Category Archives: Treatment/Outcomes

What to do with the criminally insane…

Article by Marylou Elton

Downloadable documents related to this post can be found at the end of the article.

Morningside Hospital was not a prison.  In 1917, Dr. Henry Waldo Coe was proud to note that the new “Parole Home” had “neither bolts, bars or restraining screens”.  “Without doubt”, wrote Coe, “the humane phase of our non-restraint at Morningside, aids greatly in the large percentage of recoveries at Morningside, the records showing, as on file in the Department (of Interior), the largest percentage of recoveries of any institution in the United States, the value of the change of climate, of course, being the greatest factor therein.”

But what was to be done with the criminally insane?  Those who were repeat violent offenders or committed multiple murders?  The law at that time was clear that someone found insane at the time they committed a crime could not be convicted of the offense.  The law also stated those found insane in the Territory of Alaska should be sent to an institution designated by the secretary of interior (Morningside Hospital) – where there was a danger of them being discharged upon recovery or eloping.

By 1917 the issue was coming to a head.  Several individuals convicted of criminal offenses and sent to Morningside escaped and then went on to commit additional crimes.  A discussion of the problem can be found in letters between Dr. Coe, Alaska district judges in Valdez and Juneau, and the departments of Justice and Interior.  Dr. Coe’s letters deny any carelessness on the part of Morningside and note that criminals escape everywhere.  The judges lobby for a change in the law that would send those found criminally insane to facilities where adequate lock-up could be provided.  Read More »

Also posted in 1900-1929, 1930-1949, Court Records, Patient Stories | 1 Comment

A Patient’s Perspective on Morningside in the 1960’s

Steve B. was a patient at Morningside Hospital in the mid-1960s. He is the first former patient to contact us and provides a look at life at Morningside from the patient’s perspective. If you have a question for Steve, please leave a comment and we’ll pass them along to him.

By Steve B.

During my stay, both drugs and EST were used. I was not treated with EST, only drugs, among which I am sure there were anti-depressants and tranquilizers. There were perhaps six or seven teens in my ward and one or two of them were administered EST. Memory tells me that most EST-treated patients were in the older population. On my ward, meds were kept in a locked chest located on the wall near the aides’ station. These were carefully measured and administered by the aides themselves. Mine were in powder format, mixed with orange juice for tolerable palatability.

Dr. Roy Moss, in “talk therapy” individual sessions, addressed my problems, but I was never given a diagnosis or nomenclature for those problems. Perhaps my parents were given a technical-medical name for what was ailing me, but they never mentioned it and I never inquired.

Hindsight tells me there were probably well over a hundred patients during the period of my stay, but these were scattered among different wards/dorms, and I never witnessed a mass-gathering of patients, so this is only my best guess.

There were many native Alaskans at Morningside during my stay. Again, since I have no real grasp on the total population, I can’t accurately say how many their numbers were. But I would run across them “all the time”, especially in larger gatherings such as daily cafeteria meals, so I would guess that they were still constituting a substantial portion of the general population. Most of these were older males (didn’t notice many, if any, females), and other than the normal courtesies, unfortunately, I didn’t converse with them – so I can’t relate anything regarding the frequency and/or process of returning them to Alaska. One exception was the only teen Alaskan I knew, who was an affable sort except when his anger management issues would trigger outbursts. However, I didn’t learn anything from him pertaining to native American life in Alaska. On my ward there was also a Native American named Reggie Hunt, but if I’m not mistaken, he was from Central (Warm Springs Reservation?) or Eastern Oregon, not Alaska. My first experience of Alaskan culture came in the hospital’s main office, where my parents brought me to be admitted. The walls were hung with all kinds of native crafts, a lot of masks and suchlike.

The aides were exceptional – reasonable, responsible, and approachable, some with wild senses of humor, which of course, immensely helped patients during their (in many cases) involuntary “incarceration”. The aides never abused anyone and were extremely helpful in all ways. Discipline was maintained, but I believe always in tandem with communication with the doctors – i.e., no unilateral, “fascistic” decisions were made by the aides. One punitive measure I recall was being “put on restriction”, which meant isolation from the rest of the community in the ward. Such patients would be permitted to attend the school, but were not allowed to return to the ward except at night for head-count and sleep. I recall one incident in which I was the only “innocent party” – and all the rest of the teens were put on restriction. It was a strange but exciting feeling for me to have my freedom, limited though it was, while all my peers were on off-ward restriction.
Read More »

Also posted in 1950-1960s, Morningside Hospital, Oral Histories, Patient Stories | 2 Comments

Dr. Coe Prescribes Whiskey for Patients

The following article is by Marylou Elton, our volunteer researcher who lives in Washington, DC. Marylou spends most Wednesdays digging through Morningside Hospital administrative records at the National Archives II. The documents she used for this post were from Record Group 126 at the NA2. There are links to the letters at the end of this article.

