Mayview, in an undated photograph. (Photo credit: Unknown) Occupational therapy included lawn moving in 1958. (Photo credit: Unknown) Massive laundry operation at Mayview in 1970. (Photo credit: Unknown) New operating room at Mayview in 1963. (Photo credit: Unknown) Undated image of the quarters for men. (Photo credit: Unknown)

April 22, 1934:  Hard times at Mayview

Life was rough for a lot of folks in 1934 — the fourth year of a worldwide economic depression — but for the mentally ill,  the outcast and those seen as merely odd, it could be truly miserable.

At the institution then known as the City Home and Hospital at Mayview, living conditions were appalling. That’s what a committee of volunteers reported to Pittsburgh City Council.

Were the charges true? To find out, editors at The Pittsburgh Press dispatched a reporter and photographer to the Mayview campus. The hospital was located in a rural, bucolic setting in South Fayette, and from a distance its grounds and massive brick buildings appeared orderly, well-groomed and grand.

Up close, the view was somewhat different.

“Life is held cheaply at Mayview,” the reporter wrote in a story published April 22, 1934.

Mental patients were seen “squatting in their wards, stretched out on the floor like bags of sand on hard cement.”

The facility, built to house and treat 2,500, was jammed with twice that many. Insides its walls were the poor, the insane, people suffering from tuberculosis, the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, even unwed mothers.

Beds and cots were  piled “pell-mell” into wards, corridors, day rooms and cottages. In rickety shacks built to house tuberculosis patients, cats scurried across cold wooden floors with boards “so far apart a steady draft swirls through.”

Patients were housed in every available structure, including a barn and a squat building that once served as a garage.

A handful of underpaid nurses and doctors were responsible for too many patients. In the female infirmary, one “solitary, harassed nurse” cared for 300. Where regulations called for 15 physicians, Mayview had four.

Even nutritious food was in scarce supply. Said one doctor, “We give them enough food to keep body together. No fresh fruit. Too little milk, of course. But where is the money for more?”

The reporter asked a nurse: “Why stay here?” Her answer echoes the sentiment of those who have always looked after people whose mere presence often troubles the rest of us.

“Someone must take care of them,” she responded.

Read the Post-Gazette’s special report, ‘After Mayview.’

(Top picture: Overcrowded conditions at Mayview in 1934. Photo credit: Unknown)

— Steve Mellon

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