Maryland’s Shame

The Crownsville Hospital Center was founded in Crownsville, Maryland in 1911 as “The Hospital for the Negro Insane.” The first group of 12 patients arrived at the hospital on March 13, 1911. It was built on a model of self-sufficiency and therefore was built from the ground up by the patients themselves. It was created as a place to house African-American psychiatric patients separately from white patients in the other state hospitals like Springfield State Hospital. It was desegregated in January of 1963, but before then, the intersections of race and the stigma of mental health during the post-war era made Crownsville a hotbed of maltreatment of its patients and “inmates.” However, it should be noted that even after desegregation, conditions at Crownsville were subpar (the asylum erupted in riots during the sixties after desegregation, on which information is hard to find).


Being a person of color in America is hard enough–to be a person of color in America with mental illness is doubly hard.According to a HSMHA Health Report focused on Maryland during this time period, “…admission rates for Negroes in all psychiatric facilities were higher than for Whites both before and after desegregation” (Gorwitz & Warthen, 34-35). More Blacks were being put into psychiatric facilities than Whites during this time, and Blacks from Baltimore City counted for 75% of admissions to psychiatric hospitals in Maryland.

Date: 1955-01-31 Caption: Older girl room. Combination day room and sleeping quarters 1955

Date: 1955-01-31
Caption: Older girl room. Combination day room and sleeping quarters 1955

At Crownsville, patients were used as medical test subjects, injected with malaria and given forced sterilizations. Epileptics were subject to insulin shock treatments. Lobotomies were performed on those the doctors deemed “feebleminded.” The hospital was subject to severe overcrowding and staff shortages starting in the 1940’s, which contributed to the outbreak of disease and the issue of patient neglect.Some patients were also physically and sexually abused by staff, though the most prevalent problem at Crownsville was the neglect of its patients by the staff. Said Robert Schoeberlein of the neglect in his infamous “Maryland’s Shame” article which exposed the terrible conditions at Crownsville to the public:

“More than 1800 men, women and children are herded into its buildings meant for not more than 1,100. Crownsville is also the dumping ground for feeble minded negro children and epileptics. The children’s buildings are among the most crowded in the institution. One hundred and fifteen girls spend most of their days in a single, long bare play room with virtually nothing to play with. There are so few attendants that the older girls have to carry the helpless ones bodily to and from meals. Not one of the more than 200 boys and girls at Crownsville is getting any formal schooling at all. Some of the epileptics lie all day on the bare floor.”

Date: 1954-11-01 Caption: Young boys in the building watch a television program in their dayroom. Continuous television considered doubtful therapy for them but better than no therapy.

Date: 1954-11-01
Caption: Young boys in the building watch a television program in their dayroom. Continuous television considered doubtful therapy for them but better than no therapy.

The 1949 expose “Maryland’s Shame” and efforts by the NAACP to improve the hospital brought light to conditions at the hospital. Articles claim that conditions began to improve in the 1960’s, but make no or little mention of the riots that occurred in the sixties. Crownsville was not closed until 2004 after 12 years of debate between health officials and legislators. It now stands named as “Crownsville Community Campus.” The 556 acre property and the graveyard which holds the graves of almost 2,000 individuals who died at the hospital (marked only by number) is rumored to be haunted.

Links to more information:

Baltimore Darkroom Article & Photos: http://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/2015/01/crownsville-state-hospital/#29

PDF of “Maryland’s Shame” Article:  http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc5800/sc5881/000001/000000/000390/pdf/msa_sc_5881_1_390.pdf

Article About Crownsville’s Closing: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2004-06-27/news/0406270142_1_crownsville-hospital-center-arundel-county

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