Wednesday, January 28, 2009

promenading with lunatics

Yesterday, while emailing myself links to jobs so that I could apply for them later (or not, as it for the most part turned out,) I came across the work of Nellie Bly via a link in a New York Times book review. (Perhaps they're not so behind the, uh, times anymore?) This intrepid young journalist reported on her travels to Mexico, her 72-day trip around the world, and, most famously, her experiences inside a New York insane asylum after faking her way in. In the 1880s. At about age 24. In other words, the girl pretty much ruled.

I read all 120 pages of Ten Days in a Mad-House yesterday (mostly because it was online and I didn't realize how long it was), and I recommend it highly for those interested in how far we've come in the treatment of the mentally ill, how brutal people can be to each other and still often are, and seeing how horrified you can make yourself before redirecting your browser to pictures of fluffy bunnies. The Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island) Insane Asylum housed around 1,600 women, many whose only demonstration of insanity was an inability to speak English or not enough money to afford hospital care. The lack of proper food, clothing, physical activity, and mental stimulation plus evil, evil nurses would be enough to drive any sane person to madness, though. For those who are employed and/or have better things to do than read a 120-page book right now, I'll post my favorite illustrations that go along with the story.

Stay tuned for Nellie's experience at the 1880's version of a temp agency! On which front, I can report firsthand, things haven't really changed that much.