Elizabeths Hospital (SEH) in Washington, D.C., originally was
known as the Government Hospital for the Insane (GHI). It was
established through the Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Act
of 1852, and admitted its first patients in 1855. Dorothea Dix,
its founder and the leading mental health reformer of the 19th
century, wrote the law that articulated the hospitals mission
"to provide the most humane care and enlightened curative
treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy and the District of
a hill in southeast Washington, DC, overlooking the Anacostia
and Potomac rivers, it offers a panoramic view of the city. St.
Elizabeths was built as a 250-bed hospital based on the Kirkbride
plan. Thomas Walter, Architect of the Capital (1851-1865), drafted
the architectural plans for Center Building. In 1852, on the recommendation
of Dorothea Dix, Charles H. Nichols, M.D., was appointed as the
first Superintendent of the hospital. He was responsible for the
building and administration of the hospital. It was built in three
phases west wing, east wing and the center building last.
10, 1861, the United States Congress authorized temporary use
of the unfinished east wing as a 250-bed general hospital for
the sick and wounded soldiers of the Union Army. The West Lodge
for colored insane males was converted into a 60-bed general and
quarantine hospital for the sailors of the Potomac and Chesapeake
fleets. There were three distinct hospitals, each headed by a
In 1862, an
artificial limb manufacturing shop (patented by B.W. Jewett) was
set up to fit amputees with artificial limbs. Amputees from neighboring
hospitals were transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital to fit
the prostheses free of charge. Soldiers stayed at the hospital
until their wounds healed and they learned to use their artificial
limbs. During this period, a portion of the hospitals farm
was converted into a cavalry depot and an encampment for a marine
was inevitable during the war. Tents were placed on the ground
for the convalescent patients. President Lincoln frequently visited
the hospital to see the sick and wounded soldiers, and a room
was reserved for his overnight stays. During the fall of 1862,
General Joseph Hooker was wounded and admitted to the hospital.
Dr. Nichols and his wife personally cared for him. Dr. Nichols,
a volunteer Surgeon for the St. Elizabeths Army General Hospital,
would often ride out to major battlefields around the Washington,
DC area to treat casualties. He was introduced as one of General
McDowells staff at the Battle of Bull Run. Approximately
one-fourth of St. Elizabeths male employees divided their
time between the battlefields and the hospital. The patients stepped
in to assist in providing hospital services.
Civil War, the wounded soldiers were reluctant to write home that
they were being treated at the "Government Hospital for the
Insane." They began referring to the asylum as the St. Elizabeths
Hospital after the colonial name of the tract of land where the
hospital was located. Congress officially changed the hospitals
name in 1916.
The GHI was
the first and the only federal mental health facility in the United
States at that time. Soldiers were referred there for treatment
after they were thoroughly evaluated for malingering and deception.
The way for a Union soldier to get discharged on the basis of
mental disability was through GHI. The admissions and discharges
were controlled and authorized by the Adjutant Generals
Office. However, not all Union soldiers were treated at St. Elizabeths.
Dr. Nichols observed that the majority of these cases had both
mental and bodily diseases. After the war, the Army and Navy general
hospitals were closed and the artificial limb manufacturing shop
was dismantled. But the hospital continued to care for the mentally
ill Civil War veterans.
the Civil War, there was an increase in the number of mentally
ill veterans. On July 13, 1866, Congress passed an act that permitted
the GHI to admit all men who had served as Union soldiers in the
Civil War and were found insane within three years of discharge
by reasons of continuation of mental illness, relapses after recovery,
or mental illness relating to military service. The hospital gradually
received veterans from all parts of the United States. Many of
these former soldiers were chronically ill and required custodial
care. To relieve congestion and overcrowding, the hospital continued
to construct new buildings. The Dawes* extension to Center Building
was built in 1871 to house 100 males. In 1872, another wing named
Garfield* was added. In 1878, Atkins* Hall was built. The hospitals
expansion continued with the 1880 construction of the Relief Building
to house 250 chronic male patients.
four Allison** Buildings were constructed to care for infirm and
bed-ridden Civil War Veterans. The hospital always maintained
high standards in caring for the Civil War soldiers. As stated
by Dr. Nichols, "the patriotic sacrifices of the military
patients will always entitle them to our best endeavors to promote
their comfort and their restoration to health."
Hospital has two cemeteries where soldiers from the Civil War
are interred. The Civil War cemetery on the west campus has approximately
300 graves. White and African American soldiers from the Union
army and soldiers of the Confederacy are interspersed throughout
the cemetery. Many of the stone markers are worn, cracked or broken.
Some have been destroyed. The cemetery is in a poor condition.
On the east side of the hospital grounds is another cemetery that
includes Civil War veterans as well as veterans from World Wars
I and II and the Spanish American War. Records listing names,
ranks and the branch of service of the soldiers are maintained
at the National Archive and Records Association (NARA).
were named after Henry L. Dawes, Republican Massachusetts, Chairman
of House Committee on Appropriations from 1869 to 1871; James
A. Garfield, Republican Ohio, Chairman of House Committee on Appropriations
from 1871 to 1875; and John D. C. Atkins, Democrat Tennessee,
Chairman of House Committee on Appropriations from 1877 to 1881.
were named after William B. Allison, Republican Iowa, Chairman
of the Senate Appropriations Committee from 1881 to 1893 and 1895
of this information: The Museum of Civil War Medicine