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 100 Years of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan
100 Years of Psychiartry at the University of Michigan


 100 Years of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan

The people who would have been treated by psychiatrists in 1906 were very ill, and their families were unable to care for them at home. If patients had not yet been judged to be insane, their family members sometimes wrote to psychiatrists, such as Dr. Albert Barrett at the University of Michigan, to ask for help.

 Patients who were treated in the first half of the 20th century would probably have either been committed by a judge to a state hospital or temporarily admitted to the State Psychopathic Hospital (SPH) at the University of Michigan. Those patients at the SPH would have been evaluated and treated over weeks to months, and then either released or sent to a state hospital.

State Psychopathic Hospital

 The State Psychopathic Hospital was founded in 1906 by the state legislature as an evaluation and referral center for the state mental hospital system. The SPH had about 40 beds, and the average length of stay was about four months. The staff at the SP also performed brain pathology services for the remaining mental hospitals in the state.

 The original building was located at the intersection of Catherine and Clark Streets in Ann Arbor (not connected to the medical hospital).

 The staff at the SPH was quite small, and consisted of a superintendent (Barrett, front right), an assistant physician (far left), several nurses, a pathologist, and an assistant for neurological cases.

 The SPH was governed by a Board of Trustees, consisting of four representatives from the state asylums and four from the University of Michigan Board of Regents. Patients who were "afflicted with abnormal mental states but were not insane" could be treated, as well as voluntary patients and those who had already been judged insane by the probate court.

Residents in Psychiatry

Staff of State Psychopathis Hospital

 Physicians who wanted training in psychiatry in the first half of the 20th century worked in an apprentice-type relationship with supervising physicians in hospitals. At the SPH, residents lived in the building and took care of all medical and psychiatric problems that arose with their patients. The expectation was that they devote all of their time to the institution.

Williams-Verweire Engagement Notice In 1912, Frankwood Williams joined the department and told his chairman, Dr. Barrett, that he was planning to get married. Barrett wrote to him and explained that his upcoming marriage would cause great disruption in the running of the institution. Barrett told Williams that he was not allowed to have his wife live in Ann Arbor and would only be permitted to leave the institution to visit her once a month. She was allowed to visit at SPH one Sunday a month. Williams survived his residency, and went on to become the Medical Director for the National Association for Mental Hygiene.

Pontiac State Hospital

 The Pontiac State Hospital was founded in the middle of the 19th century and accepted patients from the neighboring region. Pontiac State had close relationships with the University of Michigan and medical Students often acted as physicians at Pontiac State for extra money.  

Assistant physicians from Pontiac State (and other state facilities) obtained additional psychiatry training from staff at the SPH. The assistant physicians for the state hospitals would spend their month of vacation in Ann Arbor learning more psychiatry.

New Facilities

Between the late 1930s and the late 1950s, a number of new facilities were constructed to house the ever-increasing scope of the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. In 1937, the Neuropsychiatric Institute was built to replace the crumbling State Psychopathic Hospital.

Neuropsychiatric Institute

In 1948, a Veterans' Readjustment Center was built to treat service men returning from World War II who had on-going psychiatric needs.

In 1955, the Mental Health Research Institute was created to house a multidisciplinary approach to psychiatric problems from the molecular to the sociological level.

In 1956, a Children's Psychiatric Hospital was built that promised state-of-the-art psychiatric care and research for children.

This exhibit was curated by Dr. Laura Hirshbein, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, in coordination with the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Museum on Main Street. She will present a talk on "The Changing Face of Mental Illness in Washtenaw County" on Sunday, October 22, 2006, at 2:00 PM. The Open House will be from 12-4 on that day.

This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Impressions.

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