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Augusta Mental Health Institute
Walking further along Arsenal Street, you see the Augusta Mental Health Institute complex in the distance. (It is also accessible by way of Stone and Hospital streets - about a third of a mile from Cony Circle.) The older buildings opened in 1840 under the name Maine Insane Hospital, and the expanded complex now houses the Augusta Mental Health Institute and state government offices.

 

Mrs. Catherine Winslow, the first woman employed at the Maine Insane Hospital, was appointed matron when the asylum opened in 1840. The asylum was the product of a collaborative effort between the state and two private citizens, Reuel Williams of Augusta (married to Sarah Cony) and Benjamin Brown of Vassalborough. While early mental health institutions may fall far short of present-day standards for treatment for mental illness, the establishment of such places in the early nineteenth century was based, in part, on reforming care for the mentally ill. Prior to mental health hospitals, the mentally ill were the responsibility of their families, and if their families could not cope, they were either put in poor houses, put out on the streets, or locked away in jail. Mental health reformer Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), a native of Hampden, Maine, worked closely with the second superintendent of the Augusta asylum, Issac Ray (appointed in 1841). The building was state-of-the-art when constructed. All parts had ventilation, lighting, heating, and water. Men and women had separate wings. The story of women (and men) in relation to mental institutions is complex and not one easily addressed on a historic walking tour, but suffice to say that the state and the city of Augusta made an effort early on to provide care for the mentally ill within the parameters of the knowledge and resources of the time period. The motivation was charitable and spoken of as “ ‘some suitable provision’ for relief of the insane .. .” (North, 548). It took ten years from the time the question first came before the State Legislature until the institution was opened, but even with this delay, the Augusta Insane Hospital was among the first such hospitals in the country. This early depiction of the Maine Insane Hospital by Matthews is found in North’s History of Augusta, Maine. Over its 162 years of service, the hospital has carried a number of names and today it is called the Augusta Mental Health Institute. Many buildings on the campus now serve as state offices. A new hospital is under construction and will open in 2003.

Nurses were primary caregivers in the Augusta hospital. In 1927, Effie Mott Inch, Superintendent of Nurses, presided at the founding meeting for the Nurses Alumni Association, where Pauline Doe Hutchinson, R.N., was elected the first president. Effie Mott Inch, had been responsible for re-organizing the Augusta State Hospital School of Nursing in 1921.

It is through rebuilding the asylum after a tragic fire in 1850 (twenty-seven male patients and one staff died) that we meet our next Augusta woman, Augusta Pierce Tabor. Augusta was born in 1833, the daughter of William B. Pierce, a stone mason and contractor. To help with work on the asylum, Mr. Pierce hired brothers John and Horace Tabor. Fate would have it that Augusta and Horace married in 1857, after he returned to Maine from a trip to Kansas. Once married, Augusta and Horace set out for the west, lured by stories of gold and riches. Augusta’s life is recorded in Augusta Tabor, A Pioneering Woman, by Betty Moynihan (Corillera Press, 1988). Her life reads like a dime novel, filled with hardship, success, betrayal, divorce, and ultimate triumph. She crossed mountains in ox-drawn carts and was time and time again the first woman in mining camps. After losing most of her resources when Horace divorced her, Augusta rebuilt her wealth and died in Denver in 1895, leaving an estate estimated to be over a million dollars. She was reported to be one of the wealthiest women in the country at the time. Augusta kept scrapbooks and diaries, and from these her story is drawn. She also sent accounts from the west back to her hometown newspapers. The Pierce family lived on the outskirts of Augusta, on Church Hill Road, and their family homestead still stands.



Site 7.1 Sources:

 

Kennebec Valley Historical Society Vertical Files.

 

Moynihan, Betty. Augusta Tabor, A Pioneering Woman. Evergreen, CO: Cordillera Press, Inc., c 1988.

 

North, James W. The History of Augusta Maine. Somesworth, NH: New England History Press, 1981. New forward by Edwin A. Churchill. Originally published in 1870 by Clapp and North of Augusta, ME.

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