A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16–18
On September 8, 1863, a man whose legs had been cut off at the knees was found on the beach of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. He had no identity papers, money, or belongings, and didn’t speak. Unable to look after himself, Jerome was taken in and cared for by local Acadians. He spent the rest of his life almost in silence. Many rumours developed about this mystery man and his origins. These theories — ranging from the believable to the unbelievable — were transformed into a widely-told Maritime legend.
In the late 19th century, people who couldn’t talk or were physically handicapped were not believed to be normal, and were often labeled as “idiots” or “lunatics.” Most were put into institutions (long-term care hospitals). Because Jerome wasn’t normal — he didn’t speak, had unexplained fits of anger, and had no legs — he was feared by many and became a public curiosity.
What can we learn about the treatment of the mentally ill at this time? What can we learn about how Jerome was treated? How typical for that time was the treatment Jerome received? Was it consistent with the standards prevailing at that time?
In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to judge whether the way Jerome was treated was typical of the level of care given to other people deemed “not normal.”
First, you will learn more about the treatment of the mentally ill (e.g., living conditions, medical treatment, opportunities for recreation). Next, you will look for evidence of how Jerome was treated by the community and his adopted families. Based on this evidence, you will decide whether the treatment he received was better or worse than was typical at the time. Finally, you will write a one-page response to the question, “Considering the standards of the time, was Jerome mistreated?”