> Alex Wellerstein > Postcards and artifacts >

My small historical artifact collection.

These are postcards and artifacts relating to work I have done, primarily on twentieth-century state institutions in California for the mentally retarded and the mentally ill. Most of these pictures are scanned from my personal collection, please contact me if you are interested in higher resolution versions of them for any legitimate purpose.

If you have stumbled across this page while trying to locate state hospital records for historical or genealogical research purposes, there is a useful page put together by California State University Sacramento's Center for Science, History, Policy, and Ethics describing the locations of records relating to state hospitals and eugenics available here as a PDF file.

Stockton State Hospital (female department)
Stockton State Hospital (female department), postcard (ca. 1910s).
Stockton State Hospital, located in Stockton, California (my hometown), was the first state mental hospital in California, opening only a few years after statehood was attained. From 1910 until the early 1950s it was the third largest site of compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill in California, having sterilized around 2,600 of its patients.


Stockton State Hospital (female department)
Stockton State Hospital (female department), postcard (ca. 1910).
Stockton State Hospital, female department. Another view of the female department, false colored. Different shading than the others—more blues and grays. Some very interesting awnings on the windows on the right side of the building.


Stockton State Hospital (male department)
Stockton State Hospital (male department), postcard (1908).
Another postcard of Stockton State Hospital, this time of the male department. Postmark is from 1908, the year before California's first sterilization law came into effect (and two years before they started sterilizing patients at Stockton). This one says "mother" in the lower left hand corner as it was a used postcard, and a patient at Stockton had written to his mother on the postcard (the inside reads, "Dear mother - Today is Xmas and I am eating Xmas dinner by myself. Wish I could of been at Joes for dinner. My Dr. gave me a beautiful (intelligible) for Xmas. I am coming home Sunday. Manuel(?).")


Stockton State Hospital (male department)
Stockton State Hospital (male department), postcard (ca. 1910).
Stockton State Hospital, male department, slightly different angle.


Stockton State Hospital (male department)
Stockton State Hospital (male department), postcard (ca. 1910).
Yet another Stockton State Hospital, male department. I like this one especially, though, because if you look carefully, you can see the bars on the windows. I hadn't noticed that before on any of the other institutional postcards.


Stockton State Hospital (male department)
Stockton State Hospital (male department), postcard (ca. 1910).
Stockton State Hospital, male department, this one is really pretty wonderful, lots of detail, not false colored.


Stockton State Hospital (female department)
Stockton State Hospital (female department), postcard (ca. 1910).
Stockton State Hospital, female department, same wonderful series as the one above, lots of detail.


Stockton State Hospital (male department)
Stockton State Hospital (male department), postcard (1907).
Stockton State Hospital, male department, false colored. I know you're probably getting sick of this shot already, but this one is in color, and has a lovely "How do you like this view?" written across the bottom of it. (I hereby promise to not buy any more postcards of this particular view)


Photo from an autopsy log
Photo from an autopsy log, Mendocino State Hospital (1899).
This was the only photograph in a 400+ page autopsy log for Mendocino State Hospital, (formerly the Mendocino State Asylum) located near Ukiah, California. Taken in 1899, the photograph is from an entry on a patient who had died at the age of 93 from dementia senilis: "Growing from the inner table, just anterior to the coronal suture and 2 cm. from the median line on the right, was the tumour the size of a large English walnut, projecting downward into and backward, or perpendicular to the point of attachment to the skull. The surface was light pinkish in color, and irregularly modulated." In the course of the hundred years this photo has sat in its logbook, the text from the opposite page has ghosted itself across the print. If you're having difficulty figuring out what the image is (it took me a good while to figure it out myself when I first ran across it), it is the inside of a patient's skull held on both sides by a surgeon.


Mendocino State Hospital
Mendocino State Hospital, postcard (ca. 1910s-1920s).
Mendocino State Hospital, Ukiah (technically in Talmage, I believe), California. This institution served as one of the primary psychiatric hospitals for the mentally insane and the alcoholic, isolated fairly far up in northern California. This picture is from the 1910s or 1920s I believe, but it is not postmarked so it is hard to know for sure. (The hospital sterilized statistically negligible numbers of its patients.)


Mendocino State Hospital
Mendocino State Hospital, postcard (ca. 1910).
"State Hospital for Insane, Ukiah." A nice false-colored postcard of Mendocino State Hospital from the first few decades of the twentieth century. I'm not sure why so many photographs of Mendocino are taken from a distance and obscured by trees (it may be that they just had a lot of trees). I like this one because it gives you a good sense of the surrounding environs—many state institutions of this era were built in quite rural locations, as the land was cheap and there were less people to be worried about periodic escapes of "patients".


