Norristown State Hospital


Prior to Norristown State Hospital, mental health patients were often misdiagnosed and mistreated. Today, hospitals and clinics strive to better understad and treat mental health patients.


In the case from left to right: 5 postcards, a letter, 3 photographs (top), map of site, court ordered committment, photo and wooden leg of Hagey, and a paperweight.

Prior to the State Hospitals, mental health patients were often exposed to inadequate and inhumane treatment. With limited knowledge of mental disorders, people were misdiagnosed as lunatics. In the late 19th century, people like Dr. Hiram Corson advocated for hospitals for the mentally disabled. Under the direction of Governor Hartranft and Surgeon General Dr. Louis W. Read, Norristown State Hospital (originally known as teh State Lunatic Hospital/the Asylum for the Insane) opened on July 12, 1880.

Doctors like Dr. Alice Bennett made Norristown State Hospital the leading example for psychiatric treatment in the region. The hospital paved the way for progressive treatments by limiting restraints and promoting respect for patients. New exercises such as reading and writing were implemented to help patients cope with their mental illness. Some patients even worked on the hospital's farm, which is now Norristown Farm Park.

Old Map of Norristown State Hospital

Unfortunately, may State Hospitals encountered major setbacks during the Great Depression and World War II. Lack of funds and personnel resulted in overcrowding and use of outdated treatments. Conscientious objectors sennt to work at State Hospitals reported these issues and advocated for better patient care. This encouraged hospital superintendents to make improvements by using new psychiatric drugs and outpatient centers. As a result, the patient population at Norristown State Hospital drastically decreased in the latter half of the 20th century.

Currently, the hospital is one of seven in Pennnsylvania and one of two that have a Forensic Unit. Norristown State Hospital is currently undergoingn future planning as a proposal to redevelop 78 acres of unkempt property was released in March 2019.

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