Change Minds Online: Emily Mina (Minnie) Rausch by Maggie W.
Emily Rausch was admitted to Bethlem Hospital on 22nd December 1887. The Admission records state her age as 26, but her birth was registered in December 1858 in Marylebone, London, making her 29. She was the fourth of six daughters born to Edward and Henrietta Rausch. Edward was a Master Tailor from Prussia and had emigrated to London for work, before marrying Henrietta Renshaw in Lambeth (1850). By the time of the 1861 census the family were living in a building occupied by 7 other families in Circus Street, (nowadays Enford Street) just off the Marylebone Road, with five of their daughters.
Emily was just 4 years old when her father was admitted to Hanwell County Asylum for medical treatment in May 1863, but within a few days he had died of “brain fever” (encephalitis?) caused by work stress, aged just 40 . He left Henrietta pregnant with their sixth daughter, who was born in October 1863, and just one month later she had four of the girls (including Emily) baptised at St Mary’s Bryanston Square, just a stone’s throw away. St Mary’s had a school, so perhaps they received elementary education there as members of the church. (Emily’s education level was recorded as “fair” in the Bethlem Admission register).
Now head of the household, Henrietta Rausch took on responsibility for providing for her daughters and keeping them all out of the workhouse. Recorded in various Post Office London Trade Directories between 1865 and 1880 are details of her business as a “Wardrobe Dealer”, run from Circus Street; this would have involved calling on households in middle class areas hoping to buy or receive donations of unwanted clothes. These would then be mended, altered and sold on a market stall or in a shop. Several of the girls were probably involved, too.
It is unclear whether Emily was still living at home at the time of the 1871 census. Though aged only 12, she does not appear under the census listing along with her mother, her eldest (Henrietta Louisa) and two younger sisters. However, by 1881 she was lodging with Louisa at 57 Charlotte Street, and described as unmarried with no occupation. Louisa had married a George Dixon (or Dickson) in 1878, but seems to have been widowed by 1881, although she had an 11 month old son, Edward. Emily was the only one of her family who did not pursue an occupation of either a dressmaker, domestic servant, or clerk.
Emily’s admission to Bethlem in 1887 was on the authority of her sister, Louisa, rather than her mother. Louisa seems to have taken her under her wing since Emily still lived with her at 28, and helped out with housekeeping duties. The Bethlem Admission Records are tantalisingly brief, describing her supposed cause of insanity with a single word – “fall”. There are no further clues given in the Casebook either. Could a childhood accident or injury have resulted in poor physical and mental health at periods throughout her adult life? Emily had attempted suicide 6 weeks earlier by taking Strychnine (commonly known as rat poison), resulting in short term paralysis in her legs, and she had also been prevented both from throwing herself from an upstairs window, and from cutting her throat with a kitchen knife. She told household members that she felt she was going mad. After the suicidal episodes she had been treated by a Dr John Henry Waters at his private clinic at 101 Jermyn Street. Presumably Louisa had paid for this treatment.
Emily seems to have been under the impression that she deserved to die because she had done something disgraceful and shameful, though she gave “evasive answers to questions why she wants to do away with herself”. The casebook records that she was “very depressed all the time, thinking she has committed a very great crime.” There are hints that her ongoing “habit of self-abuse” (Victorian term for masturbation) may have had something to do with the guilt she felt, and she suffered delusions such as “voices of an ill-defined character worrying her”, and hallucinations of faces in the mirror.
Physically, Emily was described as “thin, very pale & anaemic & seems weak”; though mostly withdrawn and uncommunicative she occasionally showed impulsive behaviour –for example being described as violent on the day of admission, and having smashed a vase a few weeks later.
There is one early casebook entry from December 27th with a more positive note: Emily “was at the dance on 24th December and enjoyed it” This would have been the Bethlem Patients’ Ball. Similarly in late January 1888 the entry reads “Goes to dances and entertainments. Enjoys herself when dancing but seems unwilling when asked to dance”. Perhaps these occasions were a rare treat for someone confined to home and housekeeping duties. As the months went by Emily showed some signs of improvement, occupying herself and showing no further destructive impulses. There are no details of any treatment given.
Attached to the casebook records is a letter sent by Louisa Dixon to Dr George Savage, the hospital chief physician in May 1888. She explains that Mina (Emily) has written to her stating that she is shortly to be discharged, but Louisa is sceptical as she has received many letters which “have always appeared insane,” including the recent one where Mina thinks that she will be “most likely her turn next to die” and her dread of going back to Bethlem. In fact from June to September 1888, Emily Rausch was granted leave of absence, and successive extensions were made to the hospital return date. There are no further entries in her records until December 19th 1888, when she is “discharged relieved for special reasons”, though these are not recorded.
Some five years later, Emily Rausch again registered as a Voluntary Boarder at Bethlem Hospital, from February to September 1893. Described as “a delicate, slightly built woman with thin features and a rather anxious expression”, she is still “housekeeper to sister”, but had recently become depressed and neglectful of her duties, taking long walks by herself and sitting staring in the mirror or at her hands. One poignant comment was that Emily had said “that a gentleman was in love with her”( which was “manifestly absurd” according to her sisters), and that one of her sisters was trying to take him away from her. Since her mother had died in 1890, she had been distressed and had seen visions including one “in which a figure appeared and beckoned to her three times”. Over the next few months Emily continued to believe that people were reading her thoughts and was recorded as being “very quiet and retiring and rather shuns observation”, but by early June she was considered well enough to be moved to the Bethlem convalescent home at Witley, where she remained until being discharged “well” on September 27th.
It is not known where Emily lived after 1893. Her sister Louisa remarried in 1894, this time to Robert William Ellis (a ladies costume buyer, and, it appears, a long term friend of the family). He had been a witness to “facts indicating insanity” in the 1887 casebook records. In 1901 they are living in new Burlington Street with Louisa’s son, and a servant – but not Emily. Emily Mina Rausch seems never to have married, or to have had children and no further details came to light in official records until the 1911 census, when in her early 50s she is still single, and an inpatient at Horton Asylum in Epsom, described in the record as “lunatic”. Horton had been opened in 1902. The final mention of “Minnie”Rausch is a civil death registration in 1920 in Epsom , so presumably she had died at Horton Hospital.
I had in mind the kind of picture story found in Victorian illustrated newspapers, to summarise Emily's life story. I thought a collage would be the easiest way to achieve this, given my lack of drawing skills!
I took inspiration partly from a painting called "The Seamstresses" by Frank Holl, and used it to copy the images of Emily and her sisters.
I also wanted to highlight the only positive and uplifting references to Emily in the casebooks, which describes her enjoyment of the Bethlem Christmas ball and the entertainments. I felt that these may have been some of the few occasions in her life when she was transported away from a life of toil and domestic duties, and had a chance to experience something new and exciting. Therefore I made this the only colourful scene.