Mendocino State Hospital
Mendocino State Hospital, postcard (ca. 1950s-1960s).
Another postcard of Mendocino State Hospital; this one is obviously much more 'modern' than the other hospitals I have on this page. I think it makes an interesting comparison to put them next to each other -- the changes between them reflect the changing attitudes towards mental health during this period as well, as the institutions changed from being essentially 'asylums' to 'state hospitals'.


Mendocino State Hospital
Mendocino State Hospital, postcard (ca. 1950s).
Aerial photograph of Mendocino State Hospital, postmarked 1957.


Napa State Hospital
Napa State Hospital, postcard (1909).
"State Hospital for the Insane, Napa, California, Front View." This rather austere looking state hospital was located near Imola, California.


Patton State Hospital
Patton State Hospital, postcard (1910).
Patton State Hospital, San Bernardino, California. Patton was Southern California's primarily mental hospital for quite a long time. It is one of the few state hospitals still operating today. It was the largest sterilizer of the mentally ill in California, and second highest sterilizer overall in the state. Aesthetically it is marked by the large fields/orchards which surround it -- very turn-of-the-century Southern California!


Patton State Hospital
Patton State Hospital, postcard (ca. 1910s).
Another postcard of Patton State Hospital, this one taken from somewhat far away. It looks like Patton was set up under the Kirkbride hospital design, using a tiered model of wings coming out of a central administrative building, with short sections dropping back from each wing connecting to more wings. This model allowed air to circulate, and also made it so that no wards looked in on other wards from their windows.


Patton State Hospital
Patton State Hospital, postcard (ca. 1910s).
Patton State Hospital, different angle.


Camarillo State Hospital
Camarillo State Hospital, postcard (1939).
Camarillo State Hospital, Camarillo, California. Camarillo opened in 1936, and among all of the California state institutions has been the most memorialized in novels, film, and song. It was closed in 1997 and is currently being turned into California State University Channel Islands. Camarillo never established a significant sterilization program.


Sonoma State Home
Sonoma State Home, postcard (1913).
Sonoma State Home, in Eldridge, California, was California's primary facility for the care of the developmentally disabled and mentally retarded. Originally a private institution, it was taken over by the state in 1885 and until 1909 was known as the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-minded Children. Under Dr. Fred O. Butler, superintendent from 1918 until 1949, they instituted the most vigorous sterilization program of any California state institution (and probably any institution in the United States). By 1950 some 5,500 patients had been sterilized at Sonoma; almost one out of every three compulsory sterilizations in California took place at Sonoma during Butler's tenure. Jack London's 1914 story, "Told in the Drooling Ward" describes an institution similar to Sonoma, which was not far from London's ranch in Glen Ellen, California. It still exists today, now known as the Sonoma Developmental Center.


Sonoma State Home
Sonoma State Home (birds eye view), postcard (ca. 1910).
Sonoma State Home, birds eye view, real photo postcard. I've scanned this one a bit higher because it has a lot of detail in it. If you look carefully you can see some sort of farming activity in the field to the right of the main drive.


Sonoma State Home
Sonoma State Home (main entrance), postcard (ca. 1910).
Sonoma State Home, main entrance. You can just make out two figure on the left, near the assembly hall.


Sonoma State Home
Sonoma State Home (Oak Lodge), postcard (ca. 1910).
Sonoma State Home, Oak Lodge. I'm not really sure what this is, but it looks like some sort of staff residence. In the birds eye view, I believe this is up the hill behind the main administrative/ward building. At some point in the 1930s, Sonoma added on a number of "cottages" as wards for different types of patients, and it's possible that this is something like that. I'm doubtful of that though, only because it looks like a "normal" building and does not have the bland look of most hospital wards. But I really don't know, I've never seen this mentioned before in the records, though admittedly this isn't what I was ever looking for.


Sonoma State Home
Sonoma State Home (assembly hall/school), postcard (ca. 1910).
Sonoma State Home, assembly hall and school building. If I recall, the biennial reports indicated that they would sometimes hold dances in this hall. I don't know too much else about this, though.


Sonoma State Home
Sonoma State Home (hospital), postcard (ca. 1910).
Sonoma State Home, hospital. If this was the only hospital for Sonoma's patients at the time, then this would mean that this is where the majority of all compulsory sterilization operations in California took place. It's a somewhat unpleasant thought.