By Marylou Elton

Dr. Henry Waldo Coe saw himself in the role of a father figure – a man who was firm but willing to give a patient a hand up or a second chance.  Morningside did not offer “treatment” but Coe was proud the hospital offered a safe place to eat, sleep, and possibly pass the time at some chores while recovering from whatever symptoms had induced fellow Alaskans to call for the individual’s commitment.  There were several times he petitioned the Interior Department to allow a patient to be reinstated if, after discharge, they were not able to make their way in the world or if the “symptoms” came back.

Many of the battles he waged with Congress and the Interior Department were to increase funding that would eventually impact his own bottom line (especially during World War I when the cost of goods rose dramatically).  But some of the skirmishes he entered into with the bureaucracy were strictly on behalf of the patients.

A true example of this was his pursuit of whiskey for his patients during Prohibition in the 1920’s.  In late January of 1920, Coe was notified that whiskey impounded due to Prohibition could be made available to his patients at Morningside if he would contact the U.S. Attorney in Oregon to apply to the courts for the necessary order.  Coe immediately gave a positive reply, noting “a few ounces of spirits for some of these old Alaskans at times is really a life-saving substance”.

Read More »

Also posted in 1900-1929 | Leave a comment

Why Oregon?

The Oregon State Hospital Museum Project blog posted an interesting article that asks the question, “Why Oregon?”

“The question still remains, why Oregon?  The State Insane Asylum (later Western State Hospital) at Fort Steilacoom near Tacoma had been in operation since 1871 and is geographically closer to Alaska than Salem or Portland.  Or perhaps even more logical would be to establish an institution in Alaska itself.  Our 1916 text hints that difficulties in transportation around the Alaska Territory made the transfer to another institution a reasonable solution.

Although Portland is somewhat remote from Alaska, it is to be remembered that Alaska, with some 3000 miles of water frontage has no central point.  A patient from the north would have to come to Seattle and be shipped back to the lower part of Alaska, if there was an institution in that region, and vice versa.  Moreover, the climate of Alaska is none too good for an insane patient.”

To read more, go to The Oregon State Hospital Museum Project blog.

Also posted in 1900-1929 | 1 Comment

1912 to 1942 Admissions

1935-36 Photos_0001

Record Group 126, Records of the Office of the Territories, National Archives II, College Park, MD

Occasionally there are glimpses of who was at Morningside. Included in the Department of the Interior files from the National Archives was a tabulation of admissions between 1912 and 1942. There was a total of 1,601 admissions over the 30 years, an average of 53 admissions per year. The percentage of admissions who were female increased from 10.1% during the first 5 years (1912-1917) to 26.4% for the years 1938 to 1942. The report noted:

“Out of the 81 females now in the hospital, there are 13 who have been in the hospital more than 15 years. There are 20 of them who are epileptics or mentally deficient and there are 20 who are over the age of sixty at the time. The epileptics, mentally deficient and older women, that is 40 out of the 81 require more or less special attention and many are infirmary cases.”

Also posted in 1900-1929, 1930-1949 | Leave a comment

Who was deported from Alaska and who was at Morningside Hospital?

The preliminary examination of the records shows that Alaskans from all over the state – from Nome to Ketchikan – were sent to the Morningside. Dr Henry Waldo Coe, medical director and owner of Sanitarium Co which operated Morningside Hospital, provided the federal government with a report on the census of the hospital in March 1916. The report tallied the number of admissions, discharges, elopements, deaths and deportations from the Insane District of Alaska from 1904 to 1916. A total of 576 patients were admitted during that time, with 33.5% or 192 still in the hospital, 21% died while there, 37.7% were discharged , 7.2% eloped, and .3% or two persons were deported from the US. This is one of the most complete demographic pictures we have found of Morningside patients. Read More »

Also posted in 1900-1929, Morningside Hospital | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What was the care like at Morningside Hospital?

The story of the hospital and the transition to building a care system over several decades is fascinating and sometimes quite heartbreaking. Lets face it –the standards of what we deem acceptable treatment for persons with mental illness and other conditions has evolved dramatically and for the better in the last one hundred years. Morningside Hospital presented itself as a sanitary, humane, and medically focused facility for the care of people the Territory of Alaska did not want. Government oversight of the program existed because the Interior Department was paying the bill. Investigations occurred from time to time with no real result until the U. S. House of Representatives launched a series of investigations into the care and the finances of the Hospital in the late 1950’s. Read More »

Also posted in 1950-1960s, Morningside Hospital, The Coes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment