Many victims of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake had lingering health problems, but none probably suffered more than Hattie Runyon, who apparently went mad.

Today she’d be diagnosed with an extreme case of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder); washing her hands up to fifteen times in a row and repeatedly bathing the children would be giveaway symptoms. But at the time, the post-Victorian doctors and courts were most concerned by her refusal to stop breast feeding her 2 year-old child, born around the time of the earthquake.

Hattie wasn’t the only one to lose her mind because of the disaster, and some died as a result. About ten weeks after the quake, America Thomas died from “general disability following general neurosis caused by shock” according to his death certificate, and Elwin Hutchinson, a 15 year-old schoolboy who died at the end of 1906, suffered from “partial paralysis and nervous prostration.”

Runyon Insanity Matter is Under Observation

The examination of Mrs. Hattie Runyon, charged with insanity, held before Judge Thomas C. Denny Wednesday morning, was attended by a number of ladies, who were summoned to tell what they had seen of Mrs. Runyon’s actions which indicated her mental unsoundness. These ladies told of the frequent bathings of the children of the woman at late hours, of her taking them up town at midnight, when they should be sleeping and resting, and other things.

Their presence of these ladies and their brilliant millinery gave the sombre court room the aspect of a social function, with Judge Denny as host. Dr. J. W. Cline and Dr. J. W. Jesse were the medical inquisitors.

Mrs. Runyon stoutly denied some of the accusation made against her, admitted that she was on the streets late at night, but declared she was compelled to go up town at unusual hours to get food for herself and babies. It developed during the examination that the woman had a child more than two years of age which she had refused to wean. The woman was told months ago by her physician that if the child was not weaned it would drive her insane, but she had refused to wean the little one. Her predicament in the present time is undoubtedly due to this.

The husband of the woman broke down and wept as he told the court and doctors of how his wife had changed since the earthquake. He said she was continually at the water faucets and that she would wash her hands and dry them and then return immediately to the faucets and wash them again, doing this as often as fifteen consecutive times.

Judge Denny continued the further hearing of the matter until November 24, and the woman will be kept under observation during that time. She was ordered by the court to wean her child and to keep off the streets at night. Unless these orders are obeyed she will be arrested again and placed under restraint.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 28, 1908

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