Category Archives: 1900-1929

Copper Canisters

[image title=”Canister, Oregon State Hospital” size=”full” id=”444″ align=”left” alt=”Photo by David Maisel, Libraries of Dust” linkto=”” ]Over the summer, I corresponded with Cynthia Prater, a clinician at the Oregon State Hospital. She’s doing research on the mental health care of Native Americans in Oregon and came across the blog. She passed along a fabulous report created by the Willamette Valley Historical Society in 1991 on the cemetery at the State Hospital. There were 69 Alaskans admitted to the Oregon Insane Asylum between 1901 and 1903, 6 of whom died.  I’ll post more information on the report soon, but wanted to pass along this bit of history.

There were 1,539 burials in the Asylum Cemetery between 1883 to 1913. In 1913 all the bodies were exhumed, cremated, and the ashes were put in copper canisters. In 2009, the American Journal of Psychiatry reported: “A grim discovery was made by a group of state legislators touring the facility in 2004. The cremated remains of more than 3,000 patients who died at the hospital from the late 1880s to the mid-1970s were found in corroding copper canisters in a storage room, the so-called “room of lost souls.” They were the remnants of a time when mental illness was so stigmatizing that families abandoned patients.”

There were a number of attempts to connect remains to family members and to honor or formally recognize them in some way. However, at this point, they are still stored at the hospital.

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Oregonian Historical Archive

[image title=”logo_oregonlive” size=”full” id=”428″ align=”left” linkto=”viewer” ]The Oregonian Historical Archive is online! This is wonderful news. We found a limited number of articles on Morningside at the Oregon Historical Society, most of which had to do with the 1950s. The new online archive lists 345 articles on Morningside Hospital, many providing insights into the day-to-day activities there. You can get a one-day pass, which includes up to 50 downloaded articles, for $9.99. Monthly subscriptions are $19.50/month with which you can view up to 200 articles a month. Here’s where you can find the archive.

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More Patient Names

Former Juneau resident Marylou Elton deserves the volunteer of the year award. For the past six months, she’s spent her Wednesdays locating and scanning patient information at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.  She’s focusing on the quarterly reports/invoices that Morningside sent the Department of the Interior. These documents include the names of patients who were at the hospital and information on patients who died during the quarter. Here are examples from March 1924 and March 1945. We now have a complete (or nearly complete) list of all those sent to Morningside Hospital from 1904 to 1945. Unfortunately, the quarterly reports from 1946 to the closure of the hospital in the 1960s are nowhere to be found.

The patient database is still our top priority. We expect the receive funding (through a partnership of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and Access Alaska) before the end of the summer

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More Nome Court Records

Gold was discovered in Nome in 1898. The city was incorporated in 1901 and grew to an estimated 20,000 over the next 10 years, making it the most populous city in the Alaska Territory.  Only a few of the thousands of miners who came to Nome to seek their fortunes succeeded. Today Nome has fewer than 4,000 residents and serves as the regional service center for the Seward Peninsula.

Arrrival of First Mail in Nome 1906

Niesje Steinkruger was in Nome earlier this month and dug deeper into the court records. There are six probate docket books there and she went through them all. Meg Greene went through two of the docket books on an earlier trip to Nome.  Niesje copied the names, court case numbers and the dates each case began. Many of the defendants went to Morningside, some had their charges dismissed, and some were found not guilty.  In Nome they were charged with being “insane and at large”. She found 182 cases between 1901 and statehood.

Nome Docket Page 1899

The earliest records had Guardianships and Insane in the title.  The earliest record was from June 22, 1901, and the defendent was committed to the State Asylum at Steilacoom, Washington. Between 1901 and 1923 the court documents appear to have been recorded, like deeds.While in Nome, Niesje recruited a volunteer, Debbie Redburn, who offered to copy pages Niesje marked in the docket books. Niesje noted that this is a big job.  The books are approximately 24 inches by 14 inches, so Debbie will have to manhandle them, and somehow reduce the size of the pages to make copies.
The images on this page are from the Photo Archives of the Alaska State Library.

