• The story of Morningside Hospital is a civil rights story. Prior to statehood, there were no services available in the Territory of Alaska for individuals who experienced mental illness or developmental disabilities. At the time, mental illness was considered a crime. Alaskan adults and children were arrested, convicted of being insane, and sent by the federal government to live at Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon. They were taken from their families and communities by dog sled, train and boat. In the end, at least 3,500 Alaskans were sent to Morningside between 1904 and the 1960s, when Morningside was finally closed. Many were never heard from by their families again. These are the Lost Alaskans.

    The Lost Alaskans: The Morningside Hospital History Project is an effort by volunteer researchers to document the history of Morningside through territorial court records, national and state archives, vital statistics, genealogical and burial records, and interviews. Our goals are to have the Morningside story recognized as an important part of Alaska history and to provide information to families still searching for loved ones who disappeared decades ago.

1911 Investigation

[image title=”Walter Clark” size=”full” id=”927″ align=”right” alt=”Governor Walter E. Clark” ]Joseph Von Kowski was adjudged insane in Tanana on March 13, 1911 and admitted to Morningside Hospital on April 15, 1911. He only stayed at the hospital for a short time, escaping on July 15. He subsequently wrote a letter to the matron of the Fairbanks Jail alleging that Morningside was “worst than any slaughterhouse from the beginning of the World” and that patients were “kept as slaves.” He also maintained that patients were tied up and beaten.

Walter Clark (right), Alaska’s first territorial governor, went to Morningside and spent 4 days “investigating  conditions at the asylum”, where he conferred with Edward Dixon, the Department of the Interior inspector who also conducted the 1909 inspection.

The following documents detail the complaint and investigation.

[Download not found], [Download not found], [Download not found]

Posted in 1900-1929, Investigations & Inspections, Quality of Care | Leave a comment

Patient Burial Update

Last month, Eric Cordingley sent an update on his search for Morningside Hospital patient burial sites. He’s using records from the National Archive 2 and the Oregon State Archives (death certificates) to identify the cemeteries. Unfortunately, the graves are difficult to locate because the cemeteries no longer have records of the burials. In October, Eric had located the cemeteries where 145 Morningside patients were buried. He now has information on the burials of 200 patients! Check out the Morningside Hospital Virtual Cemetery. And thanks, Eric, for your continued commitment and hard work.


[image title=”DSC00032″ size=”full” id=”898″ align=”right” ]I met with Mary, the archivist for Greenwood Hill Cemetery and have the following to report:

Burials of Morningside patients at Greenwood Hills Cemetery (GHC)  began in February of 1942 after GH opened a new section.  Morningside burials were mainly placed in Sections 7 and 8 which is a narrow strip of land between the G.A.R. Cemetery and the ravine.    It is currently unknown how many burials took place in those sections of GHC.  Sections 7 and 8 today are overgrown and/or wooded.  Section 8 may not contain many burials due to the fact that the ground is saturated by a nearby spring.  A recent attempt by a landscape company to clean up Section 8 ended when the equipment they were using became mired in the mud, even in late summer.  There are Morningside burials in other sections of GHC which, though recorded, have yet to be documented.

As far as can be determined, the last Morningside patient to be interred at Multnomah Park was Reinhard  Effinger, who died 5 Feb 1942.  His marker has been located and documented.  No Morningide patient who died after him can be located and documented at Multnomah Cemetery. Read More »

Posted in Patient Burials | Leave a comment

1909 Dixon Investigation Report

Henry Waldo Coe and his partners (the Sanitarium Company) began providing mental health care to Alaskans in 1904. Prior to winning their first contract, they operated Crystal Springs Sanitarium which provided care to private-pay patients.

The pictures below show how the hospital changed as it morphed into Morningside Hospital, going from private-pay patients to government contract supported care of Alaskans. These images are from an October, 1909 investigation report on the care of Alaskan patients at Crystal Springs Sanitarium. The report, written by Edward W. Dixon, is from US Department of the Interior records at the National Archives II in College Station, MD. You can read the full report and see additional photos here – [Download not found].

The changes in the architecture are striking.

[image title=”Massachusetts building” size=”full” id=”853″ align=”left” ]



The Massachusetts Building (Crystal Springs Sanitarium) with the Nurses Cottage (to the left).




[image title=”Morningside Asylum” size=”full” id=”872″ align=”right” ]



Morningside Asylum building, where Alaskan patients were housed.



Posted in 1900-1929, Investigations & Inspections, Morningside Hospital, Photos, Quality of Care, The Coes | Leave a comment

Posting Morningside Administrative Records

We’ve amassed a large collection of material from our research at the National Archives II in Maryland. The documents are primarily administrative correspondence between Morningside Hospital and administrators at the U S Department of the Interior Office of Territorial Affairs. These documents include information on patients (admissions, discharges, diagnoses, deaths, citizenship, assets, etc.), complaints and investigations, inspections, and personnel issues.

[image title=”1909 Dixon Insp Rpt” size=”full” id=”883″ align=”right” ]I’m going to begin posting the US DOI reports on the blog on a regular basis. They are fascinating reading and provide insight into mental health care in the first half of the 20th century. You can find the first report (all 67 pages) in the next blog post, on the 1909 Dixon Investigation.

If you download a document, please take a few minutes to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Posted in Investigations & Inspections, Quality of Care | Leave a comment

Albin August Hofsted (Hofstad)

Most of the patient information on the blog is from the National Archives II, in College Station, MD. The Department of the Interior (DOI) contracted with Morningside Hospital for the care of Alaskans judged to be “insane”.  Morningside submitted monthly reports to the DOI that were essentially invoices, which also included patient admission and discharge information, death and burial details, and diagnoses. Marylou Elton, our volunteer in Washington, DC, continues to dig into the records. We now have patient information for the years 1907 to 1915 and 1924 to 1951.

