Tag Archives: Morningside Hospital

Attempts at Christmas Cheer

Christmas Tree in Wisconsin State Hospital, 1895

Christmas Tree in Wisconsin State Hospital, 1895

Even when overcrowding and underfunding began to eat away at the effectiveness and relative comfort of asylum care, superintendents often went to great lengths to create a festive atmosphere during Christmas and other major holidays. These efforts eased the monotony of asylum life for patients as well as for staff.

 

Ward Decorated For Christmas, Fulton State Hospital, 1910

Ward Decorated For Christmas, Fulton State Hospital, 1910

 

 

At Northern Hospital for the Insane, staff decorated the chapel with a Christmas tree and placed evergreens and candles throughout the room. Many patients had received presents from their friends and family, and the superintendent, Dr. Wigginton, and his staff had purchased additional gifts to place under the tree so that no one would be forgotten.

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, patients also celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree, special meals, and stockings filled with edible treats. In 1927, the asylum received additional holiday help from the Chilocco, Oklahoma YWCA; its girls gathered (and likely contributed) gifts like dolls, games, and books to the asylum’s patients as a service project. These were delivered on Christmas Eve, to the delight of the patients. Hummer asked the coordinator to continue with the service project, and the girls evidently did so, since there is record of the asylum receiving gifts again in 1932 or 1933.

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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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Unflattering Views on Mental Health Care

The Journal of the American Medical Association Published Its First Cigarette Ad in 1933

Over a two year period beginning in 1931, Dr. John Maurice Grimes inspected all U.S. institutions caring for the mentally ill. This was done at the request of the American Medical Association. Grimes’ report was so unflattering that he ended up publishing it himself after the AMA withdrew its support. One of the dismaying situations he discovered was how chronic most hospital stays had become. Patients no longer came under care to get well, but to get out of the way of their families.

“The average length of stay of a patient in a state hospital is measured in years,” wrote Grimes. “A patient remaining in a hospital for such a period is not under medical treatment; he is not even under medical observation. …Many of these patients have been practically forgotten by their relatives, and the hospital has made little or no effort to prevent that forgetting or to freshen and strengthen the sense of family obligation.”

Grimes suggested an increase in the number of social workers available to oversee trial “paroles” for patients. The practice of parole or furlough (another common term for visits home) had been adopted by many forward-thinking psychiatrists at the time. The practice served to free up physician time and attention for other patients, and to help the furloughed patient begin to transition back to normalcy. The practice wasn’t as widely adopted as it might have been, because there weren’t enough social workers to help with the process. In some cases, families didn’t really want the burden of caring for their family member again.

At the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, Dr. Harry Hummer refused to give furloughs. If he thought a patient might relapse, he saw no sense in sending the person home. Unfortunately, there were few cases in which Hummer had complete confidence that a patient had been cured. Though a few patients were discharged, the majority of patients under his care were never allowed home even for short visits. This practice made their homesickness and loneliness much worse.

Patients Create a Lawn at a North Dakota State Hospital

Morningside Hospital Patient Ward, circa 1935

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Holidays at Asylums

Morningside Hospital, courtesy Library of Congress

Though most asylum superintendents believed that their home environments had caused patients’ insanity, superintendents also realized that establishing a type of normalcy in their institutions was important for a cure. Many boasted, of course, that their institutions had a homelike atmosphere and that the patients and staff were like a large family. Just like families, then, patients had routines that included regular schedules, chores, and the occasional festive break.

It was normally too difficult to take patients to church, but most asylums held some sort of church services on a regular basis. They also tried to provide occasional entertainments like dances, plays, and lectures, and celebrate holidays. Their hearts may have been in the right place, but it surely added to their patients’ heartache to spend a special occasion in an insane asylum instead of at home.

Christmas at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon, circa 1920s, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

Inside Morningside

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Government Care of Insane Native Alaskans

Tlingit Healer and Patient in Posed Healing Ceremony, Alaska, 1906, courtesy Library of Congress

Tlingit Healer and Patient in Posed Healing Ceremony, Alaska, 1906, courtesy Library of Congress

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon was created in 1880 by an act of the state’s legislature, and opened its doors in 1883 to 370 patients. By 1896, the number of patients had grown to 1,106.

On January 16, 1901, the U.S. government entered a contract with the hospital to house the insane of Alaska at $20/month for each patient. The contract was renewed for an additional year, but in 1904, Alaskans with mental health care needs were sent to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon. They were typically arrested and convicted on insanity, then transported by dog sled and boat to Oregon. Like American Indians, many of these patients were railroaded into an institution because they were inconvenient to someone in power.

Inside Morningside

Inside Morningside

The care for the Territory of Alaska’s native population fell under the Secretary of the Interior, as did care for American Indians. Because there were no facilities in Alaska to provide for the mentally ill , they were brought–often unwillingly–to the mainland for treatment under the care of the Sanitarium Company of Portland, Oregon. The hospital was understaffed and relied on drugs to keep patients subdued and manageable.

Inspection at Morningside Hospital, courtesy National Institutes of Health

Inspection at Morningside Hospital, courtesy National Institutes of Health

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