The Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane Archives Preservation Planning Grant  (2011)

Project Categories

Principal Investigator: King Davis, Ph.D.
Co-Investigators: Patricia Galloway, Ph.D. and Gary Geisler, Ph.D., UT School of Information

Duration: 2010-2011

The current Central State Hospital in Petersburg Virginia was established in 1870 as Central State Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane, the first mental hospital for newly freed slaves in the United States of America. The hospital was created by the Virginia legislature in response to the ending of the civil war, the abolishment of slavery, and pressure from the Freedman’s Bureau to create health care facilities for this population.  Part of the impetus for opening Central State Hospital in Petersburg was the interest of the large black middle class of merchants, theologians, and politicians who resided at Pocahontas Island, a segregated community in the city.

Central State Hospital has maintained a complete set of its original admission records, treatment records for all patients, annual reports, vintage psychiatry books, governing board minutes, photographs, financial documents, state operating policies, correspondence, and staffing data dating back to its 1870 origins. There are also some documents that predate the official opening of the hospital in 1870. However, all these irreplaceable historical materials are in jeopardy. They have never been kept in an archival environment; and, many of the materials are fading and deteriorating as a result of long-term exposure to humidity, heat, handling, infestation, normal aging of paper, and sunlight. Unless protected in an archival environment, these historic materials will become illegible and beyond restoration or usage. Hundreds of years of historic materials will be lost.

This project is designed to convert the unique historical records held by Central State Hospital into a digital format to assess, preserve, organize, protect, and make them accessible through a comprehensive website [digital library] now and in the distant future. Without these efforts, this vital and irreplaceable history of mental health care in the United States by race will be lost to neglect.

Sponsor:  National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors / US DHHS, Substance Abuse Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)