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1915 Investigation

Many of the recently discovered burial sites and death certificates were from the early years at Morningside Hospital. In May, I wrote an article  about the Department of the Interior’s 1915 investigation into the care provided at the hospital. In March of 1915, the judicial committee of the Alaska Territorial Legislature issued a report criticizing the facility and demanding that care be improved. Dr. Viola May Coe of Morningside Hospital denied the accusations and asserted that patients were well cared for. Read More »

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Patient Death Certificates

by Sally Mead

Over the past two weeks in Portland we’ve unearthed quite a bit more backdrop on the search for the burial locations of Morningisde patients. Working closely with Robin Renfroe and her sister Peggy, from Salem, we visited the State of Oregon Archives to search for death certificates for over 150 people. Robin had done research on the Wickersham Paper, US Census reports and Morningside Admittance lists to unearth as many Alaska Native people (or known family names) as possible.

Outside Archives

OR Archives, Salem

We have now searched all 121 names on the Wickersham list (pre 1916) as well as around 50 more Alaska Native people reported from 1920 to 1957. It is not complete but an important start.  Not all of them had a death certificate, but most did. The certificates are telling, from full names, to cause of death, burial location and family members if known. Those lines were almost always empty…. It was very sad to see how many were listed with epilepsy as cause of death.



Paggy and Sally

Peggy and Sally

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Patient Burial Sites Located

A lot of good things happened over the past few weeks. I’ll post an article with more information later this weekend but wanted to get just a bit of the exciting news online now. Good friends and volunteers Robin Renfroe (Fairbanks) and Sally Mead (Anchorage) were in Portland this week looking for Morningside patient death certificates and burial sites. Prior to their visit, we’d found a few death certificates and had not located any graves. Robin and Sally found both! Here are a few of the headstones they found at Multnomah Park Cemetery.

Charles Brown (Juneau) Died 1914

Charles Brown (Juneau) Died 1914

Edward Dowdall (Sitka) Died 1914

Edward Dowdall (Sitka) Died 1914

Sam Steinko (Ft. Gibbon) Died 1914

Sam Steinko (Ft. Gibbon) Died 1914

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Nome Court Records

We’ve dragged two new volunteers into our pursuit of the history of Morningside Hospital. Niesje Steinkruger and Meg Green, retired Superior Court Judges from the Alaska Fourth Judicial District, are taking the lead in researching the Federal and State court commitment records.

Meg recently returned from a trip to Nome, where she spent a few hours at the Nome Courthouse:

“I was in Nome doing some work the first three days of this week and had a couple of hours at the end.  I found the federal Probate Docket book from the Cape Nome Precinct at the Nome courthouse.  I had earlier been told that Nome did not have them.  There are 5 volumes running from 1918 to statehood.  There may be an earlier volume, but I could not find it (what I saw starts with volume “2.”)


Central Washington University, James E. Brooks Library, Digital Archives

Read More »

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Christmas at Morningside Hospital

Among the few pictures of Morningside are a two taken at Christmas celebrations in the 1920s. The US Department of the Interior records included correspondence from Wayne Coe about the 1922 Morningside Hospital Christmas party and an accounting of the party and patient gift expenses.

These two photos, which are from the Oregon Historical Society, were not dated but appear to be from the 1920s.


The caption on the photo above is an account of the Christmas Festivities at Morningside from a Portland newspaper. “Morningside Hospital provided three Christmas trees for the inmates. Natives helped to provide the entertainment which was held in the Assembly room of the new Parole House. Gifts were provided for all the patients in the institution by Dr. Coe, the Chief Officer. After the exercises in the main hall the women retired to their own buildings where trees awaited them, while the men had their remembrances in the assembly room.”

The founder of Morningside Hospital, Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, is standing to the right of the Christmas tree.

Xmas2The photo above appears to be from the early to mid-1920s. Children were first admitted to Morningside at the end of 1922 or early 1923. Read More »

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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.”

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