In 1940, Engla Schey, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, took a job as a low-paid attendant at Anoka State Hospital, one of Minnesota’s seven asylums. She worked among the 12,000 Minnesotans who were called inmates and shamefully locked away under the label “insane.” Susan Bartlett Foote tells of Schey's campaign to reform the deplorable conditions of mental institutions and of the politicians and other civic leaders who made her crusade for forgotten souls a success, breaking the stigma of shame and silence surrounding mental illness, publicizing the painful truth about asylums and building support among citizens. The result was the first modern mental health system, which catapulted Minnesota to national leadership and empowered families of the mentally ill and disabled. Though their vision met resistance, the accomplishments of these early advocates for compassionate care of the mentally ill hold many lessons that resonate to this day, when debates about what to do about the homeless and the mentally ill are chilling reminders of our shameful past.
Susan Bartlett Foote
Author, The Crusade for Forgotten Souls: Reforming Minnesota’s Mental Institutions, 1946–1954
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