A CRYING SHAME:  An Open Letter to the People of Jefferson County

from a then contemporary newspaper article publishing this letter
submitted by: Charlotte Maness CManess@Lescom.org

On Friday, Nov. 6th, [1896] a delegation from the Woman's Christian Union, and  a few other citizens of DeSoto interested in the cause of practical Christianity, paid a visit to the Jefferson County Poor Farm.  The day was beautiful overhead.  The roads, however, were not in very good condition.  Nevertheless the ten mile drive was made in about two hours and every one was in good spirits.  As we drew to up the farm the building presented a bright cheerful appearance.  One of the inmates ran down from the wood pile and politely opened the gate.  The ladies then spread the lunch for the party in the orchard.  To partake of a luncheon was necessary for two reasons.  First, in order to sustain us for the awful sights and smells which awaited us, and, secondly, because no one would have had either appetite or heart to eat after passing through such scenes of shame and misery.  Little did we think that such pictures of want and inhumanity was within a stone's throw of our hastily temporized table.  After satisfying our hunger we proceeded to visit the inmates, distributing apples, bananas and cake and literature. 

We said that the buildings looked bright and cheerful, but was from the outside.  There is no plastering in any of the buildings, hence to keep warm during the winter must be an effort for the unfortunate poor.  Yet the inmates spoke well of the treatment which they received and they  seemed to be content.  They said that the board was good, and plenty of it, and the ladies of the party who dropped into the dining room at dinner time reported that the food was plain but substantial and that there seemed to be a goodly supply.  One thing noticeable about the inmates was their appreciation of our visit and their unfeigned unselfishness, no one despairing to get more than another everyone being highly satisfied with what he received. 

Taking our leave of this part of the farm we went to another building, entirely separated from the others, and which is used for the mentally deranged.  Of all the sights which we have ever witnessed, this is the saddest and most inhuman.  It would be hard to find a more ghastly proof of the poet's saying that "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn."  In one room is an idiot girl about 19 years old behind bars.  Her bed is scant indeed, no pillow, not even a bedstead, but a dirty conglomeration  of something spread on the floor in the corner.  In the same room is an old lady of about seventy years who within the past six months is showing signs of losing her mind.  We do not wonder at this.  This room has no stove and yet the idiot and this old lady have had to occupy it during these cold nights.  Friends, this is cruelty, is it not?  Just across the hall in a room by herself, is a woman about twenty-five years old suffering from a most loathsome disease and the babe on her knee bore in a frightful manner the marks of the same curse.  The atmosphere in this room was simply awful, some of the ladies having to go out immediately, and the poverty of the room was enough to bring tears to the hardest heart.  Dirt abounds in every building.  But we are not through yet.  More awful revelations of shameless cruelty and unpardonable neglect were yet to be visited in other apartments where these poor demented men, black and white, do not receive as much care or consideration as the cattle of the fields. 

If the accommodations and order in the rooms were a disgrace to humanity, the condition of affairs here I prefer to leave to your imagination.  We must drop the word "odor," for here it was an abominable stench.  That place today is a veritable "chamber of horrors," a blot upon creation and a stigma of shame upon the whole State of Missouri. 

If any one thinks that we are exaggerating, we respectfully refer him to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, of DeSoto, of which Mrs. L. MUMMERT is president, and who was one of the visitors on last Friday. 

We are not blaming any one in particular.  We are simply giving information from personal knowledge.  Yet we cannot refrain from thinking that the people who allow their officials to let this farm to the lowest bidder are not guiltless before God and man.  Nor can those officials whose duty it is to visit the county poor farm raise their heads and declare their innocence.   

We have faith in the people and believe that all is necessary is information to cause them to wipe out this disgrace upon our county.  If more funds are needed a very small tax would cover it, perhaps only the fraction of a cent on  the dollar.  To have, remained silent would have been cowardly. 

The subject was presented last Sunday morning in the Presbyterian pulpit of this city, and measures have been taken to relieve the immediate wants of the inmates of the farm, because it is not a time to discuss where the fault lies, while the people are suffering.  If permitted to do so the churches no doubt would be glad to furnish a number of these rooms.  A very small outlay would do this and make it comfortable for the unfortunate, and the ministers will take turns in preaching there. 

We appeal to the commonwealth of Jefferson county, to investigate and redeem themselves from this crying shame. 

We appeal to the Christian people of this county to not permit this outrage to exist longer.  Why the county jail, which we visited the same day, is a paradise compared to the "county farm," and surely the aged and the crippled and the infirm and the insane, are worthy of as much sympathy and care as our criminals.       

                        Very Sincerely yours,

                              R.W. MASON

                        Pastor Presbyterian Church

                                    DeSoto, Mo.

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