Her hands fidgeted. She had a pronounced facial tic. She was wearing her dead grandfather's glasses, the wrong prescription and much too big. Her own had broken months ago and she couldn't afford new ones.

McGuire looked around. Most of the furniture had been repossessed. The mortgage was being foreclosed. The utilities were threatening to shut off service.

The inspector asked Hope to come with him. At his Westminster Street office, Dr. Clifford H. Griffin signed the necessary papers temporarily committing her to City Hospital.

An examination disclosed heart disease, malnutrition, and pyorrhea, a gum disease caused by poor dental hygiene.

Psychological tests revealed above-average intelligence, an exceptional memory, and an enviable knowledge of current events.

Over the next six weeks, Hope cried often. "On admission," a doctor wrote, "she was oriented, relevant, coherent, but was easily upset by questioning showing emotional instability. She presented no delusions or hallucinations."

The conclusion: "undiagnosed psychosis."

"I want to get a steady salary and make a go of things," she told the doctors.

Griffin promised she'd be home soon.

"One morning," she remembers, "they said to me, 'You're leaving here.'"

She wasn't going home.

She was going to Sixth District Court, where Judge Howard B. Gorham would commit her indefinitely to the State Hospital for Mental Diseases, later called the Institute of Mental Health.

Thus did Hope Kirby Lincoln become a victim of a system that has gone the way of the horse and buggy. She is one of the last living links to a shameful chapter in the history of Rhode Island and much of the nation.

HOPE IS 97 now.

Cataracts and glaucoma have claimed her sight. Dentures replaced her teeth half a century ago. Because of osteoarthritis, she cannot walk or handle a dinner knife. Her hearing is just about gone. She needs help in dressing, bathing, getting in and out of bed. Her only possessions are a radio, three hearing aids, a few dresses and a couple of sweaters.

"Every day we live, we deteriorate," she laughs. "The old machine wears out. And you can't get spare parts, you know."

She's wearing her special dress this Valentine's Day, the blue one with the yellow embroidered edge. She is sitting in a community room at the state-run General Hospital, where long-time IMH residents go when they're old and infirm. Red cardboard hearts and posters of cupids with bows and arrows decorate the walls.

For most of the three dozen women on Hope's ward - those whose minds have been decimated by stroke, accident, Alzheimer's disease, mental illness - this might as well be Mars. Some doze, their limbs curled into the fetal position. Others holler, or babble, or stare bug-eyed at the ceiling.

Not Hope.

"I don't care what they do with me," she says. "I make an awful spectacle when I eat. You see, I was a fussy eater. Now I'm so blind I spill things. I'm getting half dependent to lift and I know I'm a burden. I'm blind and no good."

It is uncommon to find her so gloomy. Usually, she likes to chat about the day's events - events from what she always calls "the outside world." Most mornings, a volunteer recites stories from the newspaper. Evenings, she listens to the television, trying never to miss her two favorite shows, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. Sometimes she attends movies the hospital shows, chuckling if the soundtrack is funny. Every Sunday, she attends Mass.

She likes to reminisce. She fancies herself an armchair historian, and she recalls with great clarity and accuracy the people, places and events of 40, 50, even 75 years ago. Her memory amazes even the professionals.

No relatives survive, and her only relationships now are with volunteers, staff and other people from the outside world. "Out here, they're not enough really in contact to be friendly," she says of her fellow patients. "Sometimes you can talk to them, but usually they're way out on a limb."

Hope isn't. She wasn't in 1931, either.

"I wasn't crazy," she explains, still embarrassed and ashamed at what befell her. "I had a nervous breakdown. But that's the way they did things in the old days, see?"

ope Lincoln, who spent decades in an institution.

FOR HOPE, the route to the IMH really began the morning of Dec. 6, 1928.

She went to wake her 75-year-old father and found him dead, a victim of the anemia that had dogged him for years. In the obituary that ran in the Providence Journal, where he had worked, Charles E. Lincoln would be hailed as the dean of Rhode Island newspapermen.

"He'd been very sick for a long time," Hope remembers. "I went in one morning, after making a cup of coffee, you know. I put my hand on him and he was cold . . . ice cold."

