16 Terrifying Facts About Mental Asylums in the Early 20th Century

A mental ward. Wikimedia.

15. US States Built Massive Asylums

Starting in the latter half of the 18th century, progressive politicians and social reformers encouraged the building of massive asylums for the treatment of the mentally ill, who were previously either treated at home or left to fend for themselves. Oregon was the first state to construct a vast, taxpayer-funded asylum. Countless other states followed, and by the start of the 20th century, nearly every state had at least one public asylum. The first Oregon asylum could house as many as 2,400 patients. It later expanded by constructing additional buildings.

The conventional health wisdom of the era dictated that peace, beauty, and tranquility were necessary elements for the successful treatment of mental illness. This concept led to the construction of elaborate gardens and manicured grounds around the state asylums. The asylums themselves were also often rather grand buildings with beautiful architecture, all the better to facilitate treatment. However, this attention to the beauty of the buildings and grounds led to a strange side-effect: asylum tourism. A favorite pastime of the turn of the 20th century was visiting the state-run asylums, including walking the grounds among the patients to appreciate the natural beauty.