Saint Elizabeths Hospital

The campus of Saint Elizabeths Hospital is sited pleasantly atop a wooded ridge in the Anacostia Hills. It is a National Historic Landmark whose story and impact on mental health treatment in the United States can be read in the historic buildings and landscapes that cover its 350 acres.

Prior to the 1840s, when Dorothea Lynde Dix first began advocating for better housing conditions for people suffering from mental illness, mental illness treatment and care was at best haphazard and at worst inhumane. Dix brought her message of reform to Washington, convincing Congress in 1852 to provide $100,000 for the purpose of establishing the first federal mental health hospital for armed forces veterans and District of Columbia residents. Originally named the U.S. Government Hospital for the Insane, the mission of the hospital was to provide the most humane care and enlightened curative treatment for patients.

Saint Elizabeths is a living example of how public attitudes and policy shape the built environment and how the built environment can shape public attitudes and policy.

Both the federal government-controlled West Campus and the District of Columbia-controlled East Campus are slated for significant redevelopment over the next decade. The West Campus and a small portion of the East Campus are now the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security and offices for the US Coast Guard. Part of the East Campus remains in use as a hospital. The remainder of the East Campus will be redeveloped with a mix of public and private uses.

Development is altering portions of the National Historic Landmark campus, but also preserves and adaptively reuses many buildings and landscapes that make Saint Elizabeths an important part of American history.

Saint Elizabeths: West Campus

Saint Elizabeths' West Campus includes some of the hospital's earliest buildings, with the Center Building being the first. Facilities on the West Campus of Saint Elizabeths provide a striking picture of how the opinions of mental illness and its…

The Center Building

The Center Building was constructed between 1852 and 1895 and is 948 feet in length. Described as “Collegiate Gothic,” the architecture is of a style that was considered appropriate for hospitals for those with mental illness during the nineteenth…

Burroughs Cottage

Although there were several single-family homes built at Saint Elizabeths for staff who lived on the site, only one was built for patient care. In 1886, Sarah Borrows, a patient from a wealthy Washingtonian family, was admitted to Saint Elizabeths. …

The Rest (Saint Elizabeths)

The Rest was constructed in 1882 and served as Saint Elizabeths mortuary and pathology lab. One of the most prominent figures to work in The Rest was Dr. Isaac Wright Blackburn. Blackburn was appointed special pathologist at the hospital in 1884, and…

Circulating Library

The circulating library played an important role in the daily lives and treatment of Saint Elizabeths’ patients. By 1913, the library’s collection included around six thousand books. Almost ten years later, in 1924, this amount doubled in size, and…

Fire House (Saint Elizabeths)

St. Elizabeths Hospital strived for self-sufficiency. Leaders of the hospital wanted it to be able to provide for itself and made it their mission to develop a range of services on-campus to address those needs. The Fire House was constructed in…

Hitchcock Hall

Hitchcock Hall was constructed in 1910 and used as a space for patient assembly and amusement. The hall included 1,200 seats for the hospital’s residents and hosted many forms of entertainment such as vaudeville performances, moving pictures,…

Dining Hall

Constructed in 1886, the Dining Hall benefited the social lives of patients at Saint Elizabeths. It allowed for as many as 600 patients to convene for meals. This was far different than dining in the Center Building, where patients took meals to…

Administration Building

The Administration Building, constructed in 1903, was the centerpiece of the hospital’s largest building campaign and expansion, which included fourteen new buildings. Plans for the Administration Building had been in the works for quite some time,…

Saint Elizabeths Hospital Cemeteries

The oldest burial ground at Saint Elizabeths was created in 1856 on the wooded western slope of the West Campus. In most cases, funeral arrangements for patients who dies at Saint Elizabeths were made by family members of the deceased, and the…

Saint Elizabeths: East Campus

In 1869, Saint Elizabeths purchased the land that would become the hospital's East Campus. The purpose of the additional land was to have more space for Saint Elizabeths' agricultural operations. Farming became an important source of food for the…

Dry Barn

Farming was an integral part in the treatment of patients at Saint Elizabeths. It also carried out the hospital's goal of producing as much of its own food as possible. During his time as the supervisor, Charles Nichols was very interested in…

Blackburn Laboratory

Built in 1924, the Blackburn Laboratory was named for Dr. Isaac Wright Blackburn, who had been appointed special pathologist at Saint Elizabeths in 1884. The Laboratory was the hospital's first medical science facility dedicated to the study of…