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New York State Asylum For Idiots, Second Annual Report Of The Trustees

Creator: n/a
Date: February 10, 1853
Source: Steve Taylor Collection

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All the pupils to be supported by the State, will be, from the pecuniary condition of their friends, proper subjects for public beneficence, and of those from whom compensation for board and tuition is received, many will be charged with small sums, adapted to the ability of their parents. Such is the plan of the asylum, which, from its nature, must be beyond the scope of individual enterprise. In this respect it differs from ordinary schools and is like the institutions for the deaf mutes and the blind.


It should be understood therefore, distinctly, that the institution is not designed for the wealthy, unless in a few cases where ample, equivalent compensation is required for the benefit of the establishment; but that it is designed for the poor and needy, who are also idiotic, and who can not be redeemed from that sad condition without the aid of the government. This is the simple and single proposition. The character of the State of New-York for its noble charities continued for many years under all circumstances, in providing for similar, but not more severe cases of affliction, such as the blind, the deaf and dumb and the insane, and for its munificence in furnishing education to all its children, who have capacity to acquire it, shows that the people of the State have sanctioned and approved the enlightened policy of their legislatures, and are ready to sustain other legislatures in judicious and economical appropriations to continue and perpetuate the same policy; and the great interest taken by our fellow citizens in this asylum for idiots, evinces their appreciation of its peculiar blessings.


Assuming then, that this enterprise is not to be abandoned, the next inquiry should be, to what extent shall provisions be made for its continuance? Various causes conspire to render a change of the present location of the asylum indispensable. It is found to be too much exposed to a great thoroughfare constantly crowded. Two railroads are proposed, and one in the course of construction, passing in the immediate vicinity of the present building and exposing the helpless and imbecile children to constant danger, however great may be the watchfulness exercised. The title of the property is such that it can not be purchased, and any additions must be made to the house at the risk of losing them. Land in that vicinity is much higher than in other places equally eligible. Although the building has so far answered a good purpose, its arrangements are not adapted to such an institution. A separation of the sexes cannot be effected, entirely, nor can closets and baths be placed conveniently.


In any event, we should recommend the procuring another location. It is very improbable that any suitable house can he hired, and if it be now determined that the institution shall he continued, its best interests will be promoted and true economy observed, by the erection of a plain building adapted in all respects to the purpose.


The size of the building and its consequent expense, will depend upon the number of pupils to be received. This number must have reference to the probable extent of the demand for such provision, and to the capacity of one institution to meet it.


There are many reasons for doubting the accuracy of any census or other official returns of this class of persons. Their parents are unwilling to acknowledge to themselves that their children are idiotic, and are still more unwilling to proclaim the fact. Their condition, unlike that of the blind or the deaf mute, is often not likely to be known to public officers. The returns of the number in this State, directed by the act of the last session, are very imperfect. More than one-half the towns have made no returns; there are none from the city of New York, and those from other cities are known to be defective. In those received at the office of the Secretary of State at the date of this report, there are returned 892 idiots, of whom 174 are under 14 years of age, and 718 above that age. If an equal number be added for the deficient towns, the whole number would be 1800. That a large addition must be made to this total, on account of the city of New York, and other cities, is evident. In 1825 the State census showed 1421; in 1835, 1684; in 1845, l610; and the U. S. census of 1850, 1739. Since 1825 our population has doubled, and there is every reason to suppose the number of this class has kept its relative proportion to the whole.


From the above returns, as well as those made in England, where there is one idiot to every 1,033 inhabitants, and from other sources of information, we are of opinion that there is in this State one idiot to every 1,070 inhabitants, and that the present number of that class is about 2,800; of these we are of opinion one-fourth are under the age of 14 years, which would give 700 of that description.


This number is far too large for one school. In our report of last year, we expressed the opinion that more than 150 pupils can not be properly attended to by one superintendent. We are disposed now even to reduce that number. From the peculiarity of each case, the pupils can not be arranged in classes embracing large numbers; and when in classes, the training and education of each must be guided by an experienced and steady hand; assistants require constant oversight, and too many of them would divert the attention of the superintendent from his appropriate duties.

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