Wisconsin Central State Hospital

From Asylum Projects
Revision as of 14:41, 31 July 2020 by Squad546 (talk | contribs) (Added history)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
Wisconsin Central State Hospital
Established 1900
Construction Began 1909
Opened 1914
Closed 1983 (as a State Hospital)
Current Status Active
Building Style Pavilion Plan
Architect(s) Foeller & Schober
Location Waupun, WI
Alternate Names
  • Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane
  • Dodge Correctional Institution


In 1900, the State Board of Control (the successor to the State Board of Charities and Reform) declared that "the time has come when it should be pressed upon the attention of the Executive and Legislature that some additional facilities for the care and safekeeping of violent, dangerous and criminal insane should be provided". At that time, the Board felt that this could best be accomplished by erecting a building for those classes at one of the already existing state mental hospitals. The new institution could be connected with the heating, lighting, water and sewerage systems of the hospital, but be located far enough away to prevent its inmates from mingling with, or disturbing those in other buildings. These recommendations were not heeded, however, and the Board of Control had to continue to press this need for many years.

Finally, in 1909, the Wisconsin State Legislature appropriated $100,000.00 for a hospital for the criminal insane to be erected at the Northern Hospital for the Insane at Winnebago. A study was made of similar institution in other states and plans were prepared and adopted for the construction of a building to provide for present and future needs. The Board of Control discovered, however, that the amount appropriated was insufficient to contract for construction of the buildings required to meet their present needs, so no work was done. The project was delayed even further in 1911 when the Legislature decided that it was inadvisable to locate the criminal and violent insane at the same site as the general hospital for the insane at Winnebago. Provisions were made, however, for money to purchase a site for a new facility near Waupun. This facility was to be under the jurisdiction of the Board of Control, but for the purpose of day-to-day management, it was to be considered a component part of the Wisconsin State Prison (WSP) at Waupun. The location was considered advantageous for the same reasons that it was selected for the prison: its central location to the population centers of the state, close proximity to major railroad lines, and high quality farm lands.

On July 1, 1913, Dr. Rock Sleyster, up to that point the prison physician at the WSP, was appointed as the hospital's first director. He transferred to the facility soon after and began to equip and organize the new facility. As superintendent, Dr. Sleyster then visited and studied several other hospitals for the criminal insane in other states. At that time, only New York (which established the first two), Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio had established such specialized facilities. Dr. Sleyster specifically wanted to "avoid the mistakes so frankly admitted by them and benefit by their experience". To serve these purposes several steps were taken. Rooms were painted in soft shades of pink, green or blue, bars on the windows ran horizontally rather than vertically, and trees, shrubs, vines and perennials were planted to make the grounds pleasant. Also, a 18 foot concrete wall enclosing the recreation grounds at the rear of the institution was built, but in such a way as to eliminate the psychic effect of a prison wall. To accomplish this, a drained moat, approximately 15 feet deep was dug on either side of the wall (the by-product of which provided enough crushed stone for the concrete foundations of 4 or five future buildings), so that it rose only three feet above ground level.

On July 12, 1914, the first patients were admitted. The precise number is unclear, but the first ward (ward B; ward A being the administration building) appears to have had a capacity of between 35-60, each patient having his own private room. Regardless, the new facility was filled beyond capacity within one week after opening. 26 This rapid overcrowding elicited a quick response from the State Legislature, which appropriated funds for a new ward to be constructed. Contracts were let, and a new wing was quickly constructed and occupied on January 26, 1915. This wing too, was filled within ten days by transfers from other institutions. Construction was fairly constant at CSH until the mid-1930s when the Depression, and later World War Two prevented further expansion.

Overcrowding was a persistent problem at CSH. As new wards were erected they were rapidly filled beyond capacity, with many more patients awaiting transfer from other state and county institutions. Superintendents of CSH continuously over the years asked for further appropriations to expand the facility and alleviate some of the problems. Generally, these were slow in coming and the patient population reached as much as 75% over the rate bed capacity. Under these circumstances, two patients were kept in rooms meant for one, basements and storerooms were used as dormitories, and patients were kept in beds placed in corridors. Another problem caused by chronic overcrowding was that it prevented proper segregation of the different grades of patients. As it was, no attempt was made to care for any of the violent or dangerous insane women that were housed in other institutions. Only male patients were accepted at CSH, as gender segregation would have been impossible, and the potential sexual contact that might have resulted between male and female patients was unacceptable.

