Bridgewater State Hospital

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Bridgewater State Hospital
Bridgewater State Hospital
Established 1855
Construction Began 1866
Opened 1866
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Bridgewater, MA
Alternate Names
  • Bridgewater Almshouse for Paupers (1855-1866)
  • Bridgewater State Workhouse (1866-1867)
  • State Asylum for Insane Criminals
  • State Farm (1887-1919)
  • State Farm of the Bureau of Prisons (1919-1955)
  • Bridgewater Prison for the Criminally Insane


In 1852, the Commonwealth discontinued its program of outdoor relief for unsettled paupers. Prior to that, municipal governments were tasked exclusively with the care of dependents having legal settlement, which usually entailed long term residence there. The care of unsettled paupers, increasingly immigrants from western Europe, was only undertaken in local almshouses at state expense. After 1852, the state assumed full responsibility for the indoor care of unsettled paupers, which meant the construction of four large new state almshouses. These were located on Rainsford Island, Tewksbury, Monson and Bridgewater. Within just over a decade, the function of each would become increasingly specialized. The sick and elderly were sent to Tewksbury, infectious immigrants to Rainsford and children to Monson. Bridgewater was left to becomes a place increasingly of undesirables and the so called "undeserving poor," people who were thought to be poor out of idleness, inebriation and other vices. Over the years Bridgewater would change significantly in both form and function, but its image as a place for undesirables would persist.

The first major shift came in 1866 when a the Workhouse for Vicious Paupers was established alongside the Alsmhouse (St 1866, c 198). The Almhouse would later be abolished in 1872 (St 1872, c 45). Of the workhouse system, a Senate Document published in 1870 notes that "a large majority of those confined in it come from the vicious classes of society. They are made up of the criminal poor-the lewd, the intemperate, and those suffering from a disease which is in itself a proof of their abandoned character." (Senate Report No. 110, 1870) In that year there were 323 commitments to the Workhouse.

In 1887 the facility became the State Farm and its agricultural operations were expanded. Farming increasingly became an important feature of the facility and the annual reports of superintendents focused as much attention on crop and livestock production as they did on activities and services for inmates. According to the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Commissioners of Prison (January 1889), in its first year the State Farm received 234 commitments including six women. Their crimes against public order and decency included tramp (155), vagabond (43), drunkenness (23), and escape (10). At the close of the year (September 30, 1888) there were 129 men and five women held at the facility. These inmates were put to the task of raising crops, tending to livestock, and performing other agricultural tasks.

Many inmates in the workhouses, almshouses, and penitentiaries of the late nineteenth century were diagnosed as having some form of mental illness. Among them, some were classified as "criminally insane" because of their proclivity towards disruptive and violent behavior. Prior to 1890, these mentally ill prisoners were sent to the State Lunatic Hospital at Worcester. In addition to this criminal population, the Worcester Hospital housed those who were civilly committed.

Due principally to their violent nature, the "criminally insane" became too burdensome for the State Lunatic Hospital and the Commonwealth began to send them to the State Farm at Bridgewater. The Massachusetts legislature formalized this arrangement in 1895 by statutorily mandating that "all male prisoners who are announced insane after an examination are removed, if the Governor so decides, to the State Asylum for Insane Criminals which is a department of the State Farm at Bridgewater." Through the end of the century, there was an average of 85 prisoners removed to the Asylum each year.

At the end of their sentences these prisoners would be discharged. In 1899, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in its decision In re Donne , changed this practice. It stipulated that if the insane prisoner did not recover before the expiration of his sentence he was required to remain in the State Asylum as an insane person, subject to be discharged at any time, as was the case for other "lunatics." In essence, this decision made the rules for discharge of the criminally insane consistent with those for the civilly committed.

In accordance with the provisions of Chapter 199 of the Acts of 1919, supervision of the State Farm was transferred from the State Board of Charity and Trustees of the State Infirmary and State Farm to the Bureau of Prisons. The institution then con- sisted of three departments-prison, alms, and insane.

