"Our Loose Ends" Genealogy Column
by Lynna Kay Shuffield
Houston, Texas

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Printed in the Taylor Daily Press - 12 July 2001

“Texas State Lunatic Asylums”

My great-grandmother, Maude Kinstley DeCamp Wisner Baylor was committed to the Austin State Hospital in the early 1930s from Bastrop Co., Texas. A lunacy hearing was conducted and evidenced contained in the file indicates she was found “riding a black mule backwards in a freshly plowed field while stark naked wearing only a six-shooter.”

For that eccentric act, along with others, she spent the rest of her life in a State Hospital until her death in 1969. As with many families, it was never discussed!

My goal was to find-out what happened and why. First, I went to Bastrop County and searched their Lunacy Records and obtained copies of the file. Second, I wrote to the Texas Dept. of Mental Health & Retardation (MHMR) http://www.mhmr.state.tx.us/ at P. O. Box 12668, Austin, Texas 78711-2668 and requested a copy of her files pursuant to the Texas Open Records Act.

A recent Texas Attorney General’s Office (OR2001-0469) essentially says there is no legal standing for the MHMR to withhold requested historic records.

If you are looking for information about a family member who died while a patient, e.g., burial location, contact the Texas Historical Commission or the Austin History Center (Austin Public Library). Both agencies have a list of cemetery-interred patients at the former Austin State Lunatic Asylum.

Texas Historical Commission Library, Gethemane Lutheran Church, 16th & Congress, P.O. Box 12276, Austin, TX 78711-2276 http://www.thc.state.tx.us/.

Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, 9th & Guadalupe, Austin, Texas http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/library/lbahc.htm.

Further reading: Sitton, Sarah C., “Life at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857–1997.” College Station, TX: Texas A&M Univ. Press, May 1999. [ISBN 0-89096-859-4]

Two papers about the Texas State Hospitals: "From Curer to Custodian, A History of the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857 – 1880” by Chris Brownson, Univ. of Texas at Austin, dated 12-9-1992 and "A limited History of the Austin Hospital, 1857-1965" by Edith Mapes. Both papers can be found at the Austin State Hospital Library.

-- Short History of the Texas State Hospitals --

In 1857, the State of Texas first addressed the needs of treating mental illness by establishing the “Texas State Lunatic Asylum” (later called the Austin State Hospital) in Austin but did not begin operation until May 1861, when superintendent Dr. Beriah Graham admitted the first 12 patients,

The 18th Texas Legislature established the North Texas Lunatic Asylum (later called the Terrell State Hospital) on February 16, 1883, and it opened as a regional psychiatric hospital in July 1885 and by 1920 it housed 2,300 patients.

The Southwestern Insane Asylum (later called the San Antonio State Hospital) was established in 1889 by the Texas Legislature to serve Southwest Texas and began operation on April 6, 1892. The new facility was to occupy at least 640 acres and be capable of housing 500 patients. It was original known as the.

The Southwestern Insane Asylum is was the last institution for the mentally ill established in Texas before the turn of the century. The system later grew to nine state hospitals by the mid-1950s.

The Northwest Texas Insane Asylum (later called the Wichita Falls State Hospital) for the mentally ill was established as the by an act of the 35th Legislature in 1917, and the first patients were admitted on January 31, 1922. The hospital received white mental patients from 62 counties in northwest Texas. A chicken ranch, hog ranch, ice plant, dairy, laundry, mattress factory, power plant, and florist building were also maintained at the site. By the end of World War II, the hospital had 1,072 male patients and 1,280 female patients with a capacity of 2,485 patients.

The Rusk State Hospital for the mentally ill was originally opened in 1919 by the conversion of the Rusk Penitentiary for the care of the "Negro insane." The facility had a capacity of 2,426 patients. By 1967, the facility also included a maximum-security unit for the criminally insane.

The Asylums were essentially self-sufficient villages complete with their own blacksmith shops, icehouses, movie theaters, brass bands, baseball teams, and undertakers. Patients tended livestock, tilled gardens, helped prepare meals, and cleaned wards attended dances and religious services.

In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.

Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/lks_friday/COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: lksfriday@sbcglobal.net

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This webpage was last created on 11 July 2001 and was last revised on 22 May 2005

Copyright © 1999, 2001, 2005 Lynna Kay Shuffield - All rights reserved.
P. O. Box 16604
Houston, Texas 77222-6604