You know those creepy mental asylums in horror movies? Well, this story about Rosewood, the Baltimore-area mental hospital that closed in 2009, is about that bad.
“Evil wore tightly laced girdles under fashionable gowns. Scheming in embroidered cloche hats, it sipped tea and fingered jewels while listening to the gossip of the haut monde,” Slate writer Jesse Bering says about the Rosewood story — but that kind of purple prose isn’t really necessary when the plain-spoken truth is dark enough.
Here’s what happened, according to Bering’s research: In the early decades of the twentieth century, wealthy families from Baltimore suburbs (mainly Catonsville and Forest Park) would “adopt” young women from Rosewood, most of whom were considered “feebleminded” (read: autistic or otherwise developmentally disabled) and then essentially use them as indentured servants.
Bering’s article details the sad fates of some of these women: They were over-worked and died of TB; the rich family’s daughters spit in their faces; others were sexually abused. One Baltimore woman “adopted” 35 Rosewood girls over the ages. Many of them got kicked out of their new “homes” and were reduced to living on the street or in whorehouses. Yeah, it’s not an uplifting story. The hero of sorts is Leo Kanner, a Johns Hopkins expert in child psychiatry — well, you should just go read the whole story here.