October 12, 1773 — America’s first insane asylum opened today in Williamsburg, Virginia for “Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds.”
A two-story brick institution south of Francis Street, this public hospital was founded at the urging of Governor Francis Fauquier, who believed science could be employed to cure “persons who are so unhappy as to be deprived of their reason.”
Parish vestries and families had long borne the responsibility for the care of the mentally ill, but in a November 1766 speech to the House of Burgesses, Fauquier insisted: “a poor unhappy set of people who are deprived of their senses and wander about the countryside, terrifying the rest of their fellow creatures.” He proposed a hospital staffed by doctors who would “endeavour to restore to them their lost reason.”
At first the burgesses paid little heed, but Fauquier persisted. On June 4, 1770, the legislators adopted an act to “Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds.”
Words of Wisdom
The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend.