What am I working on? Dirk Jans Bode

I don’t normally focus on my family for blog postings but this time I am making an exception.  The reason for the exception is that I have been working hard on a major paper on my latest obsession, Dirk Jans Bode, which has delayed my already irregular blog posting.

jacksonvilleI am totally immersed with the story of my great grand uncle, Dirk Jans Bode, b. 1848, d. 1905 who I had never heard about.  Our family is not one of story tellers, so I do not suspect a sinister reason for this omission.  So far, he sounds pretty ordinary except… he died in Bartonsville (Illinois) Asylum for the Insane [1] after living in three different “insane asylums” for over half his life, all in Illinois:

  1. Central Hospital for the Insane (Jacksonville, ~1872-1878), (photo top)
  2. Northern Hospital for the Insane (Elgin, 1878-1902) (artist’s conception, middle) and
  3. Bartonsville Hospital for the Insane (Bartonsville, near Peoria, 1902-1905).  (photo in third position)

elginFor the past couple of weeks, I have been reading and learning about the changes in residential care for mentally ill individuals in the latter part of the 19th century. This is not for the faint of heart as the standard of care in this period was almost primal.

I also cannot use what I write about Dirk for my BCG portfolio due to previous a publication about his brother so I am thinking about publication in some other likely spot.  Suggestions are welcomed.

PeoriaI love the research of social history and this research has led me to reading:

  • annual reports from the early parts of this century of the three asylums.  These are mostly about operations, projects, pleas to the legislature etc. but are very revealing of priorities and the state of the science–or not.
  • anniversary books published at 65 years and 125 years. These tend to be in the “aren’t we wonderful” category which contrasts with the annual reports and their pleas for more money because they are so bad off, but they give a history of the facility, illustrate the pattern of the day and focus on the state of care at the time.
  • a book about David Hyrum Smith [2], son of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, [3] who resided in the Elgin asylum when Dirk was there. His story has some interesting information about process of committment and his affliction of “chronic mania,” the shared “diagnosis” with Dirk and most other patients.
  • a book by Elizabeth Packard, [4] who was admitted to Jacksonville Asylum by her husband in 1860 because she wasn’t religious enough. She took her case to court to be released after two years of trying to prove she was not insane and she finally prevailed. This all occurred prior to Dirk’s entry into the institution.
  • a medical casebook for one + year of the “Dirk years” at Elgin that is off limits until I can get a court order for access–er…IF, I can get a court order!
  • and the 1880 United States special enumeration of the “Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes”. (and you thought they only did the agricultural census!). [5]

Fascinating stuff!

Here are some interesting bits of information that I have found so far:

  • prior to the Civil War, residential facilities that did exist were mostly custodial in nature.  In other words, one was “kept” but no one attempted a “cure”.  This continued until 1870 or so.
  • Elizabeth Packard got out of the asylum after two years and went on to lobby the legislature to change the law so the husbands didn’t, by right, have the ability to incarcerate their wives without a court proceeding.  Although she never divorced her husband, she did not live with him again. (editorial comment: duh!)
  • Between 1870 and 1890, they believed that cure could only happen in the first year or less and after that you were incurable.  Since they wanted their numbers of cures to be high, they would only let in those who had only recently had an “attack” of insanity. Restraints were common and you do not want to know what that meant!
  • After about 1890 they started making up cures and testing them out on the patients. (Freud didn’t start developing his theories until the 1890’s in Europe. [6])
  • Doctors gave the patients malaria to build body heat which was thought to “cure” insanity. (1932)
  • Doctors induced a chemical “sleep” for a week or more as a cure (1932)

But, I am also interested in why my ancestors determined Dirk needed to be placed into the asylum. I am not yet complete with my investigation, but it appears to me that he was either violent or suicidal and the family could not handle him.

All of these issues will be explored further in the paper and perhaps here in this blog as well–all to get a better idea of who Dirk Jans Bode was and perhaps to aid you in finding sources you may not have thought of.

Do you have someone enumerated on the DDD schedule?  The schedule enumerated those confined to institutions including poor houses, prisons as well as “insane asylums.” If you do, they have a story to tell.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  worked on Dirk’s story, worked on a blog posting about a migration strategy of our ancestors, completed my ProGen assignment and produced the next SGS Bulletin in record time!  Woo hoo!  I also attended an Olympia Genealogical Society seminar with Christine Rose, the writer of one of my favorite books on Courthouse research.  Check it out at http://www.christine4rose.com/Rosebooks.html.  Still fresh today.

[1] I will be using the name of the facility at the point of time referenced by the narrative.  This means that “insane asylum” is the generic term for the residential facilities housing the mentally handicapped for the purposes of this posting.  “Insane,” “maniac” and “idiotic” are also terms of the period.  It is possible, even likely, that the individuals committed to asylums in the late 1800’s were not psychologically handicapped at all, but rather could have had a  birth defect or were epileptic, autistic, deaf, hyper-active, etc.  The common diagnosis in 1880 for most patients was “chronic mania” and it covered all but depression and schizophrenia. Photos are from Wikipedia using the common use license.

[2] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hyrum_Smith : accessed 19 April 2014).

[3] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr. : accessed 19 April 2014).

[4] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Packard : accessed 19 April 2014).

[5] Interestingly, the DDD is difficult to find.  If you do a simple search for Dirk Bode, b. 1848 you will only retrieve the 1880 US population schedule.  Go back to home, click on advanced, scroll down to the map, click on Illinois, then find the DDD schedule, as it is called…at least that is how I could get to it.

[6] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freud : accessed 20 April 2014).


2 comments on “What am I working on? Dirk Jans Bode

  1. Karen says:

    Fascinating… I also researched someone who was committed to an institution in Illinois. I found interesting detail within the probate court records (guardianship) in the county of residence with petitions, etc. from family members regarding the reasons for commitment. You never know til you look….

    • jkmorelli says:

      This is an interesting topic; I am glad you think so also. In the early 1980’s I accessed his full file but did not copy everything. In 2010 I went back and I was denied access, even of his guardianship papers and even tho’ I knew the “back story.” Bad timing on my part. We’ll wee if my request to the two counties is successful (Stephenson for the commitment and Kane for the access to medical records.) Thanks for you comments.

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