11 March 2015

When Racking Up A $1500 Bill For Lingerie Can Put You In The Insane Asylum

March is Women's History Month and I have a story for you.

An ongoing project of mine is researching the charter members of my DAR chapter here in Stockton, California.  The ladies who organized the El Toyon Chapter were considered "High Society" and as such they were constant fodder for newspapers.  

Take the case of Mary Ada Fraser, daughter of Philip Barry Fraser, who was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank.  

In 1898 Mary's mother died a tragic death.  It seems that Annette Parker Fraser had been standing to close to the fireplace when her dress caught and she went up in flames.

When in 1900 her father remarried a young widow, it seems Mary objected strongly to this marriage and started acting out perhaps to embarrass her father, punishing him for remarrying. Her behaviour was such that one night at midnight the asylum carriage, attendants with straps and handcuffs, took Miss Fraser from her home to the madhouse. 

From the Stockton Independent Daily:

A father and brother seemingly bending every influence which money and position can exert to keep a girl in a madhouse and the State Insanity Commissioners apparently striving to keep the public in ignorance of the facts, is a summary of the investigation conducted by the State Insanity Commissioners into the case of Mary Fraser, now restrained of her liberty at a private insane asylum.

The investigation which was begun yesterday at the instance of the girl's cousin, Mrs. James, has developed into a star-chamber proceeding, astounding in nature and apparently one-sided in its effects.  The friends of the unfortunate girl wanted the testimony taken down in shorthand in order to use, if necessary, in court proceedings.  This was denied them.  when the principal witnesses - those who could impart relevant testimony - came from the star-chamber, they announced that they had been solemnly sworn to secrecy.  News of this procedure has served to set public sentiment against P.B. Fraser, the father, and Albert Fraser, the brother.  The question naturally is asked "If there is nothing to conceal, why this secrecy?

It is understood  the distinct conviction of the commission is that the girl, on account of her eccentricities, as developed during the investigation, was a proper subject for parental watchfullness and even restraint.  However, these matters are regarded as outside the scope of the commission.  Local attorneys have raised the point that the Lunacy Commission has no jurisdiction in such cases but insist that the matter should have been brought before the Superior Court on habeas corpus proceedings and a jury should decide whether or not the patient is insane. The Commission takes the opposite view of the case and sections of the California Insanity Law of 1897 that state that the Commission has authority to discharge a patient are quoted to uphold its actions. 

From the evidence gained by the Lunacy Commission in its secret session, it was learned that Miss Fraser had fallen into habits of extravagance only possible from one of unbalanced mind:  that she had in one year contracted bills for underwear alone amounting to $1500, that she had persistantly disobeyed her father.  The members of the Commission believe that Miss Fraser is of a highly nervous disposition that she has been very much unstrung and that she should properly be placed under a certain degree of restraint.  The action of the State Commission in Lunacy had found that P.B. Fraser, the father of the young woman has acted rightly in detaining her but she should not be placed in an insane asylum - a partial victory for both sides in the controversy.

So after all this, Mary's father still retained guardianship over her.  Philip Fraser went to the asylum and tried to convince his daughter to be transferred to another sanatorium in Pacific Grove. She flatly refused and told her cousin and aunt of her father's plan.

They retained the legal services of Ex-Governor of California, James Budd (who happened to be the son of Joseph Budd, the presiding judge over the matter) and a writ was served on Fraser and the asylum which compelled them to produce Miss Fraser in court the following morning.

The option of receding from their position or defending it in court put a new phase upon the case and changed any plans which the father and brother may have previously formed.  Fraser agreed to relinquish his guardianship in favor of Mrs. R. B. Parker, the girl's grandmother and that it was understood that there would be no opposition to the young lady's competency.

Judge Joseph Budd declared in court the next day:

"Mary A. Fraser, was not, and never was an insane person.  The true cause of her dentention was the tyrannous determination on the part of P.B. Fraser, her father and Alfred P. Fraser, her brother, to forcibily compel her to conform to their wishes in the matter of certain family differences.  She was imprisoned for the purpose of discipline and revenge."

This incident divided the socialites, with the majority of them sympathetic towards Mary Fraser. Some of the prominent society people subpoenaed for the investigation to testify in Mary's behalf:

Mrs. Lucinda Budd (wife of the presiding judge and mother of Mary's attorney ex-governor James Budd)

Miss Mabel Clary (her brother was a law partner with Alfred Fraser, brother of Mary Fraser)

Mrs. Ada Orr (Mary's aunt and wife of Nelson Mills Orr who owned the Stockton Independent Daily)

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