Vineland State Home for Feeble-Minded Women
Vineland State Home for Feeble-Minded Women, postcard (ca. 1920s?).
Vineland State Home for Feeble-Minded Women, Vineland, New Jersey. Okay, I know this one technically isn't anywhere near California, but as far as state institutions go, this is one of the most famous, being the setting for Henry H. Goddard's 1912 The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, one of the most important works of American eugenics.


Stateville Penitentiary
Stateville Penitentiary, near Joliet, Illinois (ca. 1930s).
Not a hospital, but was interesting to me as it was one of the few prisons build somewhat on the Bentham panopticon model. An interior picture of this prison can be seen in Foucault's Discipline and Punish, but that doesn't really give a good idea of the overall size of the place. Put succinctly, the panopticon consisted of rows of cells around a central surveillance tower. In the standard Bentham model, prisoners would not be able to see whether or not the observers in the tower were looking at them specifically at any one time – the possibility would always be there that they were being watched. This would lead to an internalization of the watching, as the prisoner began to watch himself, which is what Foucault sees as being the root of discipline. The true power of surveillance is to be found in this psychological internalization of watching. All that aside, the back of the postcard reads: "The new Illinois State Penitentiary is located on the State Farm of 2,220 acres, 64 acres of which are enclosed in a concrete wall, 30 ft. high, 1 1/4 miles long, with guards' observation powers at various points. This is the largest prison 'yard' in the U.S. The arrangement of the buildings and corridors permits complete segregation and classification into five grades. All the buildings are of fire-proof construction. A specially slooped skylight upon the roof of the building permits the sun to shine directly into the glass fronts of all the cells every day the sun shines."


Stateville Penitentiary - Panopticon
Stateville Penitentiary - Panopticon, near Joliet, Illinois (ca. 1920s?).
A gorgeous interior view of the Stateville Penitentiary panopticon, whereby one guard could watch hundreds of prisoners at once.


Stateville Penitentiary - Panopticon (Holiday Card)
Stateville Penitentiary - Panopticon (Holiday Card), near Joliet, Illinois (ca. 1920s?).
Because my Stateville postcards are by far the most popular on here, I thought perhaps people would appreciate a little levity. This is a holiday card variation of the second one that my wife and I sent around a couple of years back. Santa as panopticon -- why not?


Extract from California Department of Mental Hygiene, Biennial Report, 1950-1952.
Click to begin downloading the PDF (11.3MB in size)

This is a short extract from the 1950-1952 Biennial Report of the California Department of Mental Hygiene. I've included it here because it contains photos and descriptions of Agnews State Hospital, Camarillo State Hospital, DeWitt State Hospital, Mendocino State Hospital, Modesto State Hospital, Napa State Hospital, Norwalk State Hospital, Pacific Colony, Patton State Hospital, Sonoma State Home, Stockton State Hospital, and the Langely Porter Clinic. Since I know that a lot of the people who visit this page are interested in learning about these locations, in part for geneological purposes, I figured these descriptions might of particular interest, since this document is not the easiest to obtain, and it gives some sense of the character of these places at the time (even if it may not be very accurate from the patient's point of view).

Of note is that the Director of Mental Hygiene of this period was Frank F. Tallman, who fancied himself a major reformer of the state mental hygiene services, along with Governor Earl Warren. Most of this particular report (which was the only Biennial Report issued since the 1930s; the others before and after were Statistical Reports and were primarily collections of data) spent a lot of time trying to contrast their new, "enlightened" mental hygiene program with the "asylum" model of the past. (Hence the cover, which shows a neglected patient in an ancient wicker chair being replaced by one who can read magazines, have group classes, do painting, and new buildings.)

The de-institutional sentiment was heavily in vogue during this period in California history. It emphasized getting rid of centralized state facilities and instead shifting more emphasis to community clinics, with the hope that mental illness could be handled in a more personal fashion at the local level, and trying to get away from the "warehousing" of the mentally ill. This period also marked the almost complete end of compulsory sterilization practice of said patients in California, not coincidentally. Before we embrace these particular progressives, though, we should keep in mind that the new "scientific" policies of this period included a heavy reliance on lobotomization and electroshock, both of which have since fallen rather out of favor in terms of "enlightened" practice. For more information about changing attitudes in patient therapy at California state institutions over the course of the first half of the 20th century, an excellent resource is Joel Braslow's Mental Ills and Bodily Cures (University of California Press, 1997).

The PDF file linked above has been reduced in quality to spare Harvard's servers (it is still fairly large); if you are interested in the high-resolution version, please get in touch with me and I'll be happy to send you a link to the larger (86.9MB) file.

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