Saint Elizabeths Hospital

The Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington DC opened in 1855, even though the Kirkbride building wasn't completed until a few years later. Dorothea Dix was responsible for the asylum's founding and even wrote the law describing its mission. It was established primarily to provide care for members of the armed forces and residents of Washington DC. Thomas U. Walters was the architect of the Kirkbride, although the hospital's first superintendent, Dr Charles Nichols, designed its floorplan and other key features.

The fortress-like Kirkbride building sits on a hill with a commanding view of Washington DC. During the Civil War, the east wing temporarily functioned as a general hospital for Union soliders, and President Lincoln would often visit the wounded there. Soldiers at the hospital referred to it as Saint Elizabeths—the Colonial Era name for the area—because they were reluctant to acknowledge being treated at an insane asylum. Congress officially changed the name of the institution to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in 1916.

Saint Elizabeths was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1990 and continues to provide psychiatric care. However, most of its buildings are abandoned and the hospital functions at only a fraction of its peak capacity. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard splits the campus into two halves. The East Campus is where the hospital still functions and is now managed by the City of Washington DC. The West Campus—where the Kirkbride is located—is completely abandoned and is still maintained by the federal government. The Department of Homeland security plans on building their headquarters on this part of the campus. Over the next few years, the Kirkbride and several other historic structures will be renovated by the DHS which has declared "maintaining the historic character of the West Campus" one of the objectives of the project's master plan.

Other names for this hospital:

  • Government Asylum for the Insane


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