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American Psychiatric Association Foundation and Friends of Virginia’s Central State Hospital Host Joint Reception; Discuss History of First State Mental Hospital for Black Americans

  • September 16, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Sept. 13, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) and Friends of Virginia’s Central State Hospital brought together psychiatrists, families, historians, and administrators at a reception to mark their recent exhibit on the history and meaning of the hospital.

Central State was the first state mental hospital created in the United States in 1870 exclusively for Black Virginians. It remained segregated by race until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Over those 100 years, thousands of documents and photographs were maintained by the Hospital, and highlights are now available in the exhibit.

Attendees at the reception learned about the origins of the Hospital and discussed how historical predictions of excess rates of illness based on race and freedom negatively influenced admissions, diagnoses, treatment, and public perceptions.

“Part of the role of the APAF Melvin Sabshin, M.D. Library and Archives is to preserve and to examine psychiatry’s history, so we can reflect on and learn from our past,” said APAF Executive Director Rawle Andrews, Jr., Esq. “We are grateful to Friends of Virginia’s Central State Hospital for sharing the archives in this exhibit, which uncover stories of Black patients and their families. We hope the exhibit shows how differential, racist treatment can, and in some cases, continues to harm people, and that this examination of our history leads to continued progress toward a more just and equal nation.”

“The history of race and mental health that is reflected in the 100 years of written documents from Central State Hospital is invaluable,” said King Davis, Ph.D., Chair of the Friends of Virginia’s Central State Hospital. “These archives allow us to utilize information about the Hospital’s evolution to inform the future of mental health practice and education. It is important to propose, provide, and support events and activities that contribute to increased access by Black families to genealogical and treatment information that enhances their mental health literacy, help seeking, and use of services.”

During its first fifteen years, Central State was known as the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane and was located on the grounds of Howard’s Grove Confederate Hospital in Richmond Virginia. It was relocated to Petersburg Virginia in 1885 and renamed Central State Hospital in 1894. Exhibit items from the hospital's extensive archives consist of detailed medical, political and legal documents. They include 100 years of once lost or misplaced primary source documents, photographs, public laws, news articles, admissions, diagnostic, treatment, and mortality data. This exhibit creates a threshold for building interest and knowledge about how racial assumptions negatively influenced the evolution of clinical education, public policy, research and practice.

Friends of Central State Hospital

The Friends of Virginia’s Central State Hospital is an independent non-profit organization. Friends was formed in 2018 to propose, provide, and support events and activities that contribute to increased public knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of the hospital’s origin in 1870 as well as its current mission, services, staffing, and future contributions to citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Friends of Central State are volunteers from a diversity of communities, backgrounds, and organizations that share a mutual interest in the design, access, funding, maintenance, and evaluation of quality mental health care.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit www.psychiatry.org.

American Psychiatric Association Foundation

The American Psychiatric Association Foundation is the philanthropic and educational arm of APA. The APA Foundation promotes awareness of mental illnesses and the effectiveness of treatment, the importance of early intervention, access to care, and the need for high-quality services and treatment through a combination of public and professional education, research, research training, grants, and awards.

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