Upon admission to the hospital, patients were given a physical and mental exam and put under observation before a diagnosis was made. Once this was done, the patients' work capabilities were evaluated and they were assigned the job for which they were best qualified. At CSH all the farm and garden work was done by patients, as was landscape and dormitory work. Also, patients unloaded coal from the trains and worked in the kitchen/dining room. In the carpenter shop and workshop some toys were made and then sold to visitors; the income from the sales went to the patients who made them.

The difference between this institution and those for the civil insane were supposed to be structural changes for maximum security, not treatment oriented changes. The treatment and therapy at CSH was to be similar to that of any other state mental hospital. Historically, this meant an emphasis on moral treatment. The goal was to place the patient in a smaller hospital where he/she could receive kind and specialized care. Activities were to include occupational therapy, religious exercises, amusements and recreation. Essentially, it was "milieu" treatment where the patient could be re-educated in a proper moral atmosphere. Another important component was medical treatment the patients were given. Before the evolution of the field of modern psychiatry, beliefs supported a "sound body=sound mind" theory; it was important to strengthen the physical condition in order to improve the mental condition. Tonics and laxatives were used frequently and a good diet was stressed. Most doctors also advocated the use of drugs, especially where behavior was particularly active or violent. Narcotics were often used to quiet patients, make them more manageable, avoid fatal exhaustion, minimized use of restraints, and prevent them from harming themselves, other patients and staff. Hydrotherapy was also usually popular in mental institutions because of its calming abilities. In 1935, the medical staff of CSH consisted of three doctors—including the medical superintendent and zero nurses.

Poor conditions and treatment at CSH continued into the 1950s and 1960s. In 1958, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals recommended against accreditation for CSH, largely on the grounds of a lack of medical personnel. The hospital did continue in operation, however, and in the late 1960s there was an attempt to change the emphasis from custody to a more effective overall treatment program. In 1972, a committee was appointed to do a study of CSH and make recommendations. Many, including Dr. Marvin Chapman who was the Clinical Director of the facility at that time, felt that the institution should be closed down due to the massive disparities in staffing and programming, between CSH and the other state mental hospitals. It was their contention that the facility failed completely as a hospital and was simply a penal institution in every way. An influential member of the committee, however, was the Assemblyman from the local Waupun area and he lobbied strongly against closing the facility because of the large number of jobs that would be lost.

In 1983, the hospital function of the institution closed completely and the buildings became a reception facility for the Division of Corrections. Now named the Dodge Correctional Facility, all prisoners convicted in Wisconsin courts are sent there for evaluation and processing to determine which state facility they should be sent to. All remaining CSH patients were sent to either Winnebago or Mendota at that time, where special high security wards have been built. According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections website, DCI was doubled in size in 1993. In 1996, the facility accepted its first female inmate, which made it the only facility in Wisconsin that took both male and female inmates. Though it still remains the central medical center for both males and females, the female reception center was moved to Taycheedah Correctional Institution in 2004.

Ed Gein was housed at Wisconsin Central State Hospital before being transferred to Mendota Mental Hospital. Attempted presidential assassin John Schrank was also a patient at Central State Hospital from 1912-1943 for his attempt to kill Theodore Roosevelt.


Located outside Waupun in the Township of Chester, this cemetery was the final resting place for unclaimed inmates from the Wisconsin State Prison (now Waupun Correctional Institution) and patients from Central State Hospital. It was used from 1871 to 1975. Originally, each grave had a marker bearing the grave number. In the 1980s, metal markers were installed bearing the name, number, institution, and date of death of each individual. Unfortunately, those markers have since been replaced with one large sign bearing the names and dates of death of those buried here. (The sign does not include deaths before 1898.) There are no individual markers today.

Images of Wisconsin Central State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Wisconsin Central State Hospital