Photo Gallery: Kalamazoo Psychiatric
Additional Photos: Kalamazoo State Hospital c.1900
The Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, the largest institution
of its kind in Michigan, officially opened on 29 August 1859 under the
direction of Dr.
Edwin Van Deusen, although three women patients had been admitted prior to
that time. The first male patient was admitted in 1860. First known as the
Michigan Asylum for the Insane, it became the Kalamazoo State Hospital in 1911.
On the first of January 1978, the name changed to the Kalamazoo Regional
Psychiatric Hospital. In July 1995, it assumed its present designation, the
Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, although most local residents still commonly
refer to it simply as "the State Hospital." The hospital began to grow and
steadily expanded until it stretched almost a mile along Oakland Drive, which
was originally known as Asylum Avenue, bounded by Howard Street on the south,
and by Western Michigan University's campus at Oliver Street on the north.
tower was constructed in 1895 and quickly became a landmark. It played
prominently in the history of the city. In time, two working farms were
opened for the care and rehabilitation of patients and were located about three
miles to the north and south of the main campus. Later, a former state tuberculosis
sanitorium on Blakeslee was taken over by the hospital and utilized for the
treatment and care of elderly patients.
Another landmark on the main
campus is the "gate cottage" situated near Oakland Drive at the entrance to the
hospital grounds. The gatehouse
is "carpenter gothic" in style, featuring board and batten siding, a steep roof
and "gingerbread" ornamentation. The house has been furnished with Victorian
furniture and serves as a museum. When first built, it was used as the porter's
residence and later housed a dozen women patients for a time.
By 1959 the State Hospital had a patient load of 3,500
and 900 staff that included doctors, nurses, attendants and service
personnel. It became almost a city in its own right with a power plant, water
system, bakery, laundry, library, canteen, garage, cannery, general kitchen
and greenhouse. For many years the hospital was one of the largest employers
From the outset, the
hospital pioneered improved medical treatment of mentally ill patients. Before
the Michigan Asylum opened, it was common for the insane to be locked in
attics, log pens or cellars. Others were placed in county houses, jails and
strong rooms. Those considered harmless were permitted to wander about the
country sleeping in straw stacks and empty buildings. The Asylum pioneered
metrozol and insulin shock treatments and took advantage of the
Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of Michigan. In 1906, Dr. Alfred
I. Noble, then superintendent, abolished all forms of mechanical restraints.
This was an important step forward because it eliminated the use of cuffs,
camisoles, cages and similar immobilizing devices long associated with mental
The hospital also was a pioneer in the creation of nursing
and occupational therapy programs in the persons of Linda Richards and Marion
Richards had the honor of being the first student to graduate from nursing
school in the United States. She developed an interest in psychiatric nursing
and came to Kalamazoo from Massachusetts. From 1906-1909 she served as the
Superintendent of Nurse Training at the State Hospital. The Linda Richards
Memorial Home for Nurses was built in 1931 to serve as a dormitory for
students enrolled in the nursing program. The nursing school was accredited
in 1892 and operated until 1947. During its 55 years of operation, the
program graduated a total of 733 nurses.
Marion R. Spear was a pioneer
occupational therapist at the State Hospital and became head of occupational
therapy at the hospital in 1917. The Kalamazoo School of Occupational
Therapy, which she founded in 1922, was one of six such schools that were
approved by the American Medical Association. She remained at the school she
founded until it was moved in 1945 to Western Michigan University.
All was not sun and roses at the institution,
however. Sometimes death reared its ugly head in a violent manner. In
November of 1954, an 18-year-old male inmate with a record of sex deviation
confessed to killing an attractive 21-year-old student nurse, Marilyn Kraai.
Louis Smith lured the girl from her post in the main floor of the receiving
hospital to the basement, where he attacked and strangled her. Fifty years
earlier, a resident doctor was stabbed to death. At times patients would die
also, but never was the institution accused of improper treatment or neglect
in those cases. Ironically, these deaths only pointed up a chronic complaint
of understaffing according to hospital officials. Because it was a state
funded hospital, it was ever at the mercy and whims of state legislators and
governors, who often were more concerned with budgets than necessities. Also,
since the employees were union organized, the hospital often faced labor
problems. But throughout it all, a high level of innovative treatment for
patients was maintained under sometimes staggering odds.
Increased budget cuts by the state and improved treatment methods
and medication for patients led to an inevitable decline in patient
population. The hospital began to shrink, dropping steadily from a high of
3,500 patients in 1954-1955. Then in 1973, new treatment measures, such as
rapid screening and intensive treatment, and early release into the community
for other local agencies to take over, shrank the patient population even
more. In 1980, the facility started laying off 88 employees and releasing 160
patients in response to the bare bones budget provided by the state.
Finally, in 2000, then-Governor John Engler's administration decimated the
state-run psychiatric hospitals in favor of community-based care at private
agencies and hospitals.
Just a ghost of its former self, the Kalamazoo
Psychiatric Hospital now has turned over most of its holdings on Oakland
Drive to Western Michigan University, which has developed it as a health
care corridor and research facilities, as well as the home of its current
School of Nursing.
No matter, the contributions to the world of mental
health and treatment, to our city and to our wider community, we are forever
indebted to the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital.
On November 5, 2007, KPL hosted a program featuring Dr. William A. Decker
introducing his book, Asylum for the Insane: A History of the Kalamazoo State
Hospital. Dr. Decker, superintendent of the hospital from 1974
to 1987, treated a large and enthusiastic audience to a sampling of the
history that is detailed in his book. Asylum for the Insane was later
named to the 2009 Michigan Notable Books list.
November 05, 2007, Central Library, 60 minutes (6 segments)
A History of the
Kalamazoo State Hospital, presented by Dr. William A. Decker, M.D., at
Kalamazoo Public Library, November 5, 2007.