Since graduating from Hope Street High School, Hope had tutored schoolchildren in French and German. She'd taught ballroom dancing, but she'd never had a full-time job, never left home. Once she had dreamed of college, but family sickness destroyed that dream. Hope's maternal grandparents lived with the Lincolns, and when their health went, the burden of care fell to Hope.

It was Daddy, as she calls him to this day, who relieved some of the drudgery. It was his magazine that she helped lay out, his errands that she ran, his research she was assigned, his articles she proofread, his family about which she bragged.

In turn, Daddy idolized his only daughter, showering her with gifts, welcoming her into his circle of older writers and professors. But his attention and that of his wife, Ada M. Lincoln, Hope's mother, went beyond idolization - far beyond, to smothering. Even as she approached middle age, Hope was required to be home early, dress "ladylike," associate only with people who measured up to her family's impossible standards.

When, in 1925, they demanded she break off her engagement to the only man she'd ever been seriously involved with, she did.

"I loved him, and told him I would marry him if things were all right," she later confided to an IMH doctor. "That is, if Mother were willing. But Mother did not approve, nor Grandma, nor Daddy. My grandmother would cry when he called. Father said he would trounce him. So I broke off. What was the use of getting everybody upset? He is married now and doing well."

HOPE'S FATHER was the youngest son of a family that had made a fortune manufacturing soap and paper boxes.

They were prominent in Providence society, the Lincolns, a family of churchgoing Episcopalians and practicing Masons. The patriarch was a direct descendant of one Samuel Lincoln, who arrived in America with his young bride in 1637, 17 years after the Mayflower; another of Samuel's descendants was Abraham Lincoln; and two were governors. The matriarch of the Providence Lincolns was related to Calvin Coolidge.

Charles was a bit of a rebel. Shunning the family businesses, he skipped college and went to work as a night telegraph operator. That led to another profession, newspapering, a line of work some relatives considered unworthy of a Lincoln.

Through a succession of papers, including the Morning Star, Evening Press and Providence Journal, Charles covered it all - shipwrecks, murders, elections. In the last years of his life he was associate editor of The Providence Magazine, monthly publication of the Chamber of Commerce.

CHARLES married a Massachusetts woman, Julia Ross, in 1875. The next summer, the summer America celebrated its centennial, twin boys were born. A third son followed five years later.

Julia was the first to die. Tuberculosis claimed her in July, 1885. Within nine months, diptheria had taken two of the boys as well.

Meanwhile, Charles had met Ada M. McLaughlin, 24, an overbearing, opinionated woman with blue eyes, golden hair, and a flair for fancy clothes. Ada had been born in Montreal, where her father, a blacksmith from Scotland, worked on bridges. They married on July 11, 1886.

The Lincolns were appalled. Ada was a foreigner, but that wasn't the full extent of it. They thought she had airs. Had tastes that exceeded Charles' budget. Worst of all, she was a Roman Catholic.

HOPE WAS their only child.

She was delivered, at the East Side home they rented, by Dr. Gustav Radeke - husband of Eliza G. Metcalf, oldest child of a family that held stock in the Providence Journal. It was a forceps delivery, otherwise uneventful.

Hope was a shy child, polite to a fault, given to occasional tantrums and pouting. Having few friends, she tended to spend her hours alone, reading, playing the piano, fussing with her dolls, Victoria, Phyllis and Chloe. As a treat, her parents would take her on picnics, or to the theater, or to the moving pictures, or on the train to Newport for the day.

Charles kept his second family in grand style. He managed to retain a cook and a maid. He kept his wife and daughter dressed in the best fashions of the day, filled their home with fine furniture and art, bought a piano, a Victrola and a large record collection. He sent Hope to Miss Bronson's School, an exclusive academy on the East Side, for all but the last of her school years.

Young Hope had bouts of whooping cough and measles. At 5, she fell down a flight of stairs - an accident that partially paralyzed her left side, leaving her with a permanent trace of limp and a "weak hand." The deformity kept her out of athletics, but did not affect her academic performance. Hope was a gifted student. After completing grammar and middle school grades at Miss Bronson's, she transferred to Hope Street High, where she graduated with the Class of 1909 - after completing two years in one.

"She has proved to be a very good student," the yearbook says, "and we have very much enjoyed having her as a member of the class. She will either continue her studies at college next year or spend the winter abroad.

"We wish her all success and pleasure, whichever she chooses."

