|Birth: ||Mar., 1891|
|Death: ||Apr. 7, 1918|
Biography of Minnie Adams
by Jennifer Renee White
While transcribing obituaries from Indiana County, my eye caught a sensationalized headline chronicling the story of the "Wild Girl of Brushvalley Township." In just a few short sentences, my heart broke for this young girl, and I felt deeply compelled to learn more about her.
Who was she? What was her name? What had happened to her that pushed her to such pathetic circumstances?
Aftering digging through newspapers and civil records, I was finally able to give her a name. She was no longer "the Wild Girl" to me, she was, and will forever be, Minnie Adams.
Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the old documents and newspaper articles came together to slowly show the story of Minnie's life. Sadly, the picture that they revealed became quite grim.
Minnie's story spoke of untreated mental health issues, neglect and abandonment, and quite possibly, abuse. Though certainly, neglect itself is very much a form of abuse, but I must wonder if there is even more to her story that Minnie protectively locked away in her silence. It would seem we will never know the full truth.
As best as I can tell it, this is Minnie's story.
Born in March 1891 in Brushvalley Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania to William Lincoln "Lincoln" Adams and Lucinda Jane Howard Menser Adams "Jane", Minnie was brought up in an impoverished, illiterate home.
The marriage to Lincoln was her mother's second marriage. Her first marriage was to Albert Mencer (aka Menser). Albert died on 26th May 1882, leaving Jane with the care of at least two daughters, Sarah and Gussie.
Lincoln and Lucinda Jane were married on 7th of July 1887 in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. On their marriage certificate, Lincoln was able to sign his name, but Jane only could leave an "X" as her mark. Census records reveal that neither parent could read or write.
Minnie was the third of at least 5 children born of this union. Records confirm that she had at least two older brothers, George Washington Adams and William Adams, and two younger brothers, John Quincy Adams and David Harrison Adams.
Along with her siblings, she received no schooling, instead working the family farm. The year 1897 would have begun to mark a series of changes in Minnie's life. Her half sister, Sarah, married in January of that year. Then in the winter, her mother, upon suffering a fever which lasted 11 weeks, died on 14 Dec 1897 when Minnie was just 6 years old.
Six months later on 7 June 1898, her father remarried Nancy O'Bern McLean; a short-lived marriage but one that would give Minnie another little brother. Additionally, Nancy temporarily added to the family some step-siblings from her previous marriage.
Minnie's half-brother, Forest Paul Adams, was born on 9 Oct 1899. However, it would seem that Lincoln and Nancy had already separated at the time of his birth. He was born in West Wheatfield township, while Lincoln Adams and the rest of his children lived in Brushvalley.
While I am not sure if Gussie had already left the household prior to this time, she did marry in the Fall of 1899. Since creating Minnie's memorial at Find-a-Grave, I have been contacted by descendents of Gussie. They did share that Gussie had passed down the story that her early years were toilsome and hard. The family remembers Gussie as a loving and caring woman of great inner strength. From what the descendants can tell, it would seem that following the death of her mother, Gussie and Sarah would lose contact with their step-father, half-siblings, and each other.
In the 1900 census, I found Minnie living with her father and 4 brothers, as well as her widowed paternal grandmother, Eliza Adams Lagard. Her paternal grandfather, Stephen Adams was a founder of Brushvalley township, but died presumably between 1860 and 1870 when Lincoln was just a boy himself. Eliza eventually would remarry a John Lagard, or perhaps Legard, but he also must have died shortly after the marriage.
On the 7th of June 1901, Minnie lost her little brother, David, to typhoid fever after a 6 week illness. He died just a month shy of his 6th birthday and two months before Minnie's 10th birthday.
In 1902, Minnie's grandmother died, leaving Minnie the only female in the home with her father and brothers.
So in this period of Minnie's life, when she was 6-12 years old, she presumably lost contact with her two older half-sisters, and faced the deaths of her mother, little brother, and grandmother. That's a great deal of loss for such a young girl.
