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The Dexter Asylum served as an institution for the care of the poor, aged and mentally ill of Providence from 1828 to 1957. The Asylum began through a bequest in the will of Ebenezer Knight Dexter (1773-1824), a wealthy citizen who had served on a town committee for poor relief. Dexter's gift to the town, though much needed at the time, later was seen as an anachronism--a walled and isolated "poor farm" in the midst of Providence's residential east side. Beginning in the 1920's, city officials, developers and assorted heirs made several attempts to change the conditions of the will, and in 1957, they finally succeeded. The Dexter Asylum property was sold to Brown University.
Ebenezer Dexter's will of 1824 left a property known as Neck Farm to Providence to be used for "the accommodation and support of the poor of said town... and for no other use or purpose whatever." The bulk of his estate was left to the city (then town) for the construction and upkeep of the asylum and the care of the poor. Dexter's will further called for the town to erect a stone wall around the property, forbade the town to sell Neck Farm, and specified that a town meeting of no less than "forty freemen" should be required for any action concerning the property.
Before Dexter's bequest, Providence had no institution for the care of the poor. Those unable to support themselves due to age or illness were cared for at town expense in private homes by caretakers who bid for the job. A committee formed soon after Dexter's death to oversee the donation, and town meetings from 1824 until the original building's completion in 1828 discussed the construction, operation and rules of the asylum. Click here for more...
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Eighteen frame buildings were constructed in 1870
, and that November 118 mental patients were admitted - 65 charity cases from Butler Asylum, 25 from town poor houses, and 28 from asylums in Vermont and Massachusetts where the state had sent them. The patients at the State Asylum were poor and believed beyond help, as is reflected in the evolution of names for the asylum. Initially, it was to be called the State Insane Asylum; in 1869 the Asylum for the Pauper Insane; and in 1870 the State Asylum for the Incurable Insane.
The following is a forty-minute video documenting the history of Camarillo State Hospital that had been created by the California Department of Developmental Services and was uploaded to youtube by PublicResources.org
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Asylum News (news you can edit!)
February 7, 2016 Clarinda struggles to fill former hospital
- The 128-year-old former mental health institute in the small southwest Iowa city of Clarinda isn’t your typical real estate opportunity, and so far no one is rushing to move in. More than seven months after the state closed the Clarinda Mental Health Institute, much of the sprawling building remains empty, including entire floors that haven’t been used in decades.
February 1, 2016 Efforts continue to preserve other parts of former Peoria State Hospital grounds
- Christina Morris happily remembers Sunday morning breakfasts with her grandparents, followed by visits to the peaceful cemeteries on the grounds of the Peoria State Hospital, where some family members are buried. “My interest with the state hospital started when I was about 7 years old,” Morris said in a recent interview. “When I would come onto the grounds (my grandfather) would say that this was a place of special people. (By special) I thought he meant giants, because these buildings were so big and beautiful and immaculate to me. I just was enamored by how beautiful it was.”
January 7, 2016 That Time The United States Sterilized 60,000 Of Its Citizens
- Not too long ago, more than 60,000 people were sterilized in the United States based on eugenic laws. Most of these operations were performed before the 1960s in institutions for the so-called “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.” In the early 20th century across the country, medical superintendents, legislators, and social reformers affiliated with an emerging eugenics movement joined forces to put sterilization laws on the books.
January, 6, 2016 Pa. hires firm to develop plan for Harrisburg State Hospital site
- Harrisburg, PA-The state has hired a Lancaster planning company to help it figure out what to do with the former Harrisburg State Hospital, which closed 10 years ago. Since closing in 2006, the hospital complex has housed state workers from the state police, Department of General Services and the Department of Human Services. It is now part of the larger DGS Annex property, which encompasses 303 acres across Harrisburg and Susquehanna Township.