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Mon, 03.13.1911

The Crownsville Hospital Center of Maryland opens.

The Crownsville Hospital Center

*The Crownsville Hospital Center opened on this date in 1911. This was a psychiatric hospital for Blacks located in Crownsville, Maryland.

The first group of 12 patients arrived and lived in a work camp in a willow curing house adjacent to one of the willow ponds. Staff worked with them to prepare roads and to harvest the tobacco and willow crops on the property. The facility was founded following a 1908 report by "The Maryland State Lunacy Commission." The facility was enabled by an act of the Maryland General Assembly on April 11, 1910, as the Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland. On December 13, 1910, the Board of Managers purchased land for $19,000. On May 23, 1910, Dr. Dan Hempeck was designated the first Superintendent. Additional patients were transferred in July and September 1911.

Construction started on the first large building, A Building, in October 1912. Patients were used to working on the construction of the Hospital and working in its day-to-day functions. Men were manual labor, and women had to knit and mend clothing for staff and patients (Osborn, Lawrence). As reported in the State Lunacy Commission Report of December 1912, patients worked as "hod carriers" and assistants to electricians and plumbers. Construction necessitated that they push "barrows of concrete up a tramway three and a half stories in height." They excavated "10,000 cubic yards of earth in about ten weeks." In addition, they unloaded 238 cars of cement, stone, and other building materials. "The laundry work for the patients is done by two adult males and an epileptic imbecile ten years of age. During the past year (1912), these three have washed and ironed over 40,000 pieces." 

Within a short time, smallpox and scarlet fever struck the patients. Water quality was a problem in those early years. Tuberculosis was a constant threat and is mentioned in the annual reports of those early years because there was no actual provision for the isolation of the patients, except in the summer months when there was a temporary open building for them. The Annual and Biennial Report of the State Lunacy Commission 1914–1915, in the section on Crownsville Hospital, stated that "the percentage of deaths based upon admissions (268 patients) was 38.43. The percentage of deaths calculated upon admissions due to tuberculosis was 29.85. The percentage of deaths based upon average attendance was 32.21." Tuberculosis remained a problem for many years. Excluded from this new, active treatment program at the all-white Springfield Hospital Center were the African American Crownsville TB patients. On October 29, 1915, two hundred Baltimore City patients were transferred from Bayview Medical Center (now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center). 

Two physicians in 1920, including the Superintendent, had a patient census of 521. There were also 17 nurses and attendants, one social worker, and 18 others. The data from the 1920 U.S. Census report shows that the average age of Crownsville patients is 42 years. The youngest was 14, and three patients were in their eighties. In the occupations section of the report, 68% were listed as holding hospital job assignments. In 1929, there were 55 discharges from Crownsville but 92 deaths. Therapies initially included hydrotherapy and sedatives. In the 1930s, insulin shock was introduced. Malaria treatment was begun in 1942, in which patients were infected with malaria pathogens. As many as twenty patients at a time were inoculated.

Through the 1940s, the NAACP had advocated hiring African American staff but encountered resistance from the Commissioner of Mental Hygiene. Hospital conditions deteriorated markedly in the 1940s due to overcrowding and staff shortages.  A 1944 "Confidential Report to the Board of Mental Hygiene regarding Present Conditions in State Hospitals" stated that Crownsville was 30 percent over its capacity, compared to two large hospitals for white patients, which were 11.6 percent and 11 percent over capacity. That same report documented that, for the preceding five-year period, the average number of deaths per 1,000 patients was 102 at Crownsville, in contrast to 59 and 60 for the two large hospitals serving white patients. The report also mentioned a problem relating to the availability of clothes for the "feebleminded" patients of Crownsville: "Some serious problems relating to supplies have occurred so that on one recent occasion some 25 patients in the Division for the "Feebleminded" were found on inspection to be completely without clothes."

The Commissioner of Mental Hygiene said in a letter in 1945 to the State's Governor: "A few nights ago at Crownsville in the division which houses ninety criminal, insane men, there was one employee on duty." According to a January 1947 report on medical care in Maryland, the average occupancy of private and public mental hospital beds was 7,453. Only Crownsville had African American patients in its 1,044 occupied beds as of August 1946. According to the 1948 Annual Report, Crownsville had about 1,800 patients, of which 103 received shock treatments, 56 received malaria/penicillin treatments, and 33 received a lobotomy. Lobotomies were a standard procedure during those years, but Crownsville Superintendent Dr. Morgenstern was opposed to them.

In 1948, the new Superintendent of Crownsville hired the first Black staff member, Vernon Sparks, in the Psychology Department. Gwendolyn Lee was later in the Social Work Department. The Crownsville Superintendent still was not permitted to hire African American staff in direct-care positions until 1952. In a report in March 1954, the Superintendent stated that lobotomies were not done. The census began to rise until it peaked in 1955 at 2,719 patients. By 1959, 45 percent of Crownsville's staff was Black, compared to 6- to 8 percent in the other large state mental hospitals. The adolescent patient population was integrated in 1962, and the adult population was integrated in 1963.  Industrial therapy (unpaid work) was essential to life at Crownsville. In the spring of 1958, more than 600 patients had work assignments in more than 55 placements, which included "dental assistant," "receptionist," "librarian," and "hospital aide."

Work was part of therapy, and "patients unable or unwilling to participate were considered too ill to enjoy the privilege of freedom of the grounds." Staff shortages were always a problem.  In 1953, Superintendent Dr. Eichert reported that in "A" Building, there were 560 patients and four attendants in the evening and four in the day. The Baltimore City Grand Jury Report for Fall 1955 reported, "This committee was shocked at the lack of professional personnel at Crownsville. In 1964, Dr. George McKenzie Phillips was appointed the first Black Superintendent. Dr. Phillips established a day treatment program and a school mental health outreach program, in addition to supporting the mental health clinics in Baltimore and the Southern Maryland Counties. Patients in Crownsville clinics received free medication. Training programs were established in psychiatry, psychology, social work, dance therapy, and pastoral counseling. Crownsville had an active international students' program for those in medicine, social work, and psychology.

In the ten years before its closing, it hosted students from Israel, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Turkey, and Chile. The Hospital also trained Spanish-speaking therapists when that need was identified. The hospital staff was well known for its outspoken resistance to the pressures to place patients in public shelters, with the resulting "dumping" of patients onto the streets and into the jails. Improvements in psychiatric treatment, rigid admission policies, and better funding of outpatient treatment and residential services resulted in the Hospital's census declining from 2,719 in 1955 to 200 patients by 2000 and zero soon after. The hospital grounds became the central county site for many social, school, and health programs, and the Hospital finally closed in July 2004. Those patients needing further psychiatric hospitalization were transferred to two of Maryland's remaining hospitals.   

Crownsville Community Campus             

Its original buildings are still standing, and today, portions of the campus are occupied by various tenants. The site is also the location of Crownsville Hospital's patient cemetery. This historic site was rededicated in 2004. Approximately 1,600 patients are buried in graves marked by numbers only, with the more recent having patient names. A local non-profit community organization called Community Services Center at Crownsville is concerned about development and its impacts on local traffic, security, historic resources, green space, and the community. It has been seeking the authority to control the 447 acres of State-owned excess property, which includes the former Crownsville Hospital Center. CSCC's project is called the Crownsville Community Campus with a mission. Their plan also involves funding to enhance and access the site's historic, community, and green resources. Bob Pascal had been associated with CSCC's plan as a funding partner and potential tenant.



Image: December 15, 1950 Photo by John J. Stadler BFV-856-BS

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