In the Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Act, approved August 31, 1852 (10 Stat. 92), the Congress appropriated $100,000 to enable the Secretary of the Interior, under the direction of the President, to purchase a site in the Washington, D.C., region "for the erection, furnishing and fitting up of an asylum for the insane." A subseqent act, approved March 3, 1844 (10 Stat. 682), officially organized the institution, provided that it be called the Government Hospital for the Insane, and stated that the purpose of the hospital was, in the words of Dorothea Dix, the famous social reformer who wrote the bill, to provide "the most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army and Navy of the United States and of the District of Columbia.
The organizational outlines for the hospital were established by the 1855 act. A Board of Visitors, appointed by the President, was created to supervise the general operation of the hospital, and a Superintendent, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, was designated as chief executive officer. In addition to general administrative duties, the Superintendent, with the approval of the Board of Visitors, was specifically charged with hiring and firing employees, determining employees' salaries and duties, and serving as disbursing agent.
Since the Civil War, the hospital has been called St. Elizabeths after the tract of land near where it is located. This name seems particularly appropriate because Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, after whom the land was named, was noted for her charity to the poor and sick (especially lepers) and for building hospitals. In an act dated July 1, 1916 (39 Stat. 309), the Congress granted official status to the informal name.
The hospital was a bureau under the supervision of the Department of the Interior until Reorganization Plan No. 4, effective June 30, 1940 (54 Stat. 1236), transferred it to the Federal Security Agency (FSA). From that date to December 1943, the hospital operated under the general supervision of the Public Health Service within FSA, bot on the latter date, the FSA Administrator restored it to bureau status. When the FSA was abolished by Reorganiztion Plan No. 1, effective April 11, 1953 (67 Stat. 631), its functions and components, including St. Elizabeths Hospital, were transferred to the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). The hospital operated as a separate bureau under HEW until the Secretary's reorganization order, effective August 9, 1967 (32 FR 13681), transferred it to the National Institute of Mental Health under the Public Health Service in HEW.
The hospital was originally intended to care for the insane of the U.S. Army and Navy and indigent insane residents of the District of Columbia. Insane patients from the District also could be accepted on a paying basis if vacancies existed. During the Civil War, a part of the hospital was set aside for the care of the sick and wounded of the Army and of the Chesapeake and Potomac Fleets. Over the years many classes of insane patients have been eligible for care- merchant seamen, Indians from reservations, residents of the Soldiers Home, beneficiaries of the Veterans Administration resident in the District, residents of the Virgini Islands, U.S. citizens residing in Canada and the Canal Zone who have lsot their State residence, Foreign Service officers who have no State residence, prisoners of the United States and the District sent to the hospital for observation, Federal and State criminals found to be mentally ill, "sexual psychopaths," and other groups. Legislation passed in 1948 permitted voluntary admissions to the hospital. Since the implementation of Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1946 (60 Stat. 1098), which excluded patients from the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, the majority of patients have been residents of the District.
There are related records in other records groups. Documents pertaining to the organization of the hospital, accounts, budgets, land, construction of buildings, admission of patients, personnel, investigations, and other matters, may be found in Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, Record Group 48. Additional material concerning organizations, appropriations, budgets, legislation affecting the hospital, and other subjects is located in General Records of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Record Group 235. Information about the history of the hospital and its activities may be found in the published annual Reports of the hospital and in Centennial Papers, Saint Elizabeths Hospital, published by the Centennial Commission of St. Elizabeths Hospital in 1956.
List of Superintendents of St. Elizabeths Hospital
Charles H. Nichols - 1852-1877
William W. Godding - 1877-99
Alonzo B. Richardson - 1899-1903
William Alanson White - 1903-37
Roscoe W. Hall, acting - 1937
Winfred Overholser - 1937-62
Dale Cameron - 1962-67
David Harris, acting - 1967-68
Louis Jacobs - 1968-69
Luther D. Robinson, acting - 1969-72
Luther D. Robinson - 1972-75
Roger Peele, acting - 1975-77
Charles Meredith - 1977 -