Category Archives: St. Elizabeths Hospital

St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC was officially known as the Government Hospital for the Insane. It was founded by Dorothea Dix before the Civil War. It was turned into a hospital for the wounded during the Civil War. Soldiers didn’t want to write home from an insane asylum, so they used the name (St. Elizabeths) from the land grant on which the hospital served.

Canton Asylum Given Much Thought

Richard F. Pettigrew

Richard F. Pettigrew

Though the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians had many problems throughout its operation, the facility itself had been the subject of much consideration before its construction. When Senator Richard F. Pettigrew, Chairman of of the Committee on Indian Affairs, first proposed Senate Bill 2042 (for the purchase of land and construction thereon of an asylum for insane Indians) in 1897, he asked for “not less than one hundred acres of tillable land” and that the building should be constructed of stone or brick with a metal roof, and “shall be as nearly fire-proof as conditions will permit.”

At the time, a few Indians deemed insane had been admitted to the Government Hospital for the Insane (known as St. Elizabeths) at the rate of $91 per quarter. Payment was through the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The hospital’s superintendent, William W. Godding, noted that he was presently treating five Indians, and that “this number has never been exceeded at any previous date.”

Center Building, St. Elizabeths, 1900

Center Building, St. Elizabeths, 1900

Godding felt that there would be only a small number of Indians who might need psychiatric care, and that to spend $150,000 to purchase land and erect an asylum (Pettigrew’s proposed figure) was unnecessary. He pointed out that even after the asylum’s construction, the government would need to add “an annual expenditure of not less than $25,000 for the equipment and maintenance of the asylum.” Currently the Government Hospital cared for insane Indians at an annual cost of $2,267.

Dr. William W. Godding, courtesy Library of Congress

Dr. William W. Godding, courtesy Library of Congress

Like many other whites of the era, Godding believed that insanity was actually rare among Indians. He continued, “the additional expenditure [that Pettigrew proposed] might be advisable if there was a prospect . . . the number of insane Indians would be very much increased.” But, Godding stated, “the records of the race do not justify any such expectation, rather the opposite.”

Obviously, Godding’s commonsense objections were ignored.

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Grimes Was Not Impressed

Morningside Hospital Patient Ward, circa 1935

When Dr. John Maurice Grimes inspected mental institutions in the U.S. (see last two posts), he discovered that the federal asylum in Washington, DC, (St. Elizabeths) was overcrowded. Continue reading

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Where Do You Go?

Living Quarters in an Insane Asylum

Living Quarters in an Insane Asylum

Nearly every patient in an insane asylum wanted out. Asylum superintendents often put up roadblocks to this when they didn’t feel a patient was well enough to go home; there are many accounts of clashes between the asylum’s medical staff advising against removal, and patients’ families who thought they looked or seemed well enough to come home. Continue reading

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Dr. Hummer’s Review

Mounted Dakota Sioux Indian Police, Rosebud Agency, 1896

Mounted Dakota Sioux Indian Police, Rosebud Agency, 1896

Peter Thompson Good Boy was sent to the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths) even though he lived in South Dakota and should logically have been sent to the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians.  Except for his accusation that a neighbor had instigated his diagnosis and deportment, Good Boy displayed no signs of psychosis, exhibited exemplary behavior at St. Elizabeths, and had received an offer of employment. Continue reading

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More Odd Decisions

Law West of the Pecos Judged Horse Thiefs Harshly, photo taken of Langtry, Texas in 1900, courtesy National Archives

Law West of the Pecos Judged Horse Thieves Harshly, photo taken of Langtry, Texas in 1900, courtesy National Archives

After being accused of horse theft, Peter Thompson Good Boy met an Insanity Commission in South Dakota and was adjudged insane. Oddly, he was sent to the government hospital in Washington, DC instead of the much closer Canton Asylum in SD. Continue reading

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Beyond Reason

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Rosebud Indian Agency, courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Many patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians did not receive a formal hearing or doctor’s examination before being sent to the asylum. Authorities at least went through the motions with Peter Thompson Good Boy.

He was accused of stealing a horse on the Rosebud Reservation, and spent some time in the Deadwood, SD jail while awaiting trial. Continue reading

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Searching for Canton Asylum Patients

This is an out-of-schedule post to ask for information about Canton Asylum patients transferred to St. Elizabeths in 1933, for a projected memorial. If you have any information about them, particularly about their lives before they were in Canton Asylum, we would both appreciate it. If you’d like to provide any details, you may simply reply to this post or send information to a private email at: deet84803@mypacks.net.

Joanna, Augusta

Bear, Frank

Charlie (only name)

Charley or Charles, Creeping

Dauphinais, Madeline

Ensign, Meda

Fairbanks, Richard

Jackson, Robert

Kalonuheskie, Edith

Rising Fire, Bessie

Shortwoman, Sarah

Tsinnjinnie, Mabel

Vigil, Fidel

Yazza, Zonna or Sonna

Yazzie, Hoskee

Thank you.

 

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How to Help

Occupational Therapy, Toy Making in WWI-Era Psychiatric Hospital, courtesy Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Occupational Therapy, Toy Making in WWI-Era Psychiatric Hospital, courtesy Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, was not inclined to an active, hands-on approach to helping his patients overcome mental illness. In addition to his own weakness in this area, he may have found it nearly impossible to apply his book knowledge to real-life situations at the asylum. Continue reading

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Keeping Up

Outlines of Psychiatry

Outlines of Psychiatry

Like most people, Dr. Harry Hummer, superintendent of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, had a number of contradictory traits. Though he was accused of poor record-keeping on his patients and of a failure to institute any kind of mental health plan for them, he was clearly interested in maintaining expertise in his field. Continue reading

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A Difficult Life for All

People Seated on a Bench Near Van Deusen Cottage, Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital

People Seated on a Bench Near Van Deusen Cottage, Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital

Though patients undoubtedly had wretched experiences at most asylums, the life of an attendant was also difficult. Even in the first decades of the twentieth century, it was usual for attendants and other staff (including physicians) to reside at the asylum where they worked. Continue reading

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