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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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You will appreciate the relation of such educational institutions to the police system of a State, when you call to mind how emphatically the want of intelligence in the class we have to deal with, leads to the commission of crimes often of a serious character. The annals of crime furnish abundant and forcible illustrations upon this point.


You must also feel, if convinced at all of the worthiness of our plan for the education of idiots, how grossly disproportionate are our present means, compared with those of other State institutions of a kindred character.


I should add a consideration, drawn from my own experience, that it is a mistaken notion that such children as we propose to educate, are all unconscious of their deficiencies, or unsolicitous entirely with regard to their position as compared to their equals in age. Many of them feel their inferiority, and have desires for improvement and elevation in the scale of being, but the desire, from the very nature of their infirmity, is not accompanied by the energy necessary for its fulfillment. Many of them experience delight in the acquisition of knowledge, for they can appreciate, to some extent, the good results of such increased knowledge upon themselves.


What, then, shall be done for our asylum? From what I already know of your feelings and opinions, I am assured that you would not consent to its abandonment; that you would not consent that our present pupils should be deprived of the means of continuing their education. The question can only be, in your minds, ought the institution to be continued in its present form, or should it receive enlarged capacity and increased means of doing good?


For the former, a continuation of the present annual appropriation ($7,500) will amply suffice for the maintenance and instruction of the present number of State pupils (30), and give us, also, an opportunity of taking care of ten pay pupils, some of whom, as now, can be received for a very moderate compensation, when the pecuniary condition of their parents require a reduction of the ordinary charges.


On the other hand, to increase our number of pupils we shall have to seek new quarters, for we now have all the present building will accommodate. We cannot purchase the building we occupy, and the policy of improving it to the necessary extent (even with the present very low rent), with any lease we could obtain, is a very questionable one. New buildings would therefore be necessary. These, with the land and additional furniture requisite, would cost some $20,000, giving us accommodations for 120 pupils. With such buildings, a very moderate increase in the annual appropriation would provide for more than double the present number of State pupils, besides giving room for a large class of pay pupils, whose friends would willingly pay remunerating prices for the care and instruction they would receive. Moreover, with the widening of this channel of public benevolence, private charity would very naturally flow into it. Human sympathies can in no higher degree be enlisted, than in witnessing even what one may now witness within our walls.


The buildings proposed would meet the wants, which we now feel constantly, even in what would be regarded, from a casual inspection, as our present very comfortable building. We need apartments arranged with reference to the separation of the sexes; better classification of our children; greater conveniences for bathing and washing; better modes of ventilation and warming, and improvements that will suggest themselves to your minds. The very nature of the class for whom such asylum is designed would convince of the almost absolute necessity of having a building constructed from the foundation-stone, with reference to their peculiar wants.


That such increased accommodations are not uncalled for, I may mention, that we have already refused more applications than we have granted; I may mention that the number of idiots in the State equals that of the insane, and equals if it does not exceed that of the deaf and dumb, and the blind together. I make this assertion after a careful examination of the returns upon the subject, made by the assessors of sundry towns and wards in the State, to the Secretary of State, in pursuance of a Law of 1852.


Neither could a recommendation, on your part, of such enlargement, be regarded as a premature one; nor legislation growing out of it a hasty measure. Seven years ago, a bill making an appropriation of $25,000 for buildings alone, for this very purpose, passed both branches of the N.Y. Legislature. Dr. Backus, the originator and able advocate of that bill, presented such an array of incontrovertible facts gathered from experience in Europe upon the subject, such a collection of opinions from gentlemen in this country (who from their peculiar experience were best qualified to form correct opinions), as to secure its passage. That bill was finally defeated by a small majority in the Assembly, on a motion to reconsider, solely on the ground, that, at that time, with public sentiment entirely unenlightened upon the subject, so large a sum was inexpedient. No such objection can now exist. The favorable impression made upon the minds of the members of the last Legislature and a multitude of others, who have visited our asylum, has been carried to all portions of the State. Its reflex influence has been seen in the number of applicants who now seek to avail themselves of its advantages.

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