Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

A Plan for a National Consumer Memorial: It Will Rise on the Grounds of Saint Elizabeths in Washington, D.C

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

A Plan for a National Consumer Memorial: It Will Rise on the Grounds of Saint Elizabeths in Washington, D.C

Article excerpt

"Rows upon rows of numbered, small, rusted markers as far as you can
see. No names, just numbers. It must be the most gruesome sight in
Georgia. Unknown humans, shunned when living, deprived of their very
names in death--and known only to God."
--the late Joe Ingram

Ingram was describing the graves of some 25,000 patients buried at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, where he worked for 50 years. These and hundreds of thousands of shunned "unknown humans" interred nationwide, however, finally are receiving some of the respect they deserve. Across the country, advocates are working to restore grave sites at state hospitals, and fund-raising for a national consumer memorial in Washington, D.C., has begun.

Under the proposed design, peaceful gardens, reflective of the moral treatment model brought to the United States by English Quakers in the 1800s, will be the focus of the national memorial, which will be at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. The site will be easily accessible from a subway station near the memorial's entrance gate.

"You'll wind through gardens with rock markers from all 50 states listing numbers buried and at which institutions," says Dr. Pat Deegan, technical advisor to the national memorial, "and then exit through the gate back into the community, with a takeaway message of 'a life in the community for all.'"


District of Columbia Department of Mental Health Director Stephen T. Baron and his staff have led the efforts to identify land for the memorial and secure a local engineering firm to donate an architectural rendering of the memorial. The initial design, expected this fall, will help determine the projected cost, now anticipated to exceed $1 million. A three-year formal fund-raising drive is being planned, although donations already are being received.

"It is fitting that this memorial be located at Saint Elizabeths, given its history as a leader in moral treatment," says Baron. "We are excited to participate in this national project and are committed to moving it ahead as quickly as possible."

Moral Treatment

Opened in 1855, Saint Elizabeths was the first and only federally funded asylum and originally was called the National Asylum for the Veterans of the Army and Navy and Residents of the District of Columbia. Overlooking the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, Saint Elizabeths was designed to be a model moral treatment asylum with peaceful gardens. It was a pet project of reformer Dorothea Dix, who had experienced a "breakdown" as a young woman.

Dix's recovery benefited by spending more than a year in Liverpool, England, resting in the home of the grandson of William Tuke. Tuke, a Quaker merchant and doctor from York, England, founded a retreat asylum in 1792, modeling it after a simple family farm. Tuke's asylum rejected harsh "treatments" such as mechanical restraints (e.g., chains and straightjackets). Believing patients were inherently good regardless of their behavior, Tuke focused on emotional and spiritual recovery--being "moral"--rather than on restraints and punishment. The Quakers practiced gentleness and respect attuned to the needs of the ill, offering an inclusive, homelike setting that included garden walks, nourishing food, recreation, reading, and sewing.

The original goal of moral treatment asylums was humane treatment, but by the late 1800s medically focused state institutions began to replace Quaker asylums in the United States. Moral treatment practices gradually were eroded as state institutions became overcrowded.

The Georgia State Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1842 in Milledgeville, originally promoted moral treatment. The institution went from a place where the superintendent and his family shared meals with patients to a small city of 3,000 acres and a patient population that swelled to more than 12,000 in the late 1950s and early 1960s. …

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