Arizona State Hospital

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Arizona State Hospital
Established 1871
Construction Began 1886
Opened 1887
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Phoenix, AZ
Peak Patient Population 1,900 in the 1960s
Alternate Names
  • Insane Asylum of Arizona
  • Territorial Asylum for the Insane
  • State Asylum for the Insane
  • Phoenix State Hospital


Eight years after Arizona became a separate territory from New Mexico, the concept that mental illness is a state responsibility was first recognized by the Territorial Legislature. On February 17, 1871, legislation was enacted which stated that the various Boards of Supervisors of the counties must provide for the confinement of all insane persons, "either in the County jail or in such other manner and place as shall be in their judgment be best for the safety of said insane person and of the community."

In 1885, the 13th Territorial Legislature met to appropriate $100,000 for the construction of the "Insane Asylum of Phoenix" in Arizona. In addition, an Honorary Board of Directors of the Insane Asylum of Phoenix was established. County bonds were issued for $3,500 for 160 acres with water rights 2-1/2 miles east of Phoenix. Construction began in 1886, to accommodate up to 280 patients, taking eight months to complete.

The "Insane Asylum of Phoenix" opened early in January 1887, for 61 patients with the completion of "D" building. This was actually 3 buildings with 2 patient wings and a central administrative facility.

Under the Board's direction, the remaining 160 acres was cleared of brush for grain crops, a vegetable garden, a vineyard and an orchard with 2,000 trees. In addition, a small area was set aside for a staff and patient cemetery, which has 2400 graves dating back to 1888. Among those buried in "All Souls Cemetery" is Corporal Isaiah Mays, a Buffalo Soldier who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A Board of Control replaced the Insane Asylum Board in 1895 (and was later disassembled in the 1940's), to establish policies and procedures regarding declarations of insanity, patient confinement, and terms of release. There was no legal process for confinement, and since they were few institutions, persons were committed reasons such as old age, tuberculosis, and "feeble-mindedness."

In 1902, the General Assembly of Arizona changed the hospital's name to the "Territorial Asylum for the Insane". By 1909, "C" building was under construction and 10 acres had been cleared for farming. After a fire in 1911, the Hospital was rebuilt in 1913, and named the "State Asylum for the Insane" when Arizona was voted into statehood. Two new buildings were completed — the Community Center with kitchen, dining room and auditorium, and "C" building.

By 1922, the patient population had climbed to 568 and was still increasing. In 1924, the Asylum was informally renamed Arizona State Hospital and the change was made legal in 1958. World War II created major staff shortages along with a sharp increase in patient admittance. Census rates rose to 998 in 1942, and then 1,200 in 1945.

During the 1940s, as medications were introduced by pharmaceutical companies, the Hospital played a leading role in trying new medications to help its clients. A social worker was hired during this time exclusively to discharge patients. By the early 1950s, the patient population was close to 1,800. Increases were attributed to state population influx, the admission of Japanese patients from war relocation centers and war casualties. During this period, new patients were required to appear before an insanity board, and few were declared "insane".

In 1970, during the height of the human rights movement, the Arizona Legislature passed Senate Bill 1057 (A.R.S. § 3655) which required that a patient must be dangerous to themselves or others in order to be confined to the hospital. Restrictions were such that made it impossible to get in and easy to be released. Many patients who had been at the hospital for years were released in downtown Phoenix and the patient census dropped from almost 2,000 to 300 within a few months. In 1973, Governor Williams and the Arizona Legislature created the Arizona Department of Health Services. Within this department fell the Division of Behavioral Health Services to oversee mental health services for the State Department of Health and Arizona State Hospital

In the 1980s, ADHS and ASH were sued in court case Arnold v. Sarn. The decision passed in 1989, which stated that "Arizona has failed to meet its moral and legal obligations to our state's chronically mentally ill population." The decision required a push toward community-based programs and services for discharged patients. During the 1990s, concern about mental health became a federal issue, generating reports from the Surgeon General's office and from high-ranking advocates. The Arizona State Hospital adopted Psychiatric Rehabilitation, a new model of patient care that encompassed all disciplines.

Corporal Mays[edit]

Upon his death in 1925 Cpl. Mays was interred in "All Souls Cemetery" with a small numbered head stone as the only marker placed at his grave. In 2001, the marker was replaced with an official United States Department of Veterans Affairs headstone which stated his name, service history, and his status as a Medal of Honor recipient. Eight years later, in March 2009 under the care of the Old Guard Riders Inc., Cpl Mays' remains were disinterred, cremated and placed in an urn designed especially for him. On 29 May 2009, in a ceremony befitting a Medal of Honor recipient, Cpl Mays was interred in Arlington National Cemetery [1]


Milestones: A History of Seventy-Five Years of Progress at Arizona State Hospital, Pheonix, Arizona, 1887-1962, by Arizona State Hospital, 1961

Images of Arizona State Hospital[edit]