Category Archives: 1950-1960s

Memories of Morningside Hospital from a Staff Psychiatrist

 Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012, 6:00 AM


I read with interest The Oregonian’s Aug. 5 article about Morningside Hospital. The article focused primarily on the deaths and inadequate care of the “inmates.”

The researchers said they’d never heard of the hospital before, so they obviously had no firsthand knowledge of its standards and practices.

I worked as a psychiatrist at Morningside from 1962 to 1966. I was not aware at any time while there of patient abuse or foul play. I compare the care given to patients there as better than most state hospitals of the time and even now, and I have known several first-hand. Patients were treated with respect and kept as active as possible. Those capable were expected to work, a practice widely used in institutions of the time, and a good idea at that.

Commitment in the early days followed now-outdated state laws. However, I did not see many who did not have a good reason to be there. Return of “inmates” to Alaska was held up primarily because authorities did not want them returned. It was common practice in those days to “institutionalize” patients, to keep them away from general society. Thus, the hospitals were really asylums for the mentally handicapped. Read More »

Also posted in Oral Histories, Quality of Care | 2 Comments

More Death Certificates Online


Nearly 300 more death certificates are now available in the Morningside Hospital Research Archive. Once again, we have Eric Cordingley and David Anderson of Portland to thank for these invaluable records. I’m sure they’re on a first name basis with everyone who works at the State of Oregon Archives. Thanks to Eric and David’s dedication and persistence, there are now approximately 500 death certificates posted in the Research Archive.


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Morningside Hospital in 1964

Eric Cordingley of Portland emailed a very interesting article from the Oregonian about Morningside Hospital. Written in 1964, the article spotlighted Morningside as an example of new approaches to institutional care.

I was surprised by a number of things in the article:

  • Morningside was the largest private psychiatric hospital if the West Coast
  •  135 Alaskans, many of whom were Alaska Natives, were still patients
  • Nearly a third of the patients were children, most of whom were developmentally disabled

The treatment philosophy (therapeutic community) described in the article is rather forward-thinking for 1964. The article noted that Morningside looked more like a farm than a hospital, there were no uniforms for the patients or staff, patients were encouraged to participate in education/work and recreation, and the goal for most patients was self-sufficiency and discharge.

You can read the whole article here: [Download not found]

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Death Certificates Posted on Records Archive

[image title=”Carlson, Gustave-1″ size=”full” id=”1107″ align=”left” ]More than 200 Oregon death certificates for Morningside patients are now available in the Morningside Hospital Record Archive. You can find them here.

Thanks to Portland residents Eric Cordingley and David Anderson for their many trips to the Oregon State Archives in Salem and for scanning all of these documents. Their continued commitment provides a rich source of information for families of Alaskans sent to Morningside.

Also posted in 1900-1929, 1930-1949, Patient List | 1 Comment

Morningside Hospital Record Archive

Morningside Hospital sent monthly and quarterly reports to the US Department of the Interior that contain a wealth of information about the patients. Our goal from the beginning was to make this information available to families and researchers.

The first installment, which includes 200+ monthly and quarterly reports, can be found here: Morningside Hospital Document Archive

Some basic information about this set of records:

[image title=”Pages from 17-citing-records” size=”full” id=”1093″ align=”right” ]

  • The Archive is in Google Docs and you will need a google/gmail account to access them.
  • These records are from the National Archives II in College Park, MD. If you use them in an article or book, they are from Record Group 126 and please use the NA II standards of attribution: [Download not found]
  • The files are indexed by year and month.

And let’s all take a moment to thank Marylou Elton for her countless hours scanning these documents, and many more. Thanks, Marylou!

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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 Morningside Hospital, Oral Histories, Patient Stories, Treatment/Outcomes | 2 Comments

Fighting for the 49th Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood

Terrence M. Cole’s book “Fighting for the Forty-Ninth Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood” tells the story of how C.W. “Bill” Snedden, the long-time publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, used a small town newspaper to champion the fight for statehood.

[image title=”49Star” size=”full” id=”800″ align=”left” ]One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the role played by the late Sen. Ted Stevens in convincing Congress that the federal commitment process used in Alaska was barbaric. Stevens, a protégé of Snedden, was a young lawyer working for the U.S. Department of Justice. Stevens related his experience with the criminal proceedings (jury trials) that were used to commit adults and children to Morningside. He told the Congressional sub-committee that the insanity jury system was “archaic” and that he had “a very great respect for juries, but not insanity.”

