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Williamsburg - Public Hospital


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Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds

On 12 February 1772 the General Assembly passed an act authorizing more funding for the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, the first public institution in America to care exclusively for the mentally ill.

Governor Francis Fauquier first proposed building such a facility in a speech to the House of Burgesses in 1766. The legislature eventually passed a bill to establish such a hospital, and in 1773 Williamsburg's Public Hospital began admitting patients. During this early period, the institution was part prison and part infirmary, but it did represent a new and more humane attitude toward mental illness. Doctors thought that insanity was a brain disease, and inmates were treated with drugs, water therapy, and restraining devices. Only those patients who were considered curable or a danger to the community were admitted, and the hospital was not intended for long-term care.

In 1841, the name of the hospital changed to the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, and under the management of Dr. John Minson Galt II, it grew to include seven buildings that housed over 300 patients. Galt encouraged residents to participate in crafts, gardening, and other social functions. Despite these therapeutic activities and careful medical supervision, the number of patients who actually improved declined. The hospital then became a long-term care facility for the mentally disturbed and was later renamed Eastern State Hospital.

In 1885 a fire destroyed the original hospital building, and one hundred years later the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation reconstructed the building as a museum. Eastern State Hospital relocated to a new site in Williamsburg, and it is now part of the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services.



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