[image title=”Wrangell-1″ size=”full” id=”841″ align=”left” ]One name that appears over and over again is August Hofsted (Hofstad). He was born in 1884 in Vesteraalen, Norway to Peder Mortensen Hofstad and Hanna Pauline Albrigtsdtr. August emigrated from Bergen on November 1, 1901 when he was just 17 years old. It’s not clear how he got to Alaska, although it appears that he may have joined family members in Wrangell.

Less than 3 years after immigrating, August was at Morningside Hospital. He was committed from Juneau and admitted on August 10, 1907. He died there on March 3, 1949. I’m sure he was at Morningside longer than any other patient. The DOI records provide the following information:

His diagnosis in 1907 was “general epileptic, more or less demented: occasional outbreaks of frenzy. General health fair.” By 1924 he was described as, “Mentally enfeebled. Confused more or less. Stuporous condition. Vague.”

His condition continued to worsen. In 1933, his diagnosis was, “Dementia precox, catatonic form. Mute and inaccessible for many years. Tidy but idle. Attends to only elemental wants.” The records also indicate that there was no contact with family members.

Please contact me if you can provide more information about August’s life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Search for Patient Graves Continues

Eric Cordingley of the Friends of Multnomah Park Cemetery continues to look for Morningside Hospital patient burial sites. His search has expanded to include at least 5 cemeteries since his first discovery of patient graves at Multnomah Park.  Last month he sent this report on his continued pursuit of the final resting places of Morningside patients. Thanks for all you hard work, Eric!

September 19, 2011: I ventured over to Riverview and Greenwood Hills today with the hope of finding at least one Morningside headstone.

[image title=”riverview” size=”full” id=”816″ align=”left” ]Riverview:  The area where most of the Morningside burials occurred, between 1924 and 1929, underwent a massive landslide sometime in the 60’s.  It could have happened during the October 1962 Columbus Day storm when many large trees at Riverview went down.  The area on the map, section113 was dramatically altered as part of a large earth movement toward a gulley which undermined two roads and a large retaining wall.  Any remains that were in that area may have been either covered over by the slide or by the large amount of concrete, rock and dirt fill that went into the hillside to stabilize it after the slide.  If remains were exposed during the slide, I am sure the Riverview staff collected them and reinterred them in an area away from another potential landslide.

In Section 11, I attempted to locate the grave of one Herbert Hurdman, a Morningside patient that died in 1929.  I was unable to locate a headstone for him.

[image title=”Greenwood Hills” size=”full” id=”818″ align=”right” ]Greenwood Hills:  Recent hot weather has made the ground dry and thus very difficult to probe.  I was able to locate several flat concrete markers.  I don’t know if the markers I located are for Morningside patients.  It is my belief Morningside patients were interred at Greenwood Hills beginning mostly in 1942/43 until the hospital closed, but I do not as yet have access to the quarterly reports beyond 1931 and I have not been able to build a list of former patients who may be interred at Greenwood Hills.

The Volunteer Coordinator for Friends of Greenwood Hills Cemetery, Mary, is unavailable, due to her work schedule, to assist in this project until sometime in October.  I will report on our meeting once it occurs.  Read More »

Posted in Patient Burials | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in 1950-1960s, Media Coverage | Leave a comment

AK Historical Society 2011 Pathfinder Award


[image title=”Image_001″ size=”full” id=”789″ align=”left” ]

Over the weekend, the Alaska Historical Society (AHS) recognized the Lost Alaskans project with their Pathfinder Award. We didn’t know we were being considered so this was a wonderful surprise for a chilly Monday morning. The annual AHS meeting was held in Valdez. Here’s information on the award from the society’s website.

The Pathfinder Award is given to an individual or several individuals who have indexed or prepared guides to Alaska historical material that has not been accessible.  The 2011 Pathfinder award goes to the Lost Alaskans: Morningside Hospital History Project, and its primary researchers Ellen Ganley, Meg Greene, Karen Perdue, Robin Renfroe, Niejse Steinkruger, Sally Mead, Deborah Smith, Marylou Elton, and Vivian Hamilton.  This group has worked to uncover the documentary record of mental health care during the years in which Alaskans were institutionalized out of state at Morningside Hospital.  Their work not only helps reveal the past, but has had an impact on the lives of living family members seeking to understand what happened to their relatives.

Wow, what a great start to the week!

Posted in Research Project News | Leave a comment

Willard Asylum: Ovid, New York

[image title=”cropped-132″ size=”large” id=”768″ align=”center” ]

The Inmates of Willard: A Genealogy Resource

This blog is in preparation of a new genealogy resource book soon to be published about the Willard Asylum for the Insane and the first generation of Willard Inmates. It was written with genealogy geeks in mind. It is for those who want to glimpse the past, enjoy reading historical documents with little or no interpretation, and want to acquire basic knowledge about Willard in one resource without having to search the Internet to read hundreds of articles to understand what it was about. The most important feature of this book (and blog) is that it includes the names of over 4,000 inmates, something for which geeks are constantly searching. My personal interpretations and transcriptions of the names of the Inmates of Willard from U.S. Federal Censuses for the years 1870, 1880, and 1900, have been disseminated onto spreadsheets that the reader may find an ancestor more easily. The book is a collection of historical documents and laws of the time that tell the most accurate story of the people and politics surrounding the controversial Willard Asylum. Although this book deals with the specifics of Willard and its inmates, the laws, rules, and regulations applied to all county poor houses, city alms houses, and public and private mental institutions in the State of New York. The history of the treatment of the insane belongs to us all. Read More »

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in 1930-1949, 1950-1960s, Patient Stories | Leave a comment