dix photo

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When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1962, St. Elizabeths Hospital was notorious — a rundown federal facility for the treatment of mentally ill people that was overcrowded and understaffed. Opened with idealism and hope in 1855, the hospital had ballooned from 250 patients to as many as 8,000. Its vast, rolling patch of farmland had fallen into disrepair, too, in the poorest neighborhood in the U.S. capital.

The hospital is now the subject of an exhibition at the National Building Museum; Architecture of an Asylum explores the links between architecture and mental health.

Dorothea Dix, the 19th-century reformer who fought for the hospital, would have rolled over in her grave to see what St. Elizabeths had become by the 1960s.

“She had observed the treatment of the mentally ill in jails and other kinds of alms houses [and] poor houses all over the country,” explains exhibit curator Sarah Leavitt. Dix “was really appalled by the treatment that they were getting, and she made it her life’s work to change that story.”

‘Architecture Of An Asylum’ Tracks History Of U.S. Treatment Of Mental Illness

Photos: National Archives and Records Administration/National Building (3) Museum and National Library of Medicine/National Building Museum

MACRON ET TRUDEAU!!! CA Y'EST !!! submission by @p-andore

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“Machine Gun Insignia” made of 22,500 officers and men and 600 machine guns at Camp Hancock in Augusta, Ga. (Photo: Mole and Thomas/Library of Congress)

The Liberty Bell composed of 25,000 officers and men at Camp Dix in New Jersey. (Photo: Mole and Thomas/Library of Congress)

Y.M.C.A. logo at Camp Wheeler in Georgia. (Photo: Mole and Thomas/Library of Congress)

“Sincerely yours, Woodrow Wilson” composed of 21,000 officers and men at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio. (Photo: Mole and Thomas/Library of Congress)

“U.S. Naval Rifle Range” at Camp Logan in Illinois. (Photo: Mole and Tomas/Library of Congress)

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I’ve been working on a photo essay of Dorthea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, previously known as the “North Carolina Insane Hospital.” It’s abandoned now and as it sits on beautiful acreage the State is going to turn into a park after they bulldoze all the buildings (just one of the travesties visited upon the mentally ill in North Carolina, but that’s a sermon for another day).

Anyway, my dog Buddy has been accompanying me on some of my recent photo rounds, and every now and then he sneaks into a photo.