Pennhurst State School and Mental Hospital – In the Beginning
Please see note.
Note: The languaged used here are those used during this period of time in history and in no way reflects what the author would use. To serve as close to facts as possible the wording used has been kept the same.
The stories about Pennhurst State School and Mental Hospital surface frequently. People continue to have a fascination with the horror of what happened there. Or maybe it is just the thrill seekers and paranormal investigators that have seen ghosts in the place. Old mental hospitals all over the country have found some notoriety in the things that went on in them. What ever the reason is this facility continues to draw a crowd.
Pennhurst was created by Pennsylvania legislature on May 15, 1903 as “Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptics.” It was to be a place devoted to the detention, care, and training of the “feeble minded and epileptics.” The education and training that these as they called them then inmates were to be of an agricultural (including stock) nature to support Pennhurst.
According to A Short History of Pennhurst Center by Assistant Superintendent of Pennhurst (April 1984), the problems started with the first admission on November 23, 1908. The problems were overcrowding and understaffing. This was found to be true throughout Pennhurst history. Even though they had decided to take a certain type of patient, they admitted more than this kind in the beginning. A large number of the first individuals admitted where allegedly violently insane with homicidal and suicidal tendencies, criminals, manic and much more.
This institution as many did have financial problems that continued to lead them to take in more patients than they had room for. For example, in one building in an area that there should have been no more than 16 individuals there were 75 in that one space. With all of the overcrowding sanitary conditions just continued to deteriorate. This was found to be true throughout the history of Pennhurst.
The fascination with Pennhurst is in part due to the number of people that where cared for and treated there. It was built to accommodate some 500 individuals in the beginning. It opened its doors in 1908 but didn’t come under scrutiny for alleged abuse and neglect cases until 60 years later in 1968. NBC at that time did a report “Suffer the Little Children.” The publication of the conditions and actions that were being reported seemed to move more people to take notice of what was happening. More stories and events were put out for the country to view and finally some investigations and changes would occur to stop the terrible treatment that was allegedly happening to the patients in this facility.
Even after the reports of abuse and neglect Pennhurst continued to operate until 1986 and a court order issued it to close its doors. The court found enough evidence of physical and mental abuse and neglect to support having residents and patients to be either discharged or transferred to other facilities. The findings demonstrated that the patients in most cases had deteriorated in their conditions. It was alleged that there was cruel and unusual punishments, unsanitary and inhuman treatment of the people that resided there.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. There will be more to follow on Pennhurst. So be sure to check for new hubs.