As reported in its Annual Report for 1919, the State Farm held as many as 1,812 inmates during that year, including 860 "lunatics," 547 male and 87 female prisoners, and 318 paupers. This was the lowest census in thirty years causing the Bureau to warn the legislature that the physical plant and farming production may suffer "unless your honorable body extends the authority of the courts in the matter of commitments, or makes some arrangements whereby its population may be materially increased in numbers." This decline in population was seen in all correctional institutions. The Bureau reported that "not since prison statistics in this State have been compiled have there been so few commitments to the penal institutions of the Commonwealth as the number of persons committed during the year ending September 30, 1919." The Bureau attributed the drop-off to "wartime prohibition, probation and abnormal industrial conditions."

In the same year, the insane department of the State Farm reported 72 admissions: 56 from state and county correctional institutions; 14 from the courts; and one each from hospitals for the insane and from jails awaiting trial. The prison department reported 1,046 admissions: 802 for drunkenness; 194 for tramps, vagabonds, and vagrants; and the balance for idle and disorderly, offenses against morality, nonsupport, assault, larceny, property damage, disturbing the peace, and escape. The alms department, housing both male and female aged and infirm poor, reported 240 admissions. Most were the overflow of admissions to the State Infirmary in Tewksbury.

In 1922, two additional populations were added. In May of that year the Department for Defective Delinquents was established at the State Farm. In the 1922 Annual Report, the Commissioners of Correction characterized the creation of this distinct unit as a pioneering effort in caring for and studying the "morally deficient, morally blunted, or with character traits which form a basis for his delinquencies [and] make of him a social misfit and public liability." These people need not have been convicted or even charged with a crime. The court needed only to be satisfied that the person was dangerous or had dangerous tendencies. In the first five months of operation there were 33 admissions: 20 transferred from the Wrentham State School; 5 from the School for the Feeble-Minded at Waverly (as persistent violators of school rules); 7 direct court commitments; and 1 from the Department of Public Health.

The Bridgewater population also expanded with the enactment of Chapter 535 of the Acts of 1922 which provided for the commitment of drug addicted patients to the State Farm for up to two years. The commitment could be made without a criminal conviction, similar to the process for committing the insane. In 1923 the State Farm received one admission pursuant to this Act. As of September 30, 1922 the other departments of the State Farm held 1,640 inmates: prison department--459 male and 65 female prisoners; alms department--245 male and 1 female pauper; and the insane department--870 male lunatics.

Twelve years later (1934) the population stood at 2,445. The alms department was down to 4 paupers; the prison department housed 1,095 males and 1 female prisoner; the insane department held 913 patients; the defective delinquent department was up to 331 male and 81 female inmates; and there were 9 inebriates, 9 committed and 2 voluntarily admitted drug addicted patients. The superintendent, James E. Warren, and the Medical Director of the Insane Department, William T. Hanson, both recommended a separate institution for the criminally insane. "It should be under the supervision and control of the Department of Mental Diseases and not subjected to a divided responsibility." Furthermore, they urged that "minor offenders and men committed to our jails and houses of correction be committed to hospitals for civil cases..." (Annual Report of the Commissioners of Correction . 1934)

Transcription of The Bridgewater correctional complex a policy report of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means Published November,1987

Theories of delinquent causality and reforms in the treatment of the insane proliferated in the early decades of the twentieth century. In their wake a major restructuring of large bureaucracies followed. Simultaneously, those charged with the care of the infirm and mentally ill became acutely aware of the need to separate these groups according to the demands they posed on society and their requisite needs, thus adhering to Superintendent Woodward's plea for classification and Superintendent Warren's urging separation of the mentally ill from the criminal population.