ONLY A HANDFUL of IMH buildings are used any more.

Those yet to meet the wrecker's ball dot the Howard campus like brick ghosts from a past that refuses to rest. Inside, paint peels, rainwater drips, pigeons mess the floors. On stormy days, the wind whispers and moans through broken windows. Rusted wheelchairs and junk stretchers are piled in heaps.

During its heyday, the State Hospital for Mental Diseases had almost 3,500 patients. Another 2,500 or so over-filled an infirmary, reformatory, almshouse, prison. Howard was a dumping ground for paupers, prostitutes, immigrants, the mentally ill, "undesirables" and "nuisances" of all stripes - all but the retarded, who were sent even further away, to the Ladd School in Exeter.

Howard was its own village. Behind the infamous Green Fence were a post office, train station, dairy, cannery, chapel, cemeteries, smithy, acres of fields and orchards, dozens of dorms, barns and silos.

Inside, Howard was an atrocity.

As with most institutions of the era, staffing was inadequate, wards overcrowded. Few doctors were licensed to practice medicine in Rhode Island. Food was poor. There was no privacy, no dignity. Urine soaked into the wood floors, and no amount of soap or scrubbing could eliminate the stench. It lingers to this day.

That was the passive abuse. The more active variety took the form of lobotomies, isolation cells for months or years at a stretch, shock treatments using insulin to send patients into supposedly beneficial convulsions. There was also the notorious hydrotherapy, which consisted of strapping patients into bathtubs and burying them to their necks in ice until body temperatures dropped enough to send them into hypothermal shock.

The Institute of Mental Health, years ago.
 AT 2:30 P.M. on Tuesday, May 26, 1931, Hope stepped out of the car that had brought her from Providence and was escorted into A Building.

She was taken to an admittance ward, where she was given a physical examination and assigned number 16701. An attendant wrote it in large script on a ribbon, which was pinned to her uniform when she posed for her official photograph.

One of her first sights was a female patient wearing only a cap and one shoe, dancing on a table.

"What a fright I got there," she remembers. "They took us into the room. Took our clothes off and gave us a nasty old johnny and a pair of shoes. They took my class ring and my watch. It was from my dear Daddy, his last Christmas gift. I was heartbroken about my watch. I said, 'Please don't. . .' "

She never saw watch or ring again.

SO MUCH happened in that first, most critical year, from May 1931 to June 1932:

* Hope's mother, doddering and penniless, was sent to Dexter Asylum, a poorhouse located where Brown University's Aldritch-Dexter fields are now.

* Their house was sold at public auction to a speculator for $2,060.37.

* What little furniture that was left was trucked to Milkman & Frost, auctioneers. Hope got "two pairs of galoshes."

* Hope was given a part-time job at a community hospital, an experiment that might have led to her being able to leave Howard.

The experiment failed. "She apparently has more difficulty seeing than was realized," the record states. "She is unable to give patients their medicine; she has spilled it several times. . . The hospital is unable to keep her under these conditions." Hope was still wearing her dead grandfather's glasses.

* Her mother died. Hope attended the funeral. "She did not wish to show too much reaction for fear it would be reported to the doctor here."

* Several of Hope's relatives were contacted with the idea they might take her in.

"The relatives refused to be interested in Hope," the record discloses. "They did not like her mother and did not approve of Mr. Lincoln's second marriage. They do not, therefore, feel at all kindly disposed toward Hope." One cousin did donate $8 so she could have false teeth.


In the outside world, Hope's peers made their ways through life.

At Howard, life was simple, structured, stagnant. Like a record no one knew how to change, it droned on and on with numbing sameness.

Early on, the monotony wrapped Hope in its cocoon. The notion that authority was never to be challenged had been drilled into her as a child, and now, in this most stringently regulated place, it was easier to submit than fight. No good ever came to the fighters, Hope soon discovered. One need look no further than the hydrotherapy chambers for proof of that.

In her annual reports, Hope is described as making a "satisfactory hospital adjustment," a euphemism that meant she wasn't a trouble-maker, wasn't likely to leave.

Hope's defense - the reason she survived, say the professionals - was her unflinching refusal to accept that she was "one of them." One of the "poor things," as she still calls them, who were truly insane.

