Whitfield (Mississippi State Hospital) | Mississippi Encyclopedia (2024)

Whitfield is the colloquial name for the Mississippi State Hospital, Mississippi’s primary public mental institution and hospital, which dates to 1848. The name is derived from the post office and railroad station located at the hospital, which were named for Henry L. Whitfield, a Rankin County native who served as Mississippi’s governor from 1924 to 1927 and was in office when the state legislature voted to relocate the Mississippi State Insane Hospital, as it was then known, from Jackson to its current site ten miles to the southeast in Rankin County.

The modern treatment of mental illness in Mississippi dates to antebellum times. Prior to the late eighteenth century the mentally ill, then termed lunatics or idiots, often were not considered worthy of public concern. They frequently wandered the streets or were kept locked up by families at home, with the violently psychotic sometimes chained to the floors of jails. Early mental institutions developed not to treat the afflicted but rather to confine them away from the general public. By the early nineteenth century physicians such as Philippe Pinel and Benjamin Rush encouraged a more scientific and humane approach that resulted in the creation of benevolent institutions and hospitals for the scientific treatment of the insane. In the early 1840s leaders in the state’s medical community, especially Drs. William S. Langley, Edward Pickett, and Thomas J. Catchings, championed the idea of erecting such a hospital in Mississippi. In January 1846 Gov. Albert G. Brown proposed the erection of “an asylum for lunatics” and “a refuge for the insane.” Two years later, the legislature appropriated ten thousand dollars and provided a five-acre lot in Jackson. An early superintendent later remarked that Mississippi’s asylum was “born in debt” and spent most of its early history “begging and borrowing.”

The asylum’s commissioners soon purchased a tract of 140 acres of land two miles north of Jackson off the Canton road (the present location of the University of Mississippi Medical Center), and work began on a large central building with two wings on that site in 1848. Assisted by Dorothea L. Dix, a Boston schoolteacher nationally known as a mental health reformer, the commissioners consolidated public support and secured the necessary funding from the legislature. By 1851 the first buildings of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum were erected and a cornerstone placed, and the asylum opened its doors to patients in 1855.

The first superintendent, Dr. William Langley, had been among the earliest proponents of the asylum’s establishment. By 1856, at the request of the asylum trustees, a few slaves and free persons of color were admitted. In its early years the Jackson asylum survived fires, tornadoes, yellow fever epidemics, and shifting Yazoo clay. The main building, with six marble columns and a classic front crowned with a cupola, had wing after wing added on, sprawling out like a prehistoric bird. For generations, it provided care for thousands of Mississippi’s mentally ill.

In 1870 Gov. James Alcorn appointed Dr. William Compton as superintendent. A nationally recognized mental health physician, Compton utilized his great political skill to secure gubernatorial and legislative support. He also embarked on efforts to modernize the medical treatment of the insane and to double the facility’s capacity. He requested improved lodging for the “lunatics of color” to equal those provided for the whites while acknowledging, with Alcorn’s support, the need for segregation by both race and sex.

Overcrowding continually plagued the institution, and a second hospital, East Mississippi Insane Asylum (now East Mississippi State Hospital), was established in Meridian on 8 March 1882 to help treat the state’s mentally ill. In 1890, after considering the possibility of opening an institution in the Delta, the legislature authorized the building of an annex to the Jackson facility for the increasing number of black patients; ten years later, yet another annex was added.

In January 1900 the lunatic asylum changed its name to the Mississippi State Insane Hospital. The institution continued to deteriorate physically as its census swelled to 1,350 beds. Appointed superintendent in 1918, Dr. Charles Mitchell advocated relocating the hospital to create a more modern campus. By 1926 the Jackson hospital reached a census of 2,000 patients, and the grounds totaled more than thirteen hundred acres, which were farmed by the patients. That year, the legislature appropriated $2.5 million for a new hospital to be located on 3,333 acres of state-owned land in Rankin County. The 1926 legislation also dropped Insane from the hospital’s title, and it became simply Mississippi State Hospital. Because of a significant drop in state income during the depression and ongoing political squabbles, the hospital did not open at the new site until March 1935 and cost a total of $5 million.

The Whitfield campus was a more isolated environment, based on a modern prototype very different than the interconnected wards and annexes of the old asylum. Highly regarded architect N. W. Overstreet planned the main campus, which covered 350 acres and consisted of more than seventy-five colonial-style red brick buildings with white columns and trim. It had a capacity of thirty-five hundred patients. The original plan included two separate campuses—the western side for African American residents and the eastern side for whites. Whitfield remained segregated racially until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when administrator Dr. William L. Jaquith desegregated the campus without incident.

Jaquith, a Vicksburg native who began his service to the hospital in 1947, transformed its approach to mental illness during his three decades of leadership. By 1955 Whitfield had a census of four thousand patients and more than eight hundred employees. However, after legal challenges to the confinement of the mentally ill, the patient population decreased significantly, falling to twenty-six hundred by 1978 and to sixteen hundred by 1983. The legislature considered closing the facility in the early 1980s. As medical professionals have increasingly embraced community-based psychiatric programs, Whitfield has continued to shrink, and several of the buildings that formerly housed patients have closed. As a result of this shift in mental health priorities, in 2016 the hospital contained 405 licensed hospital beds and 379 licensed nursing home beds and provided a variety of community-service programs.

In February 2000 the Mississippi State Hospital Museum opened on the Whitfield campus in Building 23, constructed in 1929 to receive white male residents. The museum offers a concise historical overview of the treatment of mental illness in the state, centering on the critical role played by the Mississippi State Hospital. Original hydrotherapy rooms, needle spray showers, and a fever box are included among the museum’s exhibits.

  • Written by Lucius M. Lampton, Magnolia, Mississippi

Further Reading

  • Annual Reports of the Board of Trustees and Superintendent of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum(1870–77)
  • Whitney E. Barringer, “The Corruption of Promise: The Insane Asylum in Mississippi, 1848–1920” (PhD dissertation, University of Mississippi, 2016)
  • Lucius M. Lampton,Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association(April 2000, January 2003)
  • William D. McCain,The Story of Jackson(1953); Mississippi State Hospital website, www.msh.state.ms.us
Whitfield (Mississippi State Hospital) | Mississippi Encyclopedia (2024)


Where was the Mississippi state lunatic asylum? ›

In 1920, the state hospital was located in Jackson and had 1,670 residents. In 1930, it had 2,649 residents. In 1935, the Mississippi State Insane Asylum moved from a complex of 19th-century buildings in northern Jackson to its current location, the former property of a state penal colony, the Rankin Farm.

What is the MS State Mental hospital called? ›

Whitfield is the colloquial name for the Mississippi State Hospital, Mississippi's primary public mental institution and hospital, which dates to 1848.

How old is the Mississippi State Hospital? ›

MSH Virtual Tour. Governor AG Brown made the first public proposition to establish a hospital for the insane in 1846. In 1848, the Mississippi Legislature appropriated funds for the original facility, which opened in 1855 at the present site of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

How do you get someone involuntarily committed in Mississippi? ›

File an affidavit for civil commitment in the chancery clerk's office where the person resides or is currently located. Under Mississippi state law, no attorney is required for this process.

What is the famous mental asylum in the United States? ›

New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum

From there, Dr. Cotton went on to remove the stomachs, testicl*s, ovaries, colons, and gall bladders of residents — leading to many deaths. Not only was the teeth-pulling procedure conducted until the '60s, many of Dr. Cotton's practices were done wide out in the open.

What is the oldest insane asylum in the United States? ›

The oldest psychiatric hospital in the country is the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, which was founded in 1773 and remains in operation today as a psychiatric hospital.

What is the largest hospital in Mississippi? ›

With a total of 1,003 beds, including Holmes County and Grenada locations, UMMC is the largest diagnostic, treatment and referral care system in the state.

What is the oldest hospital west of the Mississippi? ›

The hospital they founded in St. Louis was the first Catholic healthcare institution in the country, the first hospital west of the Mississippi, and the first hospital to be run by women. Since the time it was founded, DePaul Health Center served the sick and injured regardless of their ability to pay.

Who is the director of the Mississippi State Hospital? ›

James G. Chastain - Hospital Director - Mississippi State Hospital | LinkedIn.

What is the 72 hour hold law in Mississippi? ›

Whenever a licensed psychologist, nurse practitioner or physician assistant who is certified to complete examinations for the purpose of commitment or a licensed physician has reason to believe that a person [meets the criteria for emergency evaluation], then the physician, psychologist, nurse practitioner or physician ...

How much does it cost to have someone committed in Mississippi? ›

While you may pay a filing fee of up to $150, no attorney is required for this process. Click the images or the headings below to view a downloadable PDF that will guide you through the commitment process.

Do most states hold that a person can be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital? ›

Involuntary commitment laws exist in every state in the U.S. They serve to govern the detainment and treatment of individuals who pose risks to themselves or others due to their mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD).

What is the largest abandoned asylum in the United States? ›

"Since its founding in 1842, the Central State Hospital Campus (originally known as the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum) has been one of Milledgeville's most well-known and complex sites," the Visit Milledgeville says.

Where was the women's lunatic asylum? ›

Her first assignment was to feign insanity in order to be admitted to the Women's Lunatic Asylum, a mental institution on Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) in New York City. The World's managing editor at the time, Colonel John A. co*ckerill, along with Pulitzer, promised to secure her release.

Which hospital is bedlam insane asylum now known as? ›

Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as St. Mary Bethlehem, Bethlehem Hospital and Bedlam, is a psychiatric hospital in Bromley, London. Its famous history has inspired several horror books, films, and TV series, most notably Bedlam, a 1946 film with Boris Karloff.

When did the last insane asylum close? ›

Large-scale closures of the old asylums began in the 1980s. By 2015, none remained.

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