Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Orphaned, Rejected and Alone

.....Millie's story is continued from HERE.....

This is Millie's story as I pieced it together from bits and pieces of different conversations I had with her.  I cherish every single fragment that she handed to me.
My dear sweet Millie was born somewhere near Strasburg, Pennsylvania in 1902.  

Her mother was unmarried, which meant that Millie was an illegitimate child born into a time and place where illegitimacy was particularly shameful.

Both Millie and her mother were misfits in a society that shunned people like them.

Although Millie's mother wasn't Amish, from what I understand, she lived and worked on an Amish farm.   I'm not sure what schooling Millie received there, but it must have been sketchy and poor.  Millie wasn't a quick study; she apparently struggled a good bit with reading, writing and arithmetic.  She told me often in her little, high-pitched voice that she just wasn't very smart.

Then tragedy struck: Millie's mother died, leaving poor Millie alone.  She had no family to call her own.

At the age of only about 10 or 12, Millie became a member of one of the most unwanted classes of people in the world: She wasn't just an orphan, she was an illegitimate, unskilled orphan.  

It seems that after Millie's mother died, the Amish family took Millie in for a time-- but not for long.  Millie soon became an unwanted burden to the family: She was a poor student who couldn't do enough to earn her keep, and she was an "English" girl who didn't fit into the Amish culture.  

So Millie's Amish farmers did what everyone else did with unwanted, burdensome people back then: They transferred their burden to the state.  Millie became a ward of the state of Pennsylvania; and, because she was an under-performing student, the state placed her in a mental institution.  

Around 1914, Millie went to live in an insane asylum.

From every angle, it looked like Millie's life was over.

She had no one to advocate for her release: with her mother gone, there was no one on earth who cared what happened to her. The only people on the outside who even knew that she was living in an insane asylum were the ones who had committed her there.

Millie faced what many, many other poor, destitute people faced during that sad time in our nation's history-- a life sentence in a mental institution.


I have some personal experience with such mental institutions: In 1984, while I was in college, I spent a summer working in a privately funded mental institution in New Jersey. This particular institution had been established in 1906, when the so-called "science" of eugenics was coming into vogue.

The founder of that institution, a renowned psychiatrist of his day, coined the word "moron" to describe people like Millie. This psychiatrist was a leader among those who believed that "morons" were unfit to be part of America's great society.  He advised locking them away so that they wouldn't taint the rest of the world.

At that institution, I helped care for dear, elderly men and women who had been committed for life at around the same time Millie was.  Most of them were there because, like Millie, they had been diagnosed with mental disabilities.  These diagnoses had condemned them to live their entire lives in isolation.

During the early 1900s, it was fairly common for families to get rid of burdensome relatives by dropping them off at mental institutions. Adult children committed their elderly, cantankerous parents. Parents committed their rebellious, out-of-control children, especially teenage girls who had shamed them by behaving promiscuously.

Governments also used such institutions to get rid of their troublesome citizens. Cities rounded up homeless "tramps," then locked them away in state institutions. Cities also institutionalized prostitutes. Several classes of people were particularly likely to end up in mental institutions: the orphans, the learning-disabled, the physically disabled, the mentally disabled and of course the mentally ill.  Institutionalizing the unwanted was a popular way of getting them off of the streets.  

Once a person had been committed to such an institution, his or her chances of leaving were slim at best.

Millie was one such person. The state committed Millie at around the age of 12, for two crimes: She was an unwanted, destitute orphan, and she was an under-performing student. The state declared Millie a moron, then locked her away.

Millie's future was over.

Orphaned, rejected and alone, she seemed destined to spend the rest of her life as an inmate in an insane asylum.

....to be continued....


  1. Oh Millie Millie. I'm so sad for her. Yet maybe somehow she prepared you for Aaron?

    I wish she could have lived just a little longer, to see you bring Aaron home! What a joy it would have been for her!

  2. Julia! I thought you were going to finish the story, today. My husband and I are enamored with Millie's story and can't wait for the rest of it. I hope it's coming soon ;)

  3. Seconding what Gretchen said lol. But wow- what an incredible story so far! You sure have a way with words, Julia. From one photo, I feel like I already know Millie :)

  4. I agree with Gretchen! Can't wait to hear more! What a treasure she was!

  5. I agree with Gretchen! Can't wait to hear more of her story! What a treasure she was!

  6. I'm with Gretchen.....this is why I never like series....I always want to know the end of the story...now :)

  7. What an mazing story this is! So so incredible the things we do to human beings even today, but I have reason to believe that God's hand was all over Miss Millie - excited to hear more!


  8. Very intriguing story, Julia. I am excited to read the rest of Millie's life story. What a blessing, that this woman who belonged to no one {during the years she could/should have been living an enjoyable life} did find a friend/Granddaughter who shares her legacy after she is gone. Millie may be absent from this earth, but, she certainly lives on through You and now through those of us who have come to "know" her. I do not understand why some people live with pain and sadness throughout their lives and I guess I will not know until I sit with Jesus and ask. But, for sure, I will ask. Thank You, Julia for loving on Millie and sharing your Wedding Day and Sundays at Church with her! And, for sharing Millie with me! Love, Jo

  9. Ditto Gretchen! Loving this series.

  10. I am with everyone else, can't wait for the next part of the story.

  11. Oh how I hate cliffhangers! Poor sweet Millie..reading her story is heartbreaking, but I'm thankful to at least no in the end she was loved by you and your family ♥

  12. Okay, I am one who reads the last few pages of a book before I start it because I want to know how it ends. As Gretchen so eloquently put it...you're killing me, Julia!

  13. I agree, I'm much too impatient for your story-telling! But I love it, and can't wait to hear the end.

  14. you do know how to tell stories. i'm hooked and waiting. =)


Loving words from kind people make our hearts glad!