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TideWriters Tales
Pioneering Inmate 
By Emily Pritchard Cary

     On April 27, 1943, The Arizona Republic gave Lily Bell Hancock a two-column farewell headed: “Early Pioneer Dies.” Curiously, the laudatory piece contained not one inkling of her bouts in the Territorial Asylum for the Insane. Those months of torment lay secreted in the State Archives until the director, Melanie Sturgeon, urged me to investigate the cases of women who appear to have been railroaded into incarceration by men seeking to extricate themselves from a bothersome emotional and financial yoke.

     By any criteria, Lily did not deserve her lot. She was born in Crown Point, Indiana on September 15, 1855 to Benjamin William Kellogg and the former Mary M. Clark. One year later, the family journeyed by covered wagon to Monterey, California, remaining there until Lily was 15 years old. Once the lust for adventure resurfaced, the Kelloggs mounted their horses and set out for Arizona’s Salt River Valley. Upon their arrival in October of 1871, Benjamin Kellogg acquired land and began developing a farm on what is today a large chunk of center city Phoenix.

     Two years later he gave his daughter’s hand to William Augustus Hancock, then 42 and considerably older than his 18-year-old bride, whose beauty contrasted sharply with the painted ladies and household drudges who comprised the majority of the Valley’s female population. Hancock already had made his mark as one of the Salt River Town Association commissioners; marrying Lily enhanced his prestige. 

     A decade before the Civil War, Hancock left his native Barre, Massachusetts to seek his fortune in California as a rancher, but in 1864 he enlisted in the Seventh California Infantry at the Presidio near San Francisco. Two years later, he mustered out as captain at Fort McDowell, Arizona. He was so impressed by the climate that he remained as superintendent of its government farm and offered his technical knowledge to survey the site of a new town. Soon after laying out ninety-six blocks one mile long and a half-mile wide, he enhanced his local prestige by becoming the town’s first postmaster. Years later, he would be known to many as the “Father of Phoenix.”

     Hancock prospered rapidly. Shortly after his marriage, he was elected Maricopa County Surveyor. Admitted to the bar in 1874, he was one of the most successful attorneys in Arizona, becoming probate judge, assistant to the U. S. Attorney, and the first sheriff of Maricopa County. Lily, elevated in society by her husband’s accomplishments, upheld her duties by remaining in his shadow as subservient wife and doting mother.

     Soon, however, the 24-age difference between Lily and William precipitated family strife that pricks through the documented past. He settled into middle age just as she blossomed socially and creatively, and while his money and power supplied the frivolous cravings of his beautiful young wife, they could not stifle her spunk and the inner fire that propelled her across forbidden lines. While Hancock spent considerable time away from home in the company of movers and shakers of the political kind, Lily was expected to be the model stay-at-home wife, serving tea in the parlor and staying discretely out of the limelight.

     That was not her style. Spurred by successful ventures of her husband and his colleagues, Lily yearned to make her own mark by accomplishing myriad good deeds. To her misfortune, many were concocted by her fertile mind during the long absences.

     On January 14, 1886, two of William Hancock’s associates went before Judge Joseph Campbell to present a petition requesting that Lillie (sic) B. Hancock, then only 31, be committed to the new Territorial Asylum opened the previous week.

     Why did Hancock enlist their services rather than face the court himself?

     As a sitting judge, his move was both prudent and officially correct, but love and shame are more likely explanations. If Hancock truly loved Lily, perhaps he absented himself from the courtroom believing that she would think better of him were the petition presented by a third party. Additionally, his reluctance to appear may have reflected both shame and fear that marriage to a woman whose bizarre behavior called into question his own good judgment could sabotage his professional career. The testimonies by Louis H. Chalmers and Charles A Givens were the initial steps in a case that must have set tongues of the Phoenix social and business sets wagging.

     Testimony of Louis Chalmers: “I have known Lily for about a year. Up to the past two weeks, so far as I know, she was sane. During the past two weeks, she has labored under various mental hallucinations, calling at my office frequently and asking me to transact various business matters that were absolutely improbable, and at other times she wished me to transfer all of her property to get money to assist friends…She stated that the parties to whom she wished to convey did not want the property, but that she would make them take it. She talks wildly on various subjects…She would leave me business to attend to, but the next time I see her would have no recollection of the matter.”

     Testimony of Charles A. Givens: “I have known (Lily) the last four or five years, being the wife of my partner, Judge Hancock. I know her to be an exceedingly amiable and modest woman of more than ordinary intelligence and character. Within the last few weeks, I have met her often and she has shown a very marked condition of insanity. She has come to talk about some business affairs, talking very wildly and insisting upon certain things, and speaking in a low tone and manifesting great excitement…Whenever she could do, she would get a horse and buggy or go out on foot in the daytime and at unreasonable hours of the night without the company of friends and going whenever she could do so by herself…During the absence of her husband a little while ago…such fears were entertained by her friends that she was kept under constant surveillance, and I was compelled to recall her husband while he was engaged in important business abroad. Once during this time, I was reliably informed, she procured a pistol and threatened to use it upon some persons unless they gave up to her a bottle of whiskey in their possession. I was informed that the pistol was taken from her by her brother-in-law by force. I am sure she is at any time liable to do herself or others injury unless restrained. I have seen her the last few weeks, and it is apparent to me she is more and more insane every day.”

     Upon her apprehension and appearance before the court, Lily was examined by Doctors O. L. Mahoney and O. J. Thibode. Their succinct conclusion: 1. We testify that she is insane. 2. It is dangerous for her to go out at large by reason of insanity. 3. The said insanity is likely to prove permanent.

     In response, Probate Judge Joseph Campbell gave an order on March 23, 1886 that must have chilled the vivacious Lily to the bone: “I do hereby order that she be delivered into the custody of her husband, William A. Hancock, to be by him placed where she may be properly treated and cured, subject to the order of the Board of Supervisors.”

     Lily’s incarceration in the spanking new Territorial Asylum for the Insane surely destroyed whatever fondness she felt for her esteemed husband. For the next fourteen years, William Hancock committed Lily periodically, precipitating an estrangement neither could hide from their children, Harry and Mabel.

     On March 24, 1902, William Augustus Hancock died in Phoenix at the age of 71. Lily was then 47. She may have believed that her troubles were over.

     But two years later, Harry L. Hancock, then 30, appeared in court to request that his mother be readmitted to the Territorial Asylum. He cited symptoms similar to those given prior to her initial stay, telling the court that his mother threatened family members and would not allow them to care for her. “She imagines she has a large amount of business to attend to, but in reality, she has not,” he said.

     He likened his mother’s “attack” to five previous episodes, the most recent one occurring six weeks earlier. The court doctors evaluated her as rational, yet ordered her confined on May 22, 1904. Two years later, Lily, then 50, was back in court listening to her son describe her symptoms as “erratic conversation and annoying people.” Harry expressed fear that she would wander away and become lost if not properly restrained.
The court physicians reported that Lily said very little during their examination, just enough to lament her neglect and ill-treatment by the family. Summarizing her behavior, they noted that she “writes letters to her friends, then abuses them, is not truthful to her family, and imagines she has great business ability and lots of property to handle.” Once more, on June 30, 1906, the judge ordered her committed to the Territorial Asylum for the Insane.

     Lily Bell Hancock, a throw-away wife and mother for much of her life, was shuttled in and out of the Territorial Asylum on at least four occasions documented in the State Archives. According to the Order of May 22, 1904, she was also sent to a comparable facility in California at least twice. Unfortunately, these documents do not reveal the length of each stay, the treatment, or the conditions of discharge, and the current director of the State Hospital cannot disclose any records of Lily’s internment.

     Considering her family’s stature in Phoenix, it could be inferred that Lily was sent away to lessen their embarrassment, together with the hope that she would become sufficiently cured to regain what society regarded as acceptable behavior and common sense. To this end, the Hancocks were willing to expend whatever sums of money were required by the institutions that harbored her.

     Despite her alleged mental illness, Lily Bell Hancock was of hardy stock, surviving until the age of 88 when, on April 27, 1943, she succumbed to pneumonia two months after being hospitalized for a fractured hip. According to the death certificate signed by Leslie R. Kober, M.D. on April 30, 1943, Lily’s fall on February 17, 1943 occurred in a public place. No details are given, but one hopes that the feisty lady was exerting her independence by shopping or strolling through the streets of the city her husband helped create. 

     Following a funeral service conducted by the very Rev. Edwin S. Lane, Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Lily was cremated and her remains interred at Greenwood Memorial Park. At the time of her death, few remembered that the once storied beauty was among the first Arizona women to inaugurate the Territorial Asylum for the Insane. Her obituary carried no mention of the internal wars that plagued her life or of the family strife that marked each passage through those revolving doors. Instead, it hailed her as a pioneer.

     A pioneer she was, in more ways than she could have imagined the day she and her parents began battle with the Valley’s harsh environment. Lily lived to see trains, cars, and airplanes eclipse the horse and buggy, and in the pages of a newspaper devoted primarily to the nation’s progress in World War II, she was acclaimed for her role in history.

     Lily Hancock would be even more honored to know that her suffering and the treatments she underwent at the Territorial Asylum may have contributed to the research that today enables many women to conquer depression and other forms of mental unbalance with out-patient therapy and a single prescription. 

© 2005 Emily Pritchard Cary. All Rights Reserved. Contact Emily Cary at 

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