Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Descendents of Lydia Spaulding: A Legacy of Mental Health Activism

by Kate Corbett Pollack

Part Two: Mary, Peter, and Dr. Frederick L. Goddard

Mary, the only surviving daughter of Lydia Spaulding and Ezra Howes, was an independent and ambitious woman, especially for her era. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary under Mary Lyon, graduating in 1846, and went on to be a teacher. In 1849, she was a permanent assistant instructor at the Normal School in Westfield, Massachusetts. Between 1850 and 1860, Mary was teaching in Alabama and Philadelphia. By 1861, Mary Howes was aiding Dorothea Dix, caring for the sick and wounded during the Civil War. Dorothea was Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army.

Dorothea Dix was one of the most important crusaders for the cause of mental health the world has ever known. Her tireless efforts to better the conditions of the mentally ill dominated her life. She persevered through her own poor health (like Lydia Spaulding, she may have had tuberculosis) to work on behalf of those who could not fight for themselves. Dorothea was, like Mary, a dedicated teacher. It was her work as a teacher that led her to a Massachusetts prison in 1841. There she saw how mentally ill people were kept naked and chained in unbearable conditions. They were beaten and whipped. She was told that the insane did not feel hot or cold, which she did not believe. In the 19th century, the prevailing attitude about the mentally ill was that they were “lower than brutes”. Articles from the 1860s about Josiah Spaulding speak of him in this way. People with illnesses like depression, anxiety, and what we now call schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, were in those days thought completely unable to think or feel. There was no reason to treat them humanely. If they acted up, they were abused. The mentally ill were kept in prisons, poor houses, or, like Josiah, caged in a family’s home.

Dorothea’s mother suffered from depression when she was growing up and, like Mary Howes, she gained an understanding of mental illness as a result of seeing a family member who had it. She knew that mentally ill people were not “raging maniacs”, but real human beings who were sick. She lobbied on behalf of the mentally ill for better conditions, and established mental hospitals that were more humane. She believed mental illness could be cured; a belief very few people shared at the time. She also believed that humane treatment was a necessity for them to heal.

Did Dorothea and Mary talk about their similar experiences with the mentally ill? That remains to be seen. Around 1865, Mary returned to Buckland for a spell, and married Peter Goddard, who had been her neighbor growing up. She was 42; he was 29. Peter had been married previously to Climera Mallory, who sadly died young, in 1864. Peter was left with an infant son, Frederick. Mary Howes became his step-mother.

The Goddards moved to Brooklyn in 1880, where Peter was a cotton merchant. Mary and Peter were members of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher was the minister; brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the women’s rights activist. Peter and Mary adopted a child from Prussia, August Goddard. Their son Frederick attended Long Island Medical College, graduating in 1887, and also studied in Germany and England. The Goddard family then moved to Washington State, where Peter worked as a plumber and Dr. Frederick L. Goddard took a position at the Western Washington State Asylum for the Insane as superintendent in 1897. There he enacted serious reforms, improving the buildings and grounds, planting fruit trees, hiring new staff and releasing patients from straitjackets and solitary confinement. He also sent many patients home to their families. (Patients had been committed to the insane asylum for things like menopause, domestic trouble, “disappointed affection”, “brooding over trouble”, “menstrual and uterine disorders”, old age and masturbation).

Around this time, there was no care for the mentally ill in Alaska. They were being sent to Washington. Alaska governor John Brady wanted to start an institution for the mentally ill there and asked Dr. Goddard if he would help. Alaska appealed to doctors because of its gold and mining industries. Dr. Goddard invested in a mining company in Nizina in the St. Elias mountains and lived in the area for two years. He was able to purchase a medical practice and became the doctor for Treadwell Mine, the largest hard rock mine in the state. By this time, Dr. Goddard had married Scotland-born Mary Clunas (in 1890), and had two children: Erwin Mallory (1891) and Dorothy (1899). He moved his family to the town of Juneau, and his parents, Mary and Peter, joined him.

In 1905 Dr. Goddard, along with his partner, Dr. E.J. Brooks, purchased a deed to the Sitka Hot Springs on Baranof Island, and 800 acres of land surrounding it. The doctor and his family would work together to create a therapeutic sanitarium. Peter’s skills as a plumber must have been helpful in developing the center. In 1908, a hotel was established by the Goddard family called the Alaska Sanitarium Company, later known as the Goddard Hotel, or Goddard Hot Springs. Dr. Goddard’s goal was to make the hot springs available as a therapeutic asylum for the mentally ill in Alaska, who were being kept in jails, in the type of terrible conditions Dorothea Dix fought against in the 1850s. Dr. Goddard was not against restraints, (having invented his own, more humane system of restraining a patient using straps instead of chains), and realized that people could be dangerous. He also knew another way of treatment was possible. He hoped that his hot springs would be the official state asylum for the insane in Alaska, replacing the archaic institutions and jails that were the current model in the rest of the country.