Hope always considered herself superior, possessing "a slightly grandiose attitude," in the words of one doctor. She always bragged about Dear Daddy. Like him, she made no secret of being related to two presidents.

And so what if no one believed any of it? She knew.

IRONICALLY, what Hope failed at outside, she excelled in at Howard.

She was an exemplary worker, efficient and fastidious in everything she did. She followed directions. Accepted responsibility. Was punctual. Perhaps her only shortcoming was that she considered certain chores beneath her. "I attended a ladies boarding school," she indignantly lectured a social worker in 1931, "and scrubbing floors wasn't on the curriculum."

Her first job was in the laundry, where she folded towels and sheets. After six years, she graduated to the sewing room. Another couple of years, and she had advanced to a position on the housekeeping staff. In 1945, when the war effort had depleted the institution staff, Hope was made an attendant and placed on the "small payroll," which paid a couple of dollars for a six-day week. Hope used the money for clothes, and began to build her burial account.

After 1931, virtually no mention is made in the records of the mental disease supposedly afflicting her.

EVEN during the battery of tests performed during the acclimation period in 1931, there was a clear ambiguity about Hope K. Lincoln. During one particularly long conference, six doctors almost came to blows trying to agree on a diagnosis. (They finally settled on "psychopathic personality.")

"She is emotionally unstable."

"She strikes me a little bit as schizophrenic. I have no substantial reason for that, but she just strikes me that way."

"At the present time, one could not say she is psychotic."

"Her emotional reactions (are) chiefly those resulting from embarrassment."

"I think she is in perfect contact."

"It is a situational thing, it appears to me, being left at a rather advanced age to take care of herself, having failed to emancipate earlier in life, and not having anything in the way of assets along economic lines."

"I don't believe she will get along outside of an institution. She is a little too old to start over again."

In 1955, Hope was asked how she had wound up in the IMH.

"She obviously covers the reason of her hospitalization," the doctor wrote, "and rationalizes this way: 'After my mother was ill for a long time and my father died in 1928, there was no money left. And if there is no money left, you have to go to the hospital.' "

"PEOPLE naturally turned to these institutions as a place to put 'a problem,' " says Danna Mauch, state mental health director.

"There were many people committed because of physical infirmity, old age, poverty, because of some troublesome behavior that some family didn't want to deal with.

"Once there, it was very difficult to leave. There was not the kind of due process in place that exists now for periodic reviews, for petitions before the court to reviw commitment orders, for automatic review of commitment orders at certain intervals.

"I think that Hope Lincoln stands as symbol for all of us who are committed to this business of creating the community mental health version of an open society, a place where people have access to resources, share those resources and are allowed to. . . have some determination about their lives.

"Hope is the kind of person to whom we should dedicate and redouble our efforts."

BY THE TIME FDR was president, Hope's "adjustment" was complete.

She had made a few friends inside the institution. They were mostly older, infirm women whom she befriended and cared for - much as she had her mother and grandparents. Evenings, they would play whist or read. The institution's censors allowed Hope a correspondence with a Hope High classmate, Dorothy Warner Dennis, who had wound up a distinguished professor of French at Wellesley College.

That correspondence and an occasional letter to her half-brother, Frank - who had left home when Hope was a toddler - were virtually the extent of her contact with the outside world. Early on, a neighbor or two had visited, but those visits were history by the mid-1930s.

No one from Daddy's family apparently ever visited, although Frank sent chocolates one Christmas.

"The Lincolns stayed by themselves a lot," Hope recalls, "because I was in the bughouse. That's what they called it, 'the bughouse.' I didn't care. They didn't bother with me and I lived without them. So that's that."

IF THERE was a blessing, it was that Hope wasn't subjected to any of the worst treatments, the lobotomies and insulin therapies. The records do not reflect what, if any, abuse she suffered from staff. But incident reports document numerous occasions when she was stabbed, slapped, kicked, shoved, had her glasses broken by fellow patients.

The most serious incident occurred on Sept. 4, 1961, when - at the age of almost 72 - she was kicked by a patient, fell and broke her hip. An operation was required, followed by nearly a year of painful rehabilitation.

Her work career was over.

In social welfare, meanwhile, the Dark Ages were coming to a close.

