Working at Morningside Hospital

Charles Kurtz recently contacted the blog and offered to share his experiences at Morningside Hospital during the 1950s and 1960s. He gave me permission to post his email messages and I hope to interview him later this year. We'd love to hear more about day-to-day life at Morningside from other former employees of the hospital.

"My mother worked as a chef/cook at Morningside Hospital from the early 1950's until 1965. I also worked there myself on a couple of occasions.  As a high school summer job,  I worked in the kitchen for a couple of months.

Beginning in 1962,  I worked as a psychiatric aide--working nights while I finished college.  I remember well--though maybe not always by name--many of the patients on the ward I worked.  This was a ward mainly for men with acute psychosis.  Most were in treatment focused on returning them home, so there was always a turnover, with some patients staying only a month or so.   Of course there were some patients so chronically ill or so developmentally disabled they were essentially permanent residents.

It was a fascinating place to work and an interesting life experience.  The history of the place along with stories of the patients and staff  could take its place right alongside "One Flew Over the Cukcoo's Nest". During my time at Morningside,  I experienced some mental health milestones,  not all of them necessarily positive.  For example the use of psychiartic drugs, and their overuse.   Only after a patient's death did they finally discontinue the use of insulin shock therapy.  On the other hand--and not just owing to heavy doses of thorozine--there were no locked wards and the use of restraints was absolutely forbidden.

The hospital had its own farm and a prize dairy herd, so they raised much of the food for both patients and employees many of whom lived in apartments on the premesis."

In a second email Charles wrote, "I'm happy to participate in any way I can to make sure the story of Morningside hospital gets told. Though the hospital grounds was a huge piece of land on the edge of the city and on a main street, few people in Portland were even  aware of its existance.  For one thing, it didn't look like a hospital.   It was comprised mostly of wood frame buildings pretty much  shielded from view  by a acre or so of park-like trees and lawns at its Stark Street entrance.  When seen from 92nd, avenue, it was for all appearances just a nicely tended truck farm..

I was in my early twenties when I worked there last and was probably the youngest psychiatric aide at the time.  Most of the other employees must be getting well up in years.  The same is true for the patients--at least the ones I knew.  There were children and younger adolescents on other wards, but I had little contact with them.  I only know of one other person--an old college friend who worked there for a few months--who has personal knowledge of the place."

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2 Comments

  1. Nancy Yeaton
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I was so happy to see there is a site to go to in regards to Moringside, my Uncle Alan Johnson told me this was where my grandparents Iver and Nancy Johnson were when he (Alan) was sent to Moringside to be assessed. My uncles and mother were raised in orphanages, apparently my grandparents and community members of Ninilchik, witnessed there two children (Wally and Evelyn ) die in a horrific fire. There was nothing they could do to save them. After seeing this my grandparents had a mental break down and the two brothers were sent to the Jesse Lee Home in Seward. After my mother was born she was sent to the orphanage as well.They remained in Alaska until my mother was a toddler, at that time World
    War II broke out, the orphans were than sent out to California. Sometime during this time my Uncle Alan, probably a teen was sent to Moringside, due to problem he had with a rancher he had been staying with, something to do with the rancher’s wife. During his time at Morningside, little did he realize his mother and step-father were there as well. I would love to hear if there is any information regarding my relatives. I never new my grand parents, nor did my mother know who they were. Thank you for putting this site together. Nancy Yeaton

  2. Anita
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    When I was in the 6th or 7th grade, my friend Shirley R. and I lived off 92nd and Stark St. and went to Russellville Grade School. Shirley’s mother was a cook at Morningside Hospital. Once Shirley asked me to go with her to a function at Morningside. A monthly dance was being held for the residents, whom I was told were retarded Alaskan Indians and/or alcoholics. None of which I knew anything about.
    At first hesitant, Shirley excitedly changed my mind, by reminding me snacks and punch were free, no parents around, and a huge dance floor to show off our preteen dancing skills. Shirley laughed and said “at least we’ll have no competition from the weird-o’s who live there.”
    And so we went. Initially, I was a bit frightened by some of the strange looking and acting people. For one, I had never seen so many darker skinned people in one place. Many who spoke some strange language, not my English. There were young and old alike, some drooling, some residing in their own little world.
    As the evening wore on, the music filled the auditorium and flashing lights gave a surreal effect, Shirley and I saw our time coming to show off. After we helped pass out drinks and snacks, Shirley and I hit the dance floor with a vengeance. ready to show off our perfection of beauty and skills, as only cocky teens can. way only cocky pre-teens can . We grabbed hands, and twirled around the floor to a Dion song, “The Wanderer” oblivious to all, except our little princess selves. Smiling, twirling, twisting, all eyes upon us…when “BOOM”, we hit the newly waxed auditorium floor. No more twirling, now only toppling over and over and over each other. And a slippin and a sliddin across that darn slippery floor. At once up, then down, then up again, then down…….. hitting the floor again and again. Barely able to get our princess asses up off that slickery linoleum. Finally we managed to get up and stay up while practically ice skating back to the sidelines. Then…….SILENCE. Nothing but SILENCE.
    Then came a chuckle here, a cackle there….slowly building to a gigantic roar of laughter which filled the room. Then laughter became so overwhelming, it turned to crocodile tears ! Eventually, Shirley and I left with red faces, and bruised behinds, and ego’
    A while later it came o me that we really did deserve the humiliation. And the line between “normal” and “weird-o” is merely a (dance) step away.
    An experience and lesson I have never forgotten. Anita

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