Sadly, Dr. Goddard was unable to fight the old-fashioned laws regarding the treatment of the mentally ill in Alaska, and the hot springs became a resort that was enjoyed by people who could afford it; other doctors like Frederick, and vacationers. Treatment of the mentally ill continued to be awful, but Dr. Goddard’s Hot Springs served as an inspiration and reminder that humane treatment of the mentally ill was a possibility. Even in 1950 in Alaska (and many other areas), insane people were still confined to jails and treated like criminals. An editorial in the Daily Sitka Sentinel from 1950 states:

[Dr. Goddard] “believed the theraputic [sic] value of the waters was such that a great number of the mentally disturbed could be relieved. His venture was unsuccessful because of the archaic laws dealing with the insane in the territory. The last three commissioners in Sitka have objected strenuously to the method by which the insane, senile and feeble minded persons have had to be brought before their court and adjudged insane; then committed to jail and transported to the states in the same manner as a common criminal when they are merely mentally ill. It is time for the whole question of the insane to be reviewed.”

Mary Howes and Peter Goddard remained in Sitka until their deaths: Mary in 1910 and Peter in 1912. Dr. Frederick died in 1932 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Reform is extremely slow. Lois Warriner was the first person to treat caged Josiah Spaulding with care and respect, starting in 1837. In turn, her step-daughter, Mary Howes, learned to care about the mentally ill and see them as human beings in a time period when most people did not. Mary in turn, with her husband, raised a child with a keen awareness of the treatment of the mentally ill. She also worked with one of the most important human rights crusaders in history; Dorothea Dix, who helped enact change in legislation. Dr. Frederick Goddard, the next generation, enacted his own reform and change in improving conditions in Washington State for the mentally ill in the late 1800s. The ultimate change Dr. Goddard wanted to see was the therapeutic treatment of mentally ill people in a beautiful, pristine wilderness hot springs - a far cry from the cages and chains that had so long been their lot. He wanted this for all mentally ill people, not just those who could afford it. Even today these conditions do not exist, and patients are still kept in archaic circumstances in many areas of the United States and the world. There are more mentally ill people in United States prisons than there are being cared for in mental hospitals. Part of this is due to an extreme lack of available treatment centers for people who are severally mentally ill. Judges today still send people to prison, knowing that it may be the only way they will receive any psychiatric care. However, they know that this is not desirable. pbs.org reports:

Fewer than 55,000 Americans currently receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, almost 10 times that number -- nearly 500,000 -- mentally ill men and women are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons…because these inmates have difficulty following prison rules, a disproportionate number are placed in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement cells today often house mentally ill people like Josiah Spaulding, and the chains and inhumane treatment that Dr. Frederick Goddard and his family worked to eliminate still exist. Among the populace even in the United States, mental illness is still very often thought of as a moral failing, an embarrassment, a condition tainted by judgment and taboo, and not a medical condition to be treated like any other. Mary Howes turned what was a source of shame and embarrassment for her family in Buckland into an inspiration for better treatment and understanding of the mentally ill, proving that courage and compassion prevail throughout history, and it is what you will be remembered for. Mary was not famous, she worked behind the scenes. Nevertheless, Lydia Spaulding’s daughter has left a lasting legacy. It is up to us to continue it.

Many Thanks to APHGA researcher Pat Whipple for her contribution to this article.


“The Late Mrs. Mary Goddard”, (Mortuary Notice). Daily Alaska Dispatch, May 7, 1910. Juneau, Juneau County, Alaska

“P.M. Goddard Dead”. The Daily Alaska Dispatch, Juneau, Alaska, Tuesday, December 17, 1912, p.2, col. 4.

Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, Tues. Apr. 4, 1950, p. 2, col. 1 and 2.

“Trip to Goddard a Cruise into History”, Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, Friday April 1, 2005 p. 13.

“Sitka Names & Places” Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, Friday, September 30, 2005, page 13.

“Normal Schools” Salem Register, Salem, Mass., October 11, 1849.

One Hundred and First Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York. Transmitted to Legislature January, 1888. The Troy Press Co., Printers. 1888. P. 458.

“Dorothea Lynde Dix: Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army”. http://americancivilwar.com/women/Dorothea_Dix.html

Ezra Howes household, 1850 U.S. census, Buckland, Franklin County, Massachusetts, p. 418 (penned), line 32, dwelling 837, family 867; National Archives microfilm publication M432_317.

Familysearch.org. Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915. Online [https://www.familysearch.org/].

First Biennial Report of the State Board of Audit and Control of Washington for the Two Years Ending September 30, 1898. Olympia, Washington. Gwin Hicks, State Printer. 1898.

Marjorie Clunas household, 1910 U.S. census, Sanitarium (Sitka Hot Springs), Division 1, Sitka County, Alaska Territory, Sheet 15A, line 1; National Archives microfilm publication T624_1748.

New York. Kings County. Brooklyn. 1880 U.S. census. Microfilm publication roll 855. Washington, D.C.: National Archives

PBS Frontline: The New Asylums: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/etc/synopsis.html

Quinquennial Catalogue of Officers and Students of Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass. 1837-1895. Mount Holyoke College, 1895. P. 35-6.


[1] PBS Frontline: The New Asylums: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/etc/synopsis.html

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