A new class of wonder drugs had appeared on the market in the 1950s. By the early '60s, most psychiatric patients were getting them, some involuntarily. Although the side effects were sometimes disastrous, the psychotropics were remarkably successful in controlling mental illness. "Hopeless cases" were suddenly quiet and orderly citizens, able to blend into the community on discharge.

From its peak in 1954, the population of the IMH had been steadily declining as admissions were curtailed, discharges accelerated. Group homes and other community programs were on the horizon. A succession of scandals galvanized public opinion in favor of the new policy, deinstitutionalization.

In 1965, when she was 76 and in failing health, Hope was transferred across Howard Avenue to General Hospital.

In the late '60s, as deinstitutionalization picked up steam, she was offered the chance to move to a private nursing home.

She declined. Thirty-five years had their price.

"I didn't want to go out in public," she recalls. "So many strangers. I thought I wouldn't get along so well. I'm one that likes to stay put. I don't like a lot of changing. Once you'd been in a place like this, I figured no one wanted you. There's a stigma you can't get over."

HOPE WAS sick for several weeks after Daddy's death.

By the summer of 1929, she was well enough to work. There really was no choice.

The wolves were at the door.

During the last years of his life, when his weekly salary was only $64, Charles had lavished on his family the finer things. Ada had always demanded them, and Charles had always agreed she and Hope were entitled to them - even if it meant he had to borrow, and borrow heavily.

The first debt was incurred in 1920, when Charles took out mortgages totalling $5,700 to buy an elegant three-story house at 166 Prospect Street. Within four years, he had to remortgage; four years after that, he remortgaged again. Charles even borrowed against his $3,000 life insurance policy to pay off debts. When he died, Hope and Ada got $731, sufficient only to bury him.

Hope resumed tutoring and dance lessons. Children loved her, affectionately called her Grandma Tippytoes, but it brought in only a few dollars a week, barely enough for food. Encouraged by a neighbor, Eliza Radeke - wealthy widow of the doctor who had delivered her - she tried her hand at real estate. It went nowhere.

"Because she was inexperienced," her mother lamented, "everyone took advantage of her."

In ordinary times, she might have squeaked by. But these were not ordinary times. Apples were being hawked on street corners and lines formed at dawn to soup kitchens. Like yesterday's sand castles, The Roaring '20s had been swept away by a wave of financial ruin known as the Great Depression.

AS BAD AS 1929 was, it was a milk run compared to 1930.

Businesses panicked. Debts that once would have been let slide were being vigorously collected. Creditors were howling for their due.

That fall, the Lincolns were summoned to civil court regarding outstanding balances at Filene's, the Outlet Co., Caesar Misch (a clothing store that advertised "Cheerful Credit to All"), Peirce and Son ("Distinctive Styles in Shoes and Hosiery").

In September, Hope's mother - who was showing the first signs of senility - broke her hip. Her hospital stay ended with $1,500 in new debts. One of the first things she did when she got home, in February, 1931, was order a new bedroom set. That check, like so many others, bounced.

Desperate, Hope approached Daddy's relatives. They wanted nothing to do with her and her "begging." A church and a welfare agency helped out with food and second-hand clothes, and Mrs. Radeke was more than generous - she wrote several checks to Hope, for a total of several hundred dollars.

It was too late.

On April 14 came Inspector McGuire's knock.

AS SHE SAT before Judge Howard B. Gorham in his Sixth District Courtroom - the same room in the old Benefit Street Statehouse where Rhode Island patriots declared their independence from the crown - Hope was afraid she might faint. Her hands shook and her mouth was dry.

Hope sat alone. She did not have a lawyer - had not been told she was entitled to one, could not have afforded one in any case.

Judge Gorham leaned across his bench and asked the City Hospital doctor to come forward.

It was May 25, 1931.

Hope remembers: "They said, 'We think that you're not able to care of yourself.' They said I was bankrupt. They said that I was out of funds, and that Mama was sick, and the mortgage wasn't paid up, and they'd foreclosed it.

"I cried. I said, 'Well, I'm doing the best I can, sir.' I was so surprised. They said, 'You're going. . . You're going to Howard.' "

Gorham wrote: "Adjudged insane." Later, a clerk would stamp COMMITTED in blue ink next to her name in the docket book.

