My great-great-grandparents, Pierre and Azilda Bonneau, were French-Canadians who left Quebec in the late 19th century and settled in Danielson, Connecticut. Their daughter, Graziella Bonneau, married Philippe Metthe in 1899.
According to the 1900 U. S. census, Philippe and Graziella were mill workers, probably at the Quinebaug Mill. They had their first child in 1901 — my grandmother, Beatrice. For the next several years, Graziella gave birth every 18 months. She stayed home with the children while Philippe continued to work in the mill. Philippe & Graziella were so poor that by 1906, they were living in a shed behind her parents’ house — just like Mom had told me. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 3: Madness Unfolding→
This post was revised and expanded on March 30, 2018.
I have spent the last six years researching and writing about the five women in my family tree who were mentally ill and committed to state hospitals. Along the way, I learned that they were descended from French-Canadians who immigrated to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. Throughout the preceding fifty-five years of my life, I knew very little about my Quebecois heritage.
In 1908, when my great-grandmother Graziella Metthe was brought to Norwich State Hospital, she was confronted with five imposing buildings spread out on a broad, 100-acre plateau overlooking the Thames River. Closest to the road was the Administration Building, a three-and-a-half-story red brick structure in French neo-Gothic style, trimmed with Indiana limestone and terracotta. Set back on either side of the Administration Building were the North and South A ward buildings, which were only two stories high, and meant to house fifty-two patients each. The North and South B wards were set back yet farther on either side of the A wards, and turned at forty-five degree angles. The B wards were three stories high and meant to house one hundred and fifty patients each. Ward buildings to the north of the Administration Building were designated for female patients and those to the south, for male patients. Continue reading Architecture of Norwich State Hospital→
Norwich State Hospital looms large in my family’s history. Four of my ancestors — all women — were patients there, including my grandmother. While writing about my family’s experiences in Secrets of the Asylum, I studied the history of this institution from its beginning in 1904 through all the years that my ancestors were there, up to 1958.
I wanted to learn whatever I could about how mental patients were treated at state hospitals such as Norwich. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was a dark story, made even darker for me as I considered what might have happened to my own family members. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital→