The Atrocities That Unfolded At This State Hospital In Pennsylvania Were So Horrifying That You’ll Have Trouble Sleeping Tonight
Have you ever visited the site of systematic abuse so gut-wrenching that it was the subject of numerous high-profile court cases, documentaries, and endless media coverage in its heyday?
Often the infrastructure that once housed atrocities is preserved and visited with reverence, in memory of those who suffered there. This is not the case with the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. Instead, it stands abandoned, beckoning to bored teenagers and ghost hunters alike.
Originally called the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, and founded on principles of eugenics and segregation of the mentally disabled from the general population, the Spring City hospital admitted its first patient in 1908.
Though it was intended to care for mentally disabled people whose family couldn’t care for them, the institution also admitted immigrants, orphans, and criminals. Many patients at the asylum had no preexisting mental or emotional conditions whatsoever, yet found themselves trapped in the institution for the rest of their lives.
Upon entry, patients were sorted into categories based on imbecile or insane; epileptic or healthy; and dental categories of good, poor, or treated. These qualifications would dictate their lodgings and care.
Within four years, the hospital was crowded far past its capacity.
Above a wheelchair sits untouched in the abandoned hospital.
Though it has sat vacant since the state hospital’s closure in 1987, this cell depicts what the living quarters must have been like at Pennhurst.
Pennhurst as seen from above during its days still in operation.
Overcrowding is one thing, but clear-cut and systematic abuse of patients is another matter entirely. The Pennhurst Project curates first-hand accounts of the hospital, from patients and staff members, with the aim of presenting an unbiased account of what happened there.
The Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital case, the first of its kind in the nation, ultimately led to the closure of the hospital.
It began when a patient visited her family and was found to have unexplained bruises on her body— it resulted in the court’s conclusion that Pennhurst’s conditions were unsanitary, inhumane, and dangerous. Staff members routinely violated the 14th amendment and the 8th amendment with their use of cruel and unusual punishment. The hospital was shut down in 1987.
The court case set an important precedent for US law.
To learn more, check out the below video. It is a 1968 full length documentary entitled “Suffer The Little Children: A Peek into the History of Eugenics and Child Abuse by the State – Pennsylvania Pennhurst.”
At the time of its release, conditions at Pennhurst were unknown to the public. This NBC10 expose horrified its audience and shocked the public into outcry.