The Crusade for Forgotten Souls

Reforming Minnesota’s Mental Institutions, 1946-1954

2018
Author:

Susan Bartlett Foote

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls

The stirring story of the reform movement that laid the groundwork for a modern mental health system in Minnesota

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls recounts Minnesota’s reform movement that broke the stigma surrounding mental illness, publicized the painful truth about the state’s asylums, and resulted in the first legislative steps toward a modern mental health system. Susan Bartlett Foote tells the story of the early advocates for compassionate care of the mentally ill who made the crusade a success.

Using rich empirical detail, Susan Bartlett Foote’s integrated approach simultaneously reconstructs life in an asylum and a mental health reform campaign. Engla Schey’s journal—a historian’s dream resource—allows patients to speak, processes the attendants’ experiences, and captures the culture of state institutions. Foote has managed to keep patients, medical workers, reformers, state policies, and the impact of changes visible throughout this story.

Jennifer Gunn, University of Minnesota

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 would work among people who were locked away under the shameful label “insane,” called inmates—and numbered more than 12,000 throughout the state. She acquired the knowledge and passion that would lead to “The Crusade for Forgotten Souls,” a campaign to reform the deplorable condition of mental institutions in Minnesota. This book chronicles that remarkable undertaking inspired and carried forward by ordinary people under the political leadership of Luther Youngdahl, a Swedish Republican who was the state’s governor from 1946 to 1951.

Susan Bartlett Foote tells the story of those who made the crusade a success: Engla Schey, the catalyst; Reverend Arthur Foote, a modest visionary who guided Unitarians to constructive advocacy; Genevieve Steefel, an inveterate patient activist; and Geri Hoffner, an intrepid reporter whose twelve-part series for the Minneapolis Tribune galvanized the public. These reformers overcame barriers of class, ethnicity, and gender to stand behind the governor, who, at a turbulent moment in Minnesota politics, challenged his own party’s resistance to reform. The Crusade for Forgotten Souls recounts how these efforts broke the stigma of shame and silence surrounding mental illness, publicized the painful truth about the state’s asylums, built support among citizens, and resulted in the first legislative steps toward a modern mental health system that 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, as this book makes compellingly clear.

Awards

Minnesota Book Award for Minnesota Nonfiction

Midwestern History Association Hamlin Garland Prize

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls

Susan Bartlett Foote is professor emerita in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, where she was head of the Division of Health Policy and Management from 1999 to 2005. She is author of Managing the Medical Arms Race: Innovation and Public Policy in the Medical Device Industry.

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls

Using rich empirical detail, Susan Bartlett Foote’s integrated approach simultaneously reconstructs life in an asylum and a mental health reform campaign. Engla Schey’s journal—a historian’s dream resource—allows patients to speak, processes the attendants’ experiences, and captures the culture of state institutions. Foote has managed to keep patients, medical workers, reformers, state policies, and the impact of changes visible throughout this story.

Jennifer Gunn, University of Minnesota

In a wondrous feat of research and storytelling, Susan Bartlett Foote has distilled personal accounts, public and institutional records, and newspaper coverage to dramatically detail Minnesota’s mental health reform of the last century. Her narrative is harrowing and inspiring—a tribute to the difficult work of countless people, many of them outraged ordinary folk, who challenged the horrors of a stubborn and intractable system.

Jack El-Hai, author of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist and The Lobotomist

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls recounts the story of courageous Minnesotans who fought the first battle in the ongoing fight for the rights of the mentally ill. Others have taken up the cause, like my father, Paul Wellstone, who made mental health reform the centerpiece of his years in the United States Senate. Susan Bartlett Foote’s compelling story provides an inspiration to current reformers to continue the crusade for what my father called ‘a besieged minority.’

Dave Wellstone

Susan Bartlett Foote’s exhaustively researched book gives compelling evidence that even by the standards of the time, Minnesota’s system of segregated mental institutions was backward, barbaric and particularly resistant to social change.

Star Tribune

The historian’s dream scenario—serendipitously stumbling upon a cache of previously unexamined documents in one’s own home—prompted Susan Bartlett Foote’s inquiry into a group of post-war reformers who envisioned nothing less than a complete overhaul of Minnesota’s mental health system.

Social History of Medicine Journal, Oxford Press

Foote adds to the field of asylum studies by providing a well-researched and eloquently written history of unfulfilled efforts to reform Minnesota’s mental institutions at a time when such places were hell-holes for people confined therein.

Canadian Journal of History

A valuable text for any reader interested in local histories, the Unitarian church, grassroots organizing, women’s activism, and especially, through Engla Schey’s diaries, the routines of asylum work, institutional hierarchies, and the lives of rank-and-file asylum workers.


Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

Highlight[s] the power and importance of interdisciplinary coalition-building, persistent outreach and education efforts, strong political leadership, and a powerful and independent press in garnering expansive public support for mental health reform on both state and national levels.

Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls

Preface


Introduction


1. Voices of Forgotten Souls


2. Finding Engla Schey


3. Engla Crashes the Gates


4. Spreading the Gospel


5. The Modest Visionary


6. The Arduous Climb


7. Where There Is Smoke


8. Political Dynamite


9. The Long Hot Summer


10. Making History


11. The First Step


12. Lest We Forget


Epilogue



Significant Organizations


Notes


Index