From there, the records fall silent until the 1910 census. At that time, Lincoln was listed as divorced, and Forest Paul was then living with him. Her step-mother Nancy remarried John W. Howard in late 1911.
Then in August of 1912, a series of articles about Minnie was published in multiple Indiana County papers telling the story of the "Wild Girl of Brushvalley Township" (see clippings at right). Piecing the information in those articles together provides a very sobering look into Minnie's life.
Witnesses and neighbors "out of pity" reported her case to authorities. The article hints that she was not properly cared for and that her mental breakdown could have been prevented. I must admit that my own mind attempts to fill in the blanks of what might have happened to Minnie to cause such a severe lapse in mental stability. Doing so only leaves me in tears.
Minnie's father, William Lincoln, died on 31 January 1917 while Minnie was still alive. His obituary lists all of his living sons, but makes no mention of the existence of Minnie.
On the 4th of April 1918, though once described as strong and athletic, Minnie died shortly after her 27th birthday. She died while a patient of the Dixmont Hospital for the Insane. The death certificate lists her cause of death as pulmonary tuberculosis.
Though her parents and most of her brothers were respectably buried in neighboring plots at the Brush Valley Lutheran Cemetery, Minnie is not with them.
No, Minnie was buried in a meager grave in the cemetery adjoining the hospital, her place marked only with a small plaque numbered 948. No names, no dates. Just a series of 3 digits give account that she ever existed.
At the time of her death, the hospital was experiencing severe over-crowding due to a huge influx of World War I veterans seeking treatment for what was then known as "shell shock," but today is more commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Reports were that the hospital halls were lined with the foot of one bed touching the head of the next bed, one right after the other.
It makes me wonder what her final days were like. Was she lost in a veritable ocean of tormented patients? Or was she cared for, loved, and treated well in the days before she died?
Upon her death, did someone mourn her passing? Did someone tearfully stand over grave number 948 on that April Wednesday morning, whispering to the wind their heartfelt pain that she was gone? Or did her death, like the life she had led, pass silently by?
Sadly, Minnie's obituary does not seem to indicate that anyone took much notice. No reference is made of the surviving bereft. Not a single name of one of her brothers or any other loved ones is included in the announcement of her death. There is no sense that Minnie's life touched anyone around her. Her death seemingly came and went, marked only by three sentences in the bottom corner of a smudged newspaper.
For those of you reading who have perhaps stumbled across this memorial just as I stumbled upon that first short newspaper article about the "Wild Girl of Brushvalley Township," I hope that you find yourself touched by her life story, just as I was. It is my desire that though it would seem for much of her life Minnie was brushed aside; neglected, forgotten, and unwanted, that we remedy that.
Please see that dear Minnie Adams is remembered.
But not remembered as "The Wild Girl of Brushvalley," but rather as a young, misunderstood girl who lived during a time when the predominating answer to mental health problems was to usher people away to "hospitals" where they could be easily forgotten, easily managed. Those with mental health needs like Minnie were shamelessly locked behind closed doors so that the rest of society could go on without the daily "burden" of caring for their needs and live out their days without the "inconvenience" of dealing with the troubled soul.
Let us remember Minnie Adams as we pick up the banner of compassion toward the impoverished, the uneducated, and the sick. Let us wrap them in a robe of dignity and respect while we cloak ourselves in humility and mercy.
"Man is not made better by being degraded." – Dorothea Dix
W Lincoln Adams (1862 - 1917)
Lucinda Jane Howard Adams (1859 - 1897)
Gussie Mencer McBeth (1882 - 1969)**
Minnie Adams (1891 - 1918)
David Adams (1895 - 1901)*
Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery
Plot: Grave Number 948
Maintained by: Jennifer White
Originally Created by: ProgBase
Record added: Sep 22, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 76952205