In the middle of the twentieth century the Commonwealth's correction system underwent major restructuring. In 1955, acting upon the report of the Governor's Committee to Study the Massachusetts Correctional System (known as the Wessell Committee), the legislature enacted substantial reforms and changes in the organization of the Department of Correction. In unifying the then eight state prisons, the law gave each a common title and the State Farm became the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) at Bridgewater. The institution was broken into three separate departments; a fourth was added in 1959:

  • 1. State Hospital housing a) mentally ill men deemed not proper commitments to a Department of Mental Health facility and found not competent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity, b) convicted male offenders transferred from a correctional facility after becoming mentally ill, and c) civilly committed mentally ill men transferred from the Department of Mental Health because they were found to need greater security;
  • 2. Treatment Center opened in 1959 under the Department of Mental Health for men committed by the courts under the "sexually dangerous person" law either for examination or long-term treatment for sexual dangerousness;
  • 3. Prison Department for those sentenced for drunkenness, alcoholics voluntarily committing themselves for treatment and, later, drug dependent persons;
  • 4. Defective Delinquent Department for those over the age of 15, charged with an offense "which creates a danger to life or limb," found to be "mentally defective" by two Department of Mental Health doctors and adjudged as such by the court.

In the 1960's and 1970's, as the result of significant developments in mental health treatment, the nature of Bridgewater State Hospital changed dramatically from one providing long-term care to one specializing in short-term evaluations and treatment.

The first development occurred in 1966 when the Supreme Court held in Baxtrom v. Herold that mentally ill persons could not be held in a maximum security psychiatric hospital longer than a criminal sentence without a hearing on the substantive issues of that commitment. The Commonwealth responded in 1968 by holding special Superior Court hearings at the State Hospital to determine whether the patient required the care, treatment, and security of Bridgewater. As a result, over 50 percent of the long-term care patients were discharged to other mental health facilities and services.

The second development which changed the complexion of the treatment at the state hospital occurred with the 1971 reform of the Commonwealth's mental health statutes. In response to the Baxtrom decision, the legislature overhauled the laws regarding commitments to mental health hospitals, including Bridgewater State Hospital. The new law created separate processes for civil commitments and criminal referrals, and established the following requirements as standards for commitment: the person must be mentally ill, is not a proper subject for a mental health facility, and is in need of strict security. Moreover, the reform law greatly limited the amount of time an individual could remain at the State Hospital for observation or treatment without judicial review.

Despite these limitations on long-term commitment, admissions to Bridgewater State Hospital grew dramatically in the late 1970's. Between 1975 and 1982 the increase was almost 60 percent, from 716 to 1,137 admissions. Ironically, much of the in- crease was created by the deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities which began in the 1960's. While there was much support for the move to a community-based mental health system, full realization was complicated by judicially imposed limitations on involuntary treatment and inadequate resources to support patients in the community. Large numbers of the mentally ill were left homeless and unable to care for themselves. Many resorted to petty crime or substance abuse. This population ended up at Bridgewater. Some were committed through the courts or referred through the correctional system and others entered through the Addiction Center.

Two other significant events at Bridgewater in the early 1970's contributed to increasing commitments--a modern physical plant and improvements in professional care and treatment. In 1974 a new 450-bed State Hospital opened and was described by one therapist as a "modern, campus-like facility, surrounded by 'see-through' chain link fences rather than a solid wall." Closely following that was the introduction of a new treatment team. Until 1975, the State Hospital employed its own treatment staff. Following a hearing in federal court regarding a patient's alleged lack of treatment, the Department of Correction agreed to contract with outside experts for these services. The first contractor was McLean Hospital which brought to the facility a highly regarded, professional treatment staff and affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard School of Medicine.

For the next ten years, the new facility operated relatively smoothly. However, the mid-1980's marked the onset of a period of organizational and management turmoil at the State Hospital, beginning with the retirement in March 1985 of long-time superintendent, Charles Gaughan. Since Gaughan's departure two years ago, the Department of Correction has employed three different superintendents.

The mid-1980's also saw a change in mental health service providers to Bridgewater. In 1986 Goldberg Associates was awarded the clinical program contract replacing McLean Hospital. A major turnover of treatment staff ensued, leaving a number of posi- tions vacant for a lengthy period of time. Additionally, in the spring of 1987, the individual employed under contract as medical director was fired after accusations of absenteeism. In summary, since 1985 the State Hospital has had three superintendents and two medical directors.

