"…an award-winning author." – Simon Savidge, The Readers, Episode 100


I listened to the fantastic 100th episode of The Readers the other day. It was a supersize episode with three hosts, not two, and it seemed to go on and on forever covered so many interesting topics. One of the things host Simon Savidge talked about was a fascinating history of a Victorian mental asylum. Apparently, like the amazing novel Stoner or the fabulous works of Barbara Pym, this history has been out for a while, but it is only now garnering the attention it so rightly deserves.


Published about a year ago, St. Elizabeths Hospital: A History, was recently fêted at an awards ceremony at Constitution Hall here in Washington, DC. In front of an audience of thousands about 500, author Thomas Otto accepted the Mayor’s Award for Historic Preservation Excellence in Public Education. At the awards ceremony a image-rich video was played describing both the history of the hospital and Otto’s process. If you’re impatient (or an inpatient), you can fast forward to 1’22”.

The best part about this history is that because it only exists in PDF format, it is available for free online, and, with no printing budget limitations, the book is chock-a-block with historic photos that can be enlarged to show otherwise hidden details.  If you want to read the book or just look at the pictures, you can follow this link.

For much of its history, St. Elizabeths was as much village as it was hospital. Sitting on a hill overlooking Washington, DC, it was home to patients and staff for over 150 years. Opened in 1855, the hospital was the first federal facility for the mentally ill and was often at the forefront of the field of psychiatry. Hundreds of boxes of archived documents, photos, and plans tell the story of this hospital where staff lived among patients, patients helped maintain the hospital farm, and the hospital farm kept them both fed. Now that history comes to life in this full-length history of St. Elizabeths Hospital.

You can read the history here. (15MB pdf file)

14 thoughts on “"…an award-winning author." – Simon Savidge, The Readers, Episode 100

  1. jamesreadsbooks.com May 25, 2014 / 9:31 am

    I may look into this. I'm in the midst of Nellie Bly's account of the ten days she spent in an asylum for women in the late 19th century. Nellie Bly was a newspaper reporter, very big in her day, now largely forgotten. Her book is very good so far. It actually kind of reads like a blog.


  2. Melwyk May 25, 2014 / 12:07 pm

    So great to hear about this award & the resultant discussion of this excellent book! Well deserving of recognition; it's a fascinating work of solid research.


  3. Pam Parks May 25, 2014 / 9:08 pm

    Well done Thomas. These places are all so interesting. We had a mental hospital here that began in the early 1800s originally as a hospital for convicts when they were transported from England but then went on to become a mental asylum only closing in 2000. It has lay vacant for quite awhile but now some developers are going to turn it into a tourist destination with interesting history. It is the oldest institution in Tasmania. When you visit I'll drive you out there and you can see it.


  4. Anna van Gelderen May 26, 2014 / 4:30 am

    Well done and congratulations! or as we say over here “Van harte gefeliciteerd”


  5. vicki (skiourophile) May 28, 2014 / 7:54 am

    Congratulations! That's lovely — and well deserved after all you work. And a fascinating and eerie topic.


  6. Thomas at My Porch June 6, 2014 / 9:52 am

    Patient experiences, even in the same hospital at the same period of time could have been very different depending on class, sex, race, and illness. Everything from a pleasant rest to hell on earth.


  7. Thomas at My Porch June 6, 2014 / 9:53 am

    Thank you. It is easy to disparage one's own work. This helps quell the doubts.


  8. agoodstoppingpoint June 8, 2014 / 9:28 am

    Congratulations on the award for all your hard work! An audience of 500 isn't too shabby. And look, you have a “talking-head” video spot too. :)
    – Christy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.