Dr. Cole directs the UAF Office of Public History and is a Professor of History at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dr. Cole kindly granted us permission to reproduce the section of the book dealing with Morningside and the Alaska Mental Health Act. [Download not found]

If you’d like to read more of “Fighting for the Forty-Ninth Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood” you can purchase it here.

Also posted in Media Coverage | Leave a comment

Ivor and Nancy Johnson

[image title=”nikiski churchjpg” size=”full” id=”761″ align=”right” ]Nanwalek resident Nancy Yeaton contacted me wondering if we had information on her grandparents, Ivor and Nancy Johnson. She said that they had breakdowns after watching helplessly as two of their children died in a horrific fire in Nikiski. After the fire, Ivor and Nancy were sent to Morningside Hospital and the children (2 boys and a girl) were sent to the Jesse Lee Home, an orphanage in Alaska, and then to California during the war. Nancy, named after her grandmother, never knew her grandparents.

[image title=”Ninilchik School” size=”full” id=”759″ align=”right” alt=”Ninilchik School” ]Nancy’s uncle, Alan Johnson or Lindstrom, was also sent to Morningside for a short period for evaluation. Nancy would greatly appreciate any photos or information on Ivor, Nancy and Alan.

Here’s what we know (from Department of the Interior administrative records) about Ivor and Nancy:

Nancy Johnson (patient #1785) was committed from Seldovia on January 27, 1939 and admitted to Morningside on February 10, 1939. She was born in Alaska and of Russian and Alaska Native heritage. Nancy was 31 when admitted and was diagnosed as having dementia praecox and depression. One record noted that she had insulin therapy at some point during her stay at Morningside Hospital.

lvor Johnson (patient # 1952) was committed at Kodiak on October 14, 1941 and admitted to Morningside on November 14, 1941. Ivor was born in Sweden and was a carpenter. He wasn’t a citizen but had been in the US for 20 years, 10 of them in Alaska. He was committed because of loss of memory and an inability to care for himself. He had positive blood and spinal Wassermans and an advanced case of general paresis.

They were both listed as still being at Morningside in 1955.

Also posted in 1930-1949, Patient Stories | Leave a comment

Then and Now


[image title=”front of MH” size=”full” id=”739″ align=”right” ]Morningside Hospital in the 1950s or 1960s. There were many other structures on the property, including patient housing and farm buildings.







[image title=”205 Mall” size=”full” id=”743″ align=”right” ]In 1968, Morningside Hospital was sold to the developers of the 205 Mall. This is what it looks like today.

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Patient Court Records

Researchers Niesje Steinkruger and Meg Greene, both of whom are retired Superior Court judges,  have made incredible progress is locating and documenting Morningside patient court records. Below are photos of some of the things they’ve found with descriptions provided by Niesje.


[image title=”Subpoena” size=”full” id=”705″ align=”left” ] This photo (L) is of a subpoena given to the Federal Marshall by the Judge. Subpoenas were issued for the alleged insane person and the witnesses. Summons were also  issued for six jurors. All persons alleged to be “insane and at large” had a 6 person jury trial.



[image title=”Probate Docket Book” size=”full” id=”712″ align=”right” ]This (R) is an example of a Probate Docket book from Ketchikan. Inside are records of Estates, Guardianships, Adoptions and Sanity court cases.


[image title=”Ketchikan Docket Book” size=”full” id=”725″ align=”left” ]This photo (L) is an example of a page from a Ketchikan docket book from 1953. The amount of information varies from date to date and location to location. Some have entries with basic information only. Others have complete verbatim documents and testimony summary.


[image title=”Nome Court Vault” size=”full” id=”729″ align=”right” ]This photo (R) is of the vault in the Clerk of Court Office in Nome, Alaska. The vault was barged to Nome during the Gold Rush.

We found the Probate Docket books in this vault. The Probate Docket books have entries for the sanity proceedings from the late 1800’s to 1960.



[image title=”Inside Nome Vault” size=”full” id=”732″ align=”left” ]This (L) is the inside of the vault in Nome where historical files, journals and dockets were kept. In early days, gold was also kept here.

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