Life of Florence Alice Fleming

The trail began when we read in the young Roy Fleming’s diary an entry for July 3 1891 : “I hear that Florence Fleming has gone out of her mind. They read it in the Times.” Roy was only 12 years of age; his cousin Florence was 28. The Times article, titled “A distressing incident” was on microfilm in the Owen Sound Public Library. In as sympathetic a manner as possible, the Times  journalist reported that Florence, the “accomplished” daughter of Donald Fleming, on a voyage back from Manitoulin Island to Owen Sound, had attempted suicide by drowning.

Florence (standing) with her mother Esther c 1877

Donald had already suffered a great deal. In May 1882 he had admitted his wife Esther Flower to the Asylum for the Insane Toronto on Queen St W. Melancholia ran in the family. Esther’s father Samuel Flower had been considered insane, though there is no record of his being admitted to a hospital. Now Florence had succumbed to delusions and violent reactions – her father had no choice but to have her admitted as well. Eventually she was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.

The Archives of Ontario holds some patient records for the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. The series RG 10-271 provided summary information about Esther and Florence. No other details could be found. However, Florence was transferred to the asylum in Penetanguishene in August 1904 where clinical records and some entries have survived in RG 10-303 Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene.

Florence died in September 1939, at age 75, after spending over half her life confined to an asylum, and crazed by delusions. Fortunately, the records indicate she was fairly well cared for at Penetanguishene and had some contact with family. A fuller account of her life is given in Florence Alice Fleming: Patient [Word document].

To learn more about the lives and care of the mentally ill in Ontario from 1870 to 1940, see Geoffrey Reaume’s book, Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2010.

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