Illinois · Newspaper clippings

Rhoda Derry and the mistreatment & misunderstanding of the mentally ill

October 9, 1906
Bartonville, Illinois
Rhoda “Rhody” Derry, a patient in an asylum, dies

Derry’s age at death varies from source to source, listed between 68 to 72. She had been a “robust young woman” until she was 23 when her mental condition deteriorated rapidly, either by “some hereditary taint in her blood some remote disorder transmitted by some long dead and gone ancestor perhaps” (The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union, Rock Island IL, Nov. 21 1906) or, as local legends claimed, witchcraft (The Republic, Columbus IN, Nov. 16 1906).

Regardless of how or why she became inflicted, her care was less than optimal, owing to the severe lack of education about mental illnesses at the time. Derry was prone to fits in which she would claw at her face, eventually pulling her own eyes out. She also ate anything in her vicinity, food or otherwise. Over the course of her illness, she lost her hearing and suffered paralysis of her limbs, though from the information available it is not certain if these conditions were a result of self-inflicted injuries or a separate issue.

Because of her violent outbursts, Derry was kept confined in a small box with “her only bed being what loose straw she would leave in it,” restricted for such a length of time that her legs atrophied with her knees up to her chin, leaving her permanently disfigured. When she and other patients were taken to a new facility, in 1904, she had to be carried in a clothesbasket. At the new facility, under the care of new doctors, Derry was permitted to sleep in a bed with fresh linen rather than her box with straw. Almost immediately, her wailing subsided. She lived out her final 2 years in this more compassionate facility, the Bartonville State Hospital also called Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane.


The Republic, Columbus IN, Nov. 16 1906


The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union, Rock Island IL, Nov. 21 1906

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