My Book

For all of 2012 I was paid to research and write a history of St. Elizabeths [sic] Hospital, an old mental asylum in Washington, DC. Each day I trundled off to the National Archives to comb through the hundreds and hundreds of linear feet of hospital records going back to 1852. It was a fantastic experience. In comparison the months of writing were a little less fantastic but still very rewarding.

One of the challenges with this project was that there are big potholes in the historical record which didn’t really allow me to follow a nice long narrative arc. Not every story in the history gets a beginning, middle, and end. And because the work was done for a government agency I had to edit out much of my personality. Still, I think it is very readable (thanks in part to Teresa at Shelf Love), and I am very proud of the fact that everything I put in the document can be traced to a source. So much that has been written about St. Elizabeths in the past relied on fuzzy or non-existent sources and leads one to wonder what’s accurate and what isn’t.

I think in the end the history turned out quite well and illuminates much about this fascinating hospital that would be otherwise buried in the National Archives.

The book has been “published” in pdf format and is available online. The nice thing about that is that without having to worry about a printing budget, I was able to include as many photos as I wanted.

Patient about to undergo hydrotherapy.
Bakery in 1915 (the ovens are still there)
Patient room (this would have been for a less disturbed patient)
Patient day room

24 thoughts on “My Book

  1. rhapsodyinbooks July 19, 2013 / 10:16 am

    Well I'm excited! I was always fascinated by this place! (As kids a popular taunt was “you belong in St. Elizabeth's!) Can't wait to read more about it!


  2. ArchitectDesign™ July 19, 2013 / 10:31 am

    Congratulations!! You must be relieved (and proud) to have it finished. Whats the next project?


  3. Ti July 19, 2013 / 11:15 am

    Congrats to you!! Such an accomplishment!


  4. atlantareader July 19, 2013 / 11:58 am

    Congratulations! You have added to the Sum of Knowledge, and made it easier to get to!


  5. Margaret Evans Porter July 19, 2013 / 3:08 pm

    So excited to be able to read this now! I remember you talking about it when we met for lunch in DC–and you were doing the research, or were about to begin. Congratulations and thanks for the link!
    The photos are wonderful. Not cheerful, perhaps, but so evocative.


  6. A Super Dilettante July 19, 2013 / 3:56 pm

    My dear Thomas,

    Many congratulations to you. All your hard work and motivation must have paid off in the end. Your subject area and the history of St. Elizabeths Hopsital is most interesting and I am sure that it must have been a rewarding experience to be able to access to the special materials during your research. Well done!

    The picture of patient room for a less disturbed patient, as you put it, reminds me a little bit of my room while I was at the university. I used to have an old Thonet rocking chair in my room where I did my reading.

    In my student days, the old furniture such as writing desks and chest of drawers were available in each student's room (before the student rooms became more trendy with laptops and TVs) in the university halls of residence.

    Reading this post also reminded me of a character from Anita Brookner's novels which I know you adore – called “Look At Me”. The main character, Frances Hinton works at the medical library and her subject of interest and expertise is the history of madness, in particular the way how madness was portrayed in the Romantic period of art histroy. If Miss Frances Hinton exists, she would be saying congratulations to you in person.

    Best wishes, ASD


  7. JoAnn July 19, 2013 / 9:54 pm

    Congratulations, Thomas … well done!!!


  8. Teresa July 19, 2013 / 10:31 pm

    I'm so excited to see the finished product at last. I've already taken a quick glance through it to see some of the pictures, and I'm looking forward to taking a closer look very soon. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to help out!


  9. vicki (skiourophile) July 20, 2013 / 12:19 am

    Congratulations! I'm slightly sad that the patient's room looks more inviting than my own! ;-)


  10. Debby Dot and Penny Pam July 20, 2013 / 10:04 am

    This is fabulous news. I remember this being spoken of so I am glad to be back on your porch to read. Congratulations!


  11. Anna van Gelderen July 21, 2013 / 1:47 pm

    As we say in the Netherlands: “van harte gefeliciteerd!” A completed book feels like and indeed is a huge accomplishment. You should be very proud.


  12. Nan July 22, 2013 / 12:13 am

    So happy for you, and proud of you!!! Great job!


  13. agoodstoppingpoint July 22, 2013 / 4:59 pm

    Congratulations! I have downloaded the pdf for future reading. :)

    – Christy


  14. Peggy Ann July 22, 2013 / 7:21 pm

    Started reading it today and am 1/3 thru. Really enjoying it especially the pics! Well done.


  15. James Chester July 23, 2013 / 10:54 am

    Congratulations. This is terrific news. Nice to be able to include all the pictures you want, too.


  16. Bellezza July 23, 2013 / 11:08 am

    One of my degrees in psychology, and the topic has always fascinated me. How wonderful that you could research and write a book on this hospital! I'm so interested in the pictures, not only from the historical perspective, but for the way that they give us insight into others' lives. Aren't we all on the spectrum of mental health anyway, some days better than others? Well, that's just me I guess, most often hopeful and positive but sometimes fearful and unconfident.


  17. Ted July 24, 2013 / 7:01 am

    Quite an accomplishment, Thomas, congratulations!


  18. Susan in TX July 25, 2013 / 10:38 am

    A truly great accomplishment – congrats on the completion!


  19. Melwyk July 28, 2013 / 1:14 pm

    Congrats on finishing this fascinating project! The book looks very appealing, I am jealous of the most interesting research you must have done :)


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