THE POTTER'S FIELD, with its numbered but nameless concrete headstones, is no longer used, and Hope will have to leave Howard when she dies. After a Mass of Christian Burial, she will be laid to rest in plot 24, off Forest Avenue in Swan Point Cemetery. Daddy, who made those arrangements for his little girl almost a century ago, is buried there, between his two wives.

Until that day, Hope will spend her waking hours in the community room, dozing off from time to time. Mornings, a volunteer will read the headlines and a few of the stories from "Daddy's Paper." Janitors will come by, mopping floors, scenting the air with the sickly sweet smell of industrial-strength disinfectant. The demented patients will yell and scream. As she has for decades, Hope will continue to worry that she is fat. During Lent, she will fast. On Fridays, she will eat only fish.

She is philosophical.

"I think from the day you're born until the day you die," she explains without bitterness, " that your life is planned for you. It's your fate. It's your destiny. No matter what you do, you can't change it.

"Once you get to a place like this, the outside world is closed forever."

-- 30 --

'Romance, I fear, is gone forever,' Hope wrote of a womanhood smothered by doting parents

"I was born Oct. 17, 1889. I was a sickly child, not being able to walk until I was a year and a half old.

"My parents lived with my maternal grandparents, both of whom idolized me. Expensive dolls, housekeeping toys, and dainty clothes were showered upon me. I had a large playroom where, after school hours, I could read with my large family of dolls.

"Only one or two playmates were permitted me. Such a thing as playing out on the street or romping about in outdoor games was out of the question. There were no children in our immediate neighborhood with whom I was permitted to play.

"As I grew older, studies, music lessons and dancing school took the place of my dolls. Grandma was blind and I used to spend hours reading to her some of the children's books, like Alice in Wonderland, Grimms' Fairy Tales or any of the Mother Goose jingles. . . .

"Parties were a rare treat. Never shall I forget the bitter disappointment of being kept from a Halloween party which one of my classmates was having at her home in Pawtucket. It was in the evening and Grandma persuaded Mother that it was too far.

"The symphony concerts, club, operas, lectures and good plays were permitted as a matter of course. The girls in school thought I was stuck up. I was eagerly hoping to be included in their good times, but too shy to venture. The sex relations were never explained to me. . . .

"After school life was over I went about with my parents to evening parties. A group of my friends formed a bridge club. We met weekly at the different home. They did not care very much for boys. I had a desire for boy friends, but feared displeasing my parents. . . .

"I got discouraged and put romance out of my life. I know one or two charming bachelors with whom I am on friendly terms in a business way. Romance, I fear, is gone forever. . . .

"You claim that I am 10 years old mentally. I assure that I can 'be my age,' as the slang expression has it. Deep in my heart is the knowledge that I can make good.

"Will you give me a chance?"

- HOPE K. LINCOLN, May 27, 1931. Written at the request of staff, and entered as part of her official record at the State Hospital for Mental Diseases.

Reporter's Notebook.

I met Hope Lincoln early in 1986 during a tour of the state General Hospital.

Within minutes, we were discussing some of the major stories in the news. Hope was articulate, opinionated, gracious, intelligent. She laughed easily.

When I was told she was 96 - had been institutionalized for 55 of those years - I was floored.

As state mental health director Danna Mauch later said: "Surviving that experience is confirmation of . . . the power of the human spirit."

I wasn't able to get back to Hope until December. We talked for an hour or so, mostly about events in her life. Her recall of detail is staggering. Virtually everything she remembers - names, dates, what the weather was like certain days - is corroborated in the records I was able to find.

In all, I spent three months researching Hope's story. Some of that time was in libraries and dusty records vaults, but hours were spent with Hope. I quickly liked her and admired the courage that has kept her so intact so long.

Hope is not insane.

Even at the height of the worst crisis of her life, she was not insane.

Depressed, bankrupt, scared.

But not insane.

Today, it's doubtful she would have spent even a day in an institution.

Most likely, a community mental health center would have helped her through her depression - medication that didn't exist in 1931 probably would have been prescribed, along with counseling - and a program would have assisted her with income and a place to live. Once the crisis had moderated, she probably would have qualified for job training.

Among those assisting in research: The Rhode Island Historical Society; the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals; the Department of Health; the state Supreme Court Judicial Records Center; Recorder of Deeds, City of Providence; Providence Journal-Bulletin Library; Providence Public Library; the Watertown and Hingham (Mass.) public libraries.


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