The Body Politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals. It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each Citizen, and each Citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain Laws for the Common good. – John Adams (1779)
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Legislature assembled, as follows: … J.S. Wheelwright, Walter Brown, G. W. Merrill, A. W. Paine, …and their associates and successors are hereby incorporated by the name of the Home for Aged Women, for the purpose of providing a home for aged women in Bangor. – Fifty-First Legislature of the State of Maine, 1872
The question of where responsibility lies for meeting the educational, health, safety and general welfare needs of society have been and still are debated vigorously. Who is responsible and how needed care and services are delivered has changed as society's size, structures, and social institutions have changed.
In some ways, it seems that the question of care has come nearly full-circle. Persons with infirmities or disabilities once were cared for at home, or by the community as a whole. Then, institutions developed where those in need were housed or incarcerated. Then, institutions that had been developed as the most modern and most humane sites of care became outdated and their methods criticized. Improvements were made; new methods were adopted.
Still, many large-scale institutions were out of favor by the ending decades of the 20th century and those with infirmities or disabilities were reintegrated into communities or stayed at home to be cared for there, with various levels of support from the state or other agencies.
From improvement associations like libraries, lyceums, working men's clubs, and women's improvement organizations, to municipal and state agencies and institutions, Maine, like other states, moved from traditional community cooperation and self-help to broadening the role of government and building schools for the deaf and blind, special institutes for the mentally ill, for those with tuberculosis or developmental disabilities, and prisons and reformatories to house the refractory.
Many of the results were a combination of private and public efforts, where boards of trustees incorporated as a school or asylum and the state subsidized indigent or specialized care. From about the 1830s on, Mainers supplied themselves with an array of institutions and associations to care for the aged, impoverished, ill, disabled, abandoned, and criminally minded among them, and to fit the rising generation for the future with advanced educational opportunities.
In addition, educational institutions made the transition from private schools in people's homes, or tutors visiting children at home, to more formal schools and, eventually, town operated and state supervised institutions of learning.
Colleges and universities, too, developed, some public, some private, to serve larger student populations, to provide different types of education, and generally to meet the changing needs of students and the larger society.
Reforms in public education, incarceration and rehabilitation, public health, and welfare institutions and policies continued to develop across the nation during the 20th century. Governments expanded their roles, scientific management theories applied to many of the changes, and specialized practices and procedures increased dramatically.
Asylums for the Unwell
Before institutional healthcare emerged, midwives, physicians, and healers of all sorts bound wounds, provided nostrums, and birthed the next generation. These semi-professionals did what they could for their patients, and families coped with what life threw their way, sometimes with grace, more often with grudging acceptance, occasionally with rage and despair.
Not every situation could be met with sanguinity; severe mental illness, deafness, blindness, communicable diseases and other special needs challenged the resources of families and communities.
Growing recognition of mental illness as a treatable condition, and the deaf and blind as educable individuals called forth specialized institutions to treat specific conditions and more formally deal with what many saw as disabling afflictions.
Asylum building began in earnest across the country in the 1830s and 1840s as part of a general reform movement to improve the care of the mentally ill, indigent, and legally lax. Penitentiaries, mental institutes, tuberculosis sanitariums, and schools for the deaf and blind came into being as both private and public institutions. Some were started with state and local funding, while others were sponsored by charitable societies; many combined public and private authorities. Maine had some of each.
Maine had a unique tie to one of the nation's leading reformers on care of the mentally ill. Dorothea Dix, although raised in Massachusetts, was born in Hampden in 1802. After suffering a breakdown in her 30s, she went to England and experienced a government active in social welfare. She brought her ideas about care for the mentally ill back to the United States and became a noted reformer, advocating for removing the mentally ill from prisons and almshouses and for more humane treatment in asylums.
The Augusta Insane Asylum began in 1840 as the Maine Insane Hospital. Dix consulted on the project, applying many of her theories about the care of the mentally ill stressing the importance of fresh air, constructive activities, and removal from what she blamed most for their disorders, "the temptations of civilized life and society."
The hospital, later known as the Augusta Mental Health Institute, closed in 2004, replaced by the Riverview Psychiatric Center. Like most institutions, it came under intense criticism for abuse and warehousing of patients, among other charges. Despite the optimism of Dix and others in the 1840s, institutional care was not a panacea.
The alternative, community mental health treatment, also was not a panacea. As "deinstitutionalization" began across the country in the 1950s, community treatment alternatives did not always follow or were not always adequate to meet the needs of those released into the community. Maine continues to struggle with the issue as do other states.
By 1885 Maine had established a State Board of Health to oversee public health policies and related agencies. According to an 1891 report to the legislature, the Board was "doing most excellent work and has fully justified the wisdom of its establishment." State appropriations for the "deaf, dumb, and blind" amounted to $15,500 in 1885, compared to only $1500 allocated for "idiotic and feeble-minded persons."
State support expanded over the decades. A sample of state subsidies for public and private asylums from the legislative record of 1903 listed the following among many such institutions, with the larger figures indicating nearly complete state support: Maine Home for Friendless Boys, $1,250; Maine School for the Deaf, $23,500; Society of the Sisters of Charity, for Healy Asylum, $2,000; Eastern Maine Insane Hospital $30,425; Saint Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum $1,500.
Changes in terminology reflected changed in philosophy about treatment: lunacy became insanity became mental illness, feeble-mindedness became mental retardation became developmentally disabled.
Whereas states institutionalize the insane, feeble-minded, and disabled with near abandon in the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, treatments were more often decided on and applied with greater attention to individualized care by the end of the century.
As with all such special care centers the question becomes one of treatment for the individuals in their custody. "Asylum" or "home" or "school" evoke a different image than "institute." The first suggest refuge, or family, the latter brings to mind a laboratory of scientific applications.
Prisons for the Unruly
Whipping and branding, along with stocks, gallows, and related structures, allowed early American communities to punish offenders visibly and publicly. Such obvious marks and displays may have deterred crime, or at least the brands and scars helped identify thieves and runaways.
Maine engaged in these public humiliations and executions into the 19th century until new methods and philosophies gained ground in the region and reformed such practices.
The 19th century, particularly the second two thirds, spawned innumerable efforts to both institutionalize and rehabilitate the nation's criminals before they congealed into a hardened, irredeemable class.
Combining labor with imprisonment, for example, added the virtue of productivity to the necessity of punishment. Nineteenth-century jails and prisons often included farming and the mechanical arts as part of their practical rehabilitative strategies, and prison industries continue today (inmates at the Bucks Harbor prison, for example, make blue jeans and reupholster furniture).
Nearly every town of size, and certainly all the shire towns, had jails. The Maine State Prison opened in 1824 in Thomaston. It housed a few hundred inmates at a time, many of whom worked onsite in the limestone quarry. The few female prisoners in state custody were housed and fed separately from the men.
The state also has operated a number of other correctional facilities. The Maine Correctional Center in Windham was established in 1919. Originally called the Reformatory for Men, it was later named the Men's Correctional Center and housed men as well as women. The state opened several other correctional facilities in the 1980s.
Intended as a fine example of prevailing thought about discipline and routine, the Maine State Prison served both to separate the criminal from the outside world and the outside world from the criminal. Then commissioner of the prison, James G. Blaine, asserted in 1859 that, "events of current interest, and glimpses of the outer world, have a tendency to unsettle the convict's mind and render him restless and uneasy" and therefore more difficult to deal with.
Blaine's methods seem to have won the approval of the state, and his successors carried on accordingly. An 1891 report by then Governor Edwin C. Burleigh commended the prison for the efficiency and resourcefulness that rendered it self-supporting by 1886. The same report went on to praise the "introduction of reformatory methods," which, according to the warden, had met with great success:
Everything that can be done towards reclaiming men from the ways of crime and making them respectable members of society, will merit the cordial approval and cooperation of all who have at heart the highest interests of the State.
The highest interests of the state continue to be met insofar as the prison continues to exist. Burned and rebuilt in 1923, the prison was ultimately torn down in 2002, and the prisoners relocated to a new facility in Warren.
For younger people in trouble, it was customary to combine the institutions of school and jail into industrial or reform schools to better rehabilitate misguided youth, and provide supervision, discipline, and training for the workforce.
Common crimes included vagrancy, truancy, and the catch-alls "malicious mischief" and "riotous conduct." Most often, boys were sent to nearby reform schools, although habitual truants might be sent to the State School for Boys in South Portland, while girls, particularly those at risk of succumbing to immoral proclivities, were sent to industrial schools in Eastport, Hallowell, and other towns.
The State Reform School for Boys, later named the State School for Boys, was established in 1853 "for the instruction, employment, and reform of juvenile offenders" ages 8 to 16. Residents were put to farming and brick making in an effort to make them useful and productive citizens. A report noted:
The highly credible work that has been done by this institution is shown by the fact that about seventy-five percent of the boys that have gone forth from it have become respectable and law abiding citizens, a record that speaks more eloquently than words for the excellence of its management.
The Maine Industrial School for Girls located in Hallowell, renamed the Stevens School for Girls in 1915, was incorporated by the Maine Legislature in 1872 to:
act as a guardian to the person of any girls who, between the ages of seven and fifteen years, shall be committed to its charge according to law, for the physical, mental and moral training of such girl, which guardianship of such girl shall supersede any other guardianship of parents or guardians during the time that such girl is under the charge of this corporation.
Officials noted that the school "is not a place of punishment, to which its inmates are sent as criminals – but a home for the friendless, neglected and vagrant children of the state …"
With "its efforts" aligned "upon a broad, humane and philanthropic plane," the school continued to garner praise, along with new residents, over subsequent decades.
Despite their missions, expectations, and claims it remains debatable whether these institutions truly rehabilitated their charges. At the very least such establishments rounded up the unruly, housed and fed them, and put them to work for a specified time.
Some of the "crimes" for which youths were incarcerated – truancy and vagrancy for example – are no longer crimes. The state continues to operate institutions for youths, but also has stressed community intervention and treatment programs, much as has happened with other institutions.
Homes for the Indigent
Taking care of those in need represents an abiding trust of human society. Native traditions of caring for the indigent mirrored common European practices: the poor, aged, and ill were taken care of by their clans or families within their own communities.
When those options were not available, towns took care of the indigent or ill on town farms or in almshouses. When Maine settlements expanded, and native groups diminished in size late in the 18th century, both sought alternatives to those earlier practices.
The 19th century in particular saw the emergence of increasing numbers of charitable refuges and asylums across the country. While Maine built its share of such institutions, most were located in urban areas. Many communities – large and small – had town farms that served as homes for the indigent. Bangor built its Children's Home in 1835 while a Home for Aged Men opened in Portland in 1881 followed by the Temporary Home for Women and Children in 1882.
The latter was championed by the inestimably civic-minded, Fannie Clifford Brown, whom a contemporary described as its "steadfast friend." Apparently Mrs. Brown remained the Home's "ardent champion" despite the assertion that "it was frowned upon by the community as an ill-advised institution."
Portland was especially blessed with an abundance of benevolent societies including the Ladies' Relief Society (established in 1846 "for the relief of shipwrecked and destitute mariners"), the Portland Benevolent Society (organized in 1803 "to relieve and assist those who might require relief in a manner different from that which is by law provided"), and the Female Charitable Society (from 1812, "conducted wholly by ladies" and considered "a very efficient agent in relieving the poor of the city").
Private charities like the Portland Widows' Wood Society, established in 1830 to distribute fuel to needy widows, supplemented other community institutions like orphanages and various "homes" for the aged and destitute. The Wood Society was part of a larger and well-established charitable response to fuel shortages in the nation's urban areas that dated back to the early republic.
Benevolence sometimes acquired a patriotic gloss as caring for the nation's veterans became especially critical following the Civil War. Authorized by the U.S. Congress, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers opened as a residential facility in Togus in 1867, the first of 10 that housed growing numbers of Union veterans from Maine to California.
The Home was essentially a self-sustaining planned community of barracks, shops, farmlands, and educational and entertainment facilities built on the site of a former resort. Its mission changed over the years as new wars were fought and the Veterans Administration charge developed accordingly. Unlike other indigents, honorably discharged veterans were not considered paupers, and retained their citizenship rights.
The Bath Military and Naval Orphan Asylum combined the sensibilities of caring for selected orphans with respect for the sacrifice of military veterans. It opened in 1866 to house children orphaned by the Civil War, making Maine one of only seven states of the former Union to do so.
Such homes were intended in part "to obviate the necessity of sending the orphans of soldiers to orphan asylums or poor houses." Their charter was later amended to include grandchildren of Civil War veterans and orphans of soldiers and sailors killed in the Spanish-American War.
Most towns had no problem justifying institutions for veterans and orphans; the local poor presented more of a moral dilemma. Concerned citizens sought to differentiate between the deserving, virtuous poor --– those impoverished through a combination of circumstances and ill fortune, but who still retained their essential goodness—and the undeserving and vicious poor, impoverished through their own reckless behavior, consumption of alcohol, or general fecklessness.
Help for the deserving poor was always easier to rationalize and administer than assistance for the unworthy and unrepentant. As a result, a variety of civic organizations and charitable institutions like Ladies Aid Societies insisted on verifying the worthiness of their objects of charity before providing services.
In addition to its private charitable associations, any town could open a workhouse for its able-bodied poor, which many saw as preferable to almshouses. Public houses of refuge for the poor could thereby subsidize expenses by putting their charges to work. Contracted out by the day, or even the year, workhouse inhabitants thus could learn a trade as they helped pay for their support.
Towns assessed taxes for the support of the indigent in almshouses or workhouses, but pauper auctions were another alternative. Pauper auctions allowed towns to pay someone else – the lowest bidder, who then benefited from the labor of those auctioned into his care – to feed and house the poor when they lacked facilities to care for them themselves.
While this was not the most common form of dealing with the state's impoverished residents, these auctions offered a local solution to the chronic problem of pauperism and persisted well into the 19th century. As with many such practices and institutions, however, the state eventually took over, or at least subsidized the care for impoverished Mainers. Government expenditures in 1885, for example, included $8,000 for the support of paupers in the unorganized territories.
Given the conditions of the times and the vicissitudes of personal circumstances, it is not surprising that the public charitable system, and the poor it sought to manage, was abused. Exploitation of these practices was a way for some to maximize a marginal existence akin to stealing fruit, hunting out of season, or otherwise seizing opportunity.
Academies for the Upwardly Ambitious
Academic institutions are historically grounded, called into being by changing circumstances reflecting larger regional, even national trends. Hence Bangor Theological Seminary opened in Hampden in 1814 (and relocated to Bangor five years later) as a Congregational response to the regional religious agitation that became known as the Second Great Awakening.
The Maine Maritime Academy was founded in Castine in 1941 in the context of military preparedness for a nation on the brink of World War II.
The largest shift in emphasis over the centuries has been from the belief in colleges as uplifting institutions providing training in moral leadership for the worthy few to viewing them as economic engines providing job skills and preparation for the increasingly democratic many.
This shift brought the Maine State College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts into being in 1865 as a land-grant institution to become the University of Maine, and the hub of the University of Maine System a century later.
State Normal Schools sprang into being in Farmington, Machias, Castine, Gorham, and elsewhere by the early 20th century, specializing in teacher education. This shift also sparked the creation of Maine's community colleges in Auburn, Bangor, Calais, Fairfield, Presque Isle, South Portland, and Wells, schools that became part of a coordinated system by the end of the 20th century.
A parallel shift in purpose occurred in elementary education with the common school reforms of the Jacksonian period democratizing access, and the many iterations of McGuffey's Readers standardizing curriculum.
Indeed, the history of American education is well known, and Maine largely followed its trajectory beginning with local "dame schools" and scattered private academies. Gorham, Lee, Hebron, Foxcroft, Hallowell, Thornton, Fryeburg, and Washington (in East Machias) Academies served their respective Maine communities, some from the colonial period forward, with several still in operation as private or semi-private boarding schools, some serving also as public high schools.
Towns supplemented existing private institutions with subscription or tax-supported schools (including "common schools," "grammar schools," and "free high schools" partially supported by the state by 1828), which in turn developed into districts. Compulsory attendance was mandated by 1875, although it applied only to those aged 9 to 15, and only for 12 weeks of the school year.
For Maine Indians, education was more complicated. When the federal government was sending Plains Indian youths to boarding schools to rid them of their "Indianness," Indians in Maine were educated on their reservations in schools operated by religious denominations. The curriculum emphasized the basics, and offered Native students a practical education along with religious instruction, with cultural assimilation as the subtext.
An indication of how times have changed lies in the state law (L.D. 291) that requires the teaching of Maine Native American history and culture in Maine schools, and the new tribal programs that prepare teachers for doing so.
By the second half of the 20th century, districts evolved into entire systems of elementary and secondary education funded in part by state and federal monies. Although one- and two-room schoolhouses still exist in smaller communities, calls for school consolidation and other reforms – usually favored by urban areas, resisted by rural ones – continue to roil Maine's public education landscape.
While numerous towns and every city in Maine boasted a girls' school of some sort by the early 19th century, and public schools allowed both boys and girls to attend, few colleges accepted women students.
An exception was the Westbrook Seminary, which opened in 1834 to serve males and females with a purpose to "promote piety and morality." In 1863, the school incorporated "a course of study for young ladies equivalent to that of any female college in New England." It began granting degrees.
Bates College, founded in 1855, was the first coeducational college in New England.
The Maine State College began to admit women 1872.
Three of Maine's premier private colleges — Colby (Waterville), Bates (Lewiston), and Bowdoin (Brunswick) — have attained broad recognition for social leadership and academic excellence. Bowdoin, for example, boasts impressive alumni in authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, President Franklin Pierce and Arctic explorers Robert Peary and Donald MacMillan. Bates roots its institutional virtue in its abolitionist founding by Freewill Baptists and its coeducational roots.
The state boasts many other institutions of higher education as well. The University of New England hosts the state's only medical school. The College of the Atlantic and Unity College are known for environmental education. The Maine College of Art focuses on visual art and design. These and other colleges provide education, but also make use of Maine's geography, climate, and other features to attract students as well as to enrich the curriculum.
The history of Maine's institution building is essentially a social history. Communities and families passed on their caretaking and educating roles to larger institutions, some private, some public, as needs increased and ideas about care and education changed.
The changes follow national trends, but also are geared to Maine's rural nature and its ideals of self-sufficiency, lack of pretense, and independence.