From the Massachusetts state archive:

St 1866, c 198 established the State Workhouse at the State Almshouse at Bridgewater, like it under the Board of State Charities. The almshouse itself was abolished by St 1872, c 45. St 1879, c 291, which replaced the Board of State Charities with the State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity, gave the workhouse its own board of trustees, replacing a board of inspectors; St 1884, c 297 replaced this by a Board of Trustees of the State Almshouse i.e., at Tewksbury and State Workhouse.

After a fire, St 1883, c 279 authorized removal of the workhouse to quarters at the State Reform School at Westborough; return to Bridgewater was authorized by Resolves 1884, c 76. St 1887, c 264 renamed the institution the State Farm.

The institution was placed successively under the State Board of Lunacy and Charity (St 1886, c 101, s 5) and the State Board of Charity (St 1898, c 433, s 24) --by 1918 its governing board was called the Board of Trustees of the State Infirmary and State Farm. St 1919, c 199 removed the State Farm from both boards, placing it under the Massachusetts Bureau of Prisons, replaced per St 1919, c 350, s 86 by the Dept. of Correction.

The institution originally received inmates of state almshouses convicted of being rogues, vagabonds, and the like (i.e., misdemeanors) as per GS 1860, c 165, s 28. (This was extended to anyone so convicted per St 1869, c 258.) Also admitted were incorrigible inmates of state juvenile reform institutions. State charges generally could be placed there as well per St 1872, c 45 (i.e., after the closing of the Bridgewater almshouse) by the Board of State Charities (and successors)--by the Dept. of Public Welfare per St 1921, c 486, s 28. Also admitted were aged or physically or mentally infirm inmates of the State Prison (St 1890, c 180; St 1915, c 184)

Insane male state paupers were committed there per St 1886, c 219; these were limited to inmates of correctional institutions per St 1894, c 251. St 1895, c 390 designated so-involved parts of the State Farm as the State Asylum for Insane Criminals, placed per St 1898, c 433, s 9 under the State Board of Insanity (and successors) and known per St 1909, c 504, s 98 (and which see): Bridgewater State Hospital.

St 1911, c 595 authorized a department of defective delinquents (established 1922) and St 1922, c 535 designated the State Farm as a correctional unit for alcoholics and drug addicts, inheriting functions of the Norfolk State Hospital.

St 1955, c 770, reorganizing the state correctional system, redesignated the State Farm as Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Bridgewater. Its functions relating to misdemeanor convicts were terminated per St 1956, c 715, s 21; to state charges generally per St 1956, c 715, s 5; to aged or infirm state prisoners per St 1955, c 770, s 122; to defective delinquents and drug addicts per St 1970, c 888, s 6 (effective 1971); those relating to incorrigible inmates of state juvenile reform institutions had already been terminated per St 1948, c 310, s 22.

A unit was added for treatment of sexually dangerous persons per St 1958, c 646, under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Mental Health (see: Massachusetts Treatment Center)

Presently, the site houses the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater (MCl-Bridgewater), which is the Commonwealth's largest correctional complex.

Images of Bridgewater State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Bridgewater State Hospital


The cemetery was established in 1853 for burial of paupers then once the hospital opened, for the burial of patients and inmates. It has around 350 graves, marked by a numbered stone.


  • Screw, a guard's view of Bridgewater State Hospital, by Tom Ryan


Titicut Follies is a black and white 1967 documentary film by United States filmmaker Frederick Wiseman about the treatment of inmates / patients at Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, a Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The title is taken from a talent show put on by the hospital's inmates. (The talent show was named after the Wampanoag word for the nearby Taunton River.) In 1967 the film won awards in Germany and Italy. It was one of a number of films made by Wiseman that examined social institutions: hospital, police, school, etc., in the United States.