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Butler Hospital records

Scope & content

The Butler Hospital records are divided into the following series: correspondence (1843-1892), foundation records (1844-1847), construction records (1844-1888), medical records (1848-1872), minutes (1844-1867), reports (1844-1874) and financial records (1840-1892). All series are arranged in chronological order.

The correspondence, which is particularly important in tracing the establishment and early history of Butler Hospital, covers a wide range of topics. The earliest letters are pledges, suggestions for the location of the new hospital, and suggestions for the design of Butler as compared to some already established institutions. The involvement of Dr. Bell of McLean Hospital in Massachusetts in the new venture in Rhode Island is also documented here. There is correspondence on the building of a fence between Butler Hospital and its neighbor, Swan Point Cemetery. Later letters are from prominent citizens of the Providence area accepting positions as trustees on the board of the hospital, requests for salary increases, mortgage and payment acknowledgements in a form letter format, assault charges and complaints about the treatment of particular patients. Most of the letters are originals and until the late 1880's all are handwritten. Some letters are copies, but not are all so labeled.

The Foundation records compliment the earliest correspondence. There is an amendment to the original charter, a list of trustees elected in 1845 as well as an undated list of the duties and qualifications of the matron. The 1845 pamphlet "Our duties to the Insane" outlines the need for a hospital for the mentally ill where these unfortunate citizens can be treated and cured. The pamphlet clearly documents the change in attitude toward the mentally ill and the methods for handling them which occurred in the early 19th century both in Europe and the United States.

The construction records contain the specifications for the original building down to the number of bathtubs to be included as well as some of the later plans for improvements and expansions. These document the need for a new heating plant, a report of the water commissioner and the fragments of two designs for a greenhouse to be used by the patients as part of their therapy.

The medical records include lists of patients in alphabetical order but not necessarily dated and some records of the number of patients and their conditions at discharge. Also included is a list of hospitals and superintendents in the United States in 1872.

The minutes series contains just a few of the minutes of the meetings of trustees. One is only a short note stating that since a quorum had not been reached, the meeting had been adjourned. Also included is a calendar of the dates of the weekly visits to be made by the trustees to Butler Hospital along with the names of the two trustees who were to tour the facility each week. It is clear both from these records and the letters of acceptance referred to above that the trustees took their duties seriously and that their positions were not ceremonial.

The reports are from both special committees and from the superintendent. Some of the superintendent reports are annual reports, but also included is Dr. Isaac Ray's report on the opening of Butler, a special financial report and his last report before retiring. From the beginning the formation of special committees of the trustees was the normal way of doing business for the board of trustees. Several members volunteered or were selected to handle special problems and then reported to the board as a whole. The collection includes the report of the original committee charged with raising the money to go with the Nicholas Brown legacy to build the hospital, the report of the committee charged with honoring the first matron on her retirement as well as the report of the committee charged with updating the heating system.

The financial records of Butler Hospital form the bulk of the collection. There are both official quarterly and annual reports full of figures on the amounts spent on salaries, medications and furniture. These are clearly laid out on carefully copied balance sheets and signed by the treasurers and trustees vouching for their accuracy. There are large numbers of fire insurance documents which have been filed by the date that coverage was to begin. Interestingly, the buildings insured are not those on the Butler campus. And there are the cancelled checks and receipts for manure, cement, canaries (male) and their cages, hardy roses by the hundreds and piano repair which document the day to day running of the institution.