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NPR: Architecture Of An Asylum' Tracks History Of U.S. Treatment Of Mental Illness
Susan Stamberg | July 6, 2017

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The Center Building at St. Elizabeths, pictured circa 1900, housed administrative offices and patient wards. Established in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, the hospital became widely known as "St. Elizabeths" during the Civil War, and took

From Issue No. 259 | July 11, 2017

The Center Building at St. Elizabeths. National Archives and Records Administration - National Building Museum

When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1962, St. Elizabeths Hospital was notorious — a rundown federal facility for the treatment of mentally ill people that was overcrowded and understaffed. Opened with idealism and hope in 1855, the hospital had ballooned from 250 patients to as many as 8,000. Its vast, rolling patch of farmland had fallen into disrepair, too, in the poorest neighborhood in the U.S. capital.

The hospital is now the subject of an exhibition at the National Building Museum; Architecture of an Asylum explores the links between architecture and mental health.

Dorothea Dix, the 19th-century reformer who fought for the hospital, would have rolled over in her grave to see what St. Elizabeths had become by the 1960s.

"She had observed the treatment of the mentally ill in jails and other kinds of alms houses [and] poor houses all over the country," explains exhibit curator Sarah Leavitt. Dix "was really appalled by the treatment that they were getting, and she made it her life's work to change that story."

Editors Notes: